William Howard Taft: Infrequent Use of Alcohol

generally abstained
Taft did not smoke. In college, he drank, if at all, only an occasional glass of beer. 1a During Taft's first year in office, his aide wrote 2a:
The President never takes anything to drink at all, but is most profligate in making others imbibe. I do not see how he sits through these long dinners and banquets without taking enough merely to exhilarate him, but he takes no alcoholic liquors of any kind and seems to be much the better for it.
Taft became a teetotaller in 1906, three years before becoming President. 3a SEE BELOW
Charles E. Barker, "doctor of physical culture," claims to have supervised Taft's weight control efforts, beginning when Taft was Secretary of War in 1905, and continuing in the White House. Barker writes 3a:
Referring to Mr. Taft's personal habits, one of the articles [in the Saturday Evening Post] stated that he was a light user of tobacco and liquor. As a matter of fact, Mr. Taft never used tobacco in any form, and in 1906 he became a teetotaler and abstained entirely from the use of intoxicants until his death in 1930.

During the course of my first physical examination of Taft in 1905, he stated that he never used tobacco, but did indulge in liquor when it was served on social occasions. I did not feel that such a mild and occasional indulgence was a serious detriment to the restoration of his health, so I said nothing about it at the time. In about six weeks, owing to his strict adherence to the exercises and diet, he found his general health so greatly improved that he was quite elated. As I was leaving his home on K Street one morning, he remarked: "I am encouraged by the progress I have made, and it looks now as though I shall regain all my health and strength. When I reported to you at my first examination tht I drank liquor occasionally at social functions, you said nothing in regard to it. I want your frank opinion. Would it be wise for me to abstain from drinking entirely?

"Mr. Secretary," I replied, "while I do not think your mild indulgence would ever affect you seriously, I am frank to say that the wisest plan would be to avoid the use of liquor entirely."

Smiling, he answered, "All right -- no more liquor." And to my knowledge, intoxicants played no part in his life from that moment.

Barker is not mentioned by either of Taft's great chroniclers 2 1, so it is difficult to know what to make of his book. The Barker description of Taft's alcohol habits does, however, fit with Pringle's 1b:
Taft was a temperate man in all ways but one. He did not use alcohol. He did not smoke. He did not stay up late and sacrifice sleep. His only dissipation was food.
In 1908 Taft himself wrote 1c:
I venture to say that I am as temperate a man as there is anywhere. I am not a teetoaler, but I rarely drink anything. It does not agree with me and I know that I am better off without it.
Cited Sources
  1. Pringle, Henry F. The Life and Times of William Howard Taft: A Biography. New York: Farrar & Rinehart, Inc., 1939.
    a  p.39  b  p.1072  c  p.375
  2. Butt, Archibald W. Taft and Roosevelt: The Intimate Letters of Archie Butt, Military Aide. Garden City, NY: Doubleday (1930). Volume 1: pages 1-432. Volume 2: pages 433-862.
    a  p.172

    Comment: Butt, an Army officer, was military aide first to President Theodore Roosevelt and then to President William Taft. On April 14, 1912, Butt was at sea aboard the Titanic returning from a European vacation that Taft had insisted he take. President Taft later said: "When I heard that part of the ship's company had gone down, I gave up hope for the rescue of Major Butt, unless by accident. I knew that he would certainly remain on the ship's deck until every duty had been performed and every sacrifice made that properly fell on one charged, as he would feel himself charged, with responsibility for the rescue of others." Taft was correct. Butt did not survive the sinking.

  3. Barker, Charles E. With President Taft in the White House. Chicago: A. Kroch and Son, 1947.
    a  pp.50-51

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