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Content Reading Guide: President William Howard Taft
Originally, William Howard Taft was from Cincinnati. He attended Yale and became a lawyer. Later, he served as Teddy Roosevelt’s Secretary of War. In 1904, Roosevelt was reelected but would not run in 1908. George Washington had set a precedent of only running for two terms. It was not a law in this era that you had to step down after two terms; yet, it was an expectation that one would do so. In 1908, Taft, with the endorsement of Teddy Roosevelt, was elected President. William Jennings Bryan, a Democrat, ran against Taft, who was a Republican. Yet, Bryan was known for losing elections. Teddy Roosevelt’s popularity also helped Taft to get elected.
Taft desired to continue Roosevelt’s reforms. Yet, he was never the leader that TR was in office.
Conservationism of resources, a concept championed by TR, was accused of stalling business growth and progressive notions in general faced the same accusation. Taft promised to lower tariffs. Yet, a bill he supported, The Payne-Aldrich Tariff, merely monitored tariffs and offered little action against tariffs. Even though Taft continued with Progressive ideas, the perception was that he was not continuing the Progressive momentum of TR. Progressives argued that tariffs benefited domestic big business while the “common” man suffered. Richard A. Ballinger, Secretary of the Interior, removed protected lands from the conservation list; this angered TR who believed Taft was not carrying on his policies as was predicted.
Republicans became divided. Progressives claimed conservation interfered with the economy. Conservationists claimed resources had to be preserved. If resources were used rapidly, the USA would run out of them; yet, if the USA preserved resources, it could damage the economy. In addition to this, the Republicans were losing power. Democrats gained control of the House of Representatives while Taft was President.
In 1912, TR decided to run for President again and broke away from the precedent of George Washington. Taft was the incumbent Republican. Thus, TR could not run for the Republicans. Progressive Republicans formed a 3rd Party. TR said he was, “as fit as a bull moose.” This caused the party to be nicknamed the Bull Moose Party. The platform of the Bull Moose Party was very much Progressive. Officially, they were called the Progressive Party. They desired the direct election of senators and they wanted referendums (reelection for office before the term was up if petitions called for it) for elected leaders. The party supported suffrage for women as well. In terms of labor, the party called for an 8 Hour work day, the complete banning of child labor, and they desired to form a federal trade commission to regulate trade.
The Republican split gave Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, the victory. Since the Republicans could not unify behind one candidate, the Democrats easily defeated them. Taft was only a one term President and was never the leader that TR was in office. Wilson continued the Progressive momentum that had developed in the early 20th century during his Presidency.