A Man of Inaction

In 1912, at dusk walking home, Henry Adams spotted something he thought to be a hippopotamus in the nation’s capital.  As he drew nearer he saw it was President Taft.

He gave me a shock.  He looks bigger and more tumble to pieces than ever . . . but what struck me most was the deterioration of his mind and expression. . . . He showed mental enfeeblement all over, and I wanted to offer him a bet that he wouldn’t get through his term.

President Theodore Roosevelt in the election of 1908 did everything in his formidable power to nominate and elect Secretary of War William Howard Taft for president.  Roosevelt thought Taft the best man available to carry forward the banner of Roosevelt’s Square Deal reforms.  Only 51 years old, Roosevelt left the U.S. for a year-long African safari.  J.P. Morgan, expressing the sentiments of Wall Street, quipped that “America expects that every lion will do its duty.”

In this short biography, part of The American Presidents series, Rosen, a law professor at George Washington University, extols Taft for “devot[ing] his career to preserving the Constitution against the threat of populism.”

Taft’s talents were as an attorney-administrator.  A far more sedate figure than Roosevelt (weighing in at 330 pounds), Taft rose to prominence through the influence of his father,...

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