Miller Center

William Taft: Impact and Legacy

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Historians acknowledge that William Howard Taft had a challenging task as President: living up to the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt. It did not help that his political experience and skills were limited and that he was naturally critical of his own abilities. His biographers generally agree that his gigantic appetite reflected psychological tensions within himself that he never resolved. Taft was a warmhearted and kind man who wanted to be loved as a person and to be respected for his judicial temperament. It was his temperament, moreover, that caused most of his problems as a political leader. Taft seldom took any initiative in legislative matters, and he had little talent for leadership. He tended to ponder at great length all sides of a question. In essence, he was not decisive. He sat by quietly, for example, as the Republican-dominated Congress added 847 amendments to his tariff reform package, dashing any hope for real reform. Additionally, he was inactive. He typically ate a dozen eggs, a pound of bacon, and mounds of pancakes for breakfast, leaving him sluggish for most of the morning.

In the words of Arthur Link, the much-respected biographer of Woodrow Wilson, the Taft presidency was an unmitigated "disaster." Most historians agree to some extent, viewing Taft as a conservative interregnum between activist reformers Roosevelt and Wilson. Although the word "disaster" is perhaps too extreme, there can be no doubt that Taft's hesitancy as a leader and politician produced few accomplishments during his term.

Citation Information

Consulting Editor

Peri E. Arnold

Professor Arnold is a professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame. His writings include:

Making the Managerial Presidency: Comprehensive Reorganization Planning, 1905–1996 (University Press of Kansas, 1986)