I started out my morning in Cincinnati by visiting the William Howard Taft National Historic Site. This is the only memorial to the U.S.’s 27th president and 10th chief justice. William H. Taft (1857-1930) was the only U.S. President to also serve as Chief Justice on the Supreme Court. The site celebrates a renowned family legacy of public service.
I learned that since the Alsphonso Taft family settled in Cincinnati in 1838, five generations of Tafts have served the nation as cabinet members, judges, ambassadors, congressmen, senators, President and Chief Justice. The family has been committed to citizenship in many forms.
In 1882, Alphonso Taft served as minister to Austria-Hungary. In 1884, he was named as minister to the Czar of Russia.
Charles Phelps Taft built on his father’s interests in law and business. In 1818, Charles and his father-in-law David Stinton created the Cincinnati Times-Star. The newspaper was later influential in William Taft’s political campaigns. Charles and his wife Anna helped create many of the cultural building stones of modern Cincinnati, including the Art Museum, the Opera, and most importantly, the Taft Museum.
William Taft, born in 1857, enjoyed playing outdoors as a boy. His friends called him “Big Lub” because of his large size. He enjoyed boxing, as well as baseball, golfing and other sports.
Taft graduated second in his class from Yale University in 1878, and graduated from Cincinnati Law School in 1880.
In 1886, Taft married Helen “Nellie” Herron, who had a literary salon where members discussed poetry, novels and plays. Later Nellie served as founder of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Yukio Ozaki, Mayor of Tokyo, sent cherry trees to Washington in honor of the Tafts, and Nellie planted the first cherry trees around Washington’s Tidal Basin. She was her husband’s most important political adviser.
In 1890, President Benjamin Harrison appointed 33-year-old William Howard Taft to be Solicitor General representing the U.S. Government before the Supreme Court. He was meticulous and had a good grasp of the law. Taft won 15 of his 18 Supreme Court cases and entered the national scene.
He became a good friend to Theodore Roosevelt with his placid personality. In the 1890s, during the American Labor Movement, workers were fighting for fair wages and better working conditions. The gap was widening between rich and poor. There were strikes and violence. Taft affirmed the workers’ right to strike.
William Howard Taft was appointed Superior Court judge for the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals of Cincinnati in 1892. He ruled on patent rights and labor disputes and was known for his strict interpretation of the law. In a reform era, he worked to streamline the judicial system and make it responsive to the needs of a changing America.
In 1900, under President William McKinley, Taft served as civil governor of a new U.S. possession: the Philippines. Following the Spanish-American War, he established an administrative government there. He oversaw construction of schools, roads, railroads, harbors and communication systems, brought modern law to the islands, and strengthened the economy. He fought to break down the racism that pervaded the American military presence.
In September of 1901, President McKinley was shot and Theodore Roosevelt became President, serving until 1909. Though Roosevelt offered Taft the next seat on the Supreme Court, Taft kept his position in the Philippines, positioning the country as a strategic U.S. outpost in the Western Pacific.
Taft served as the Secretary of War in Roosevelt’s cabinet beginning in 1904. When Roosevelt’s project of building the Panama Canal was rife with disputes and inefficiencies, Taft got it on track. He was Roosevelt’s trusted troubleshooter and spokesman. He worked for stability in post-war Cuba.
In 1905, Taft escorted a congressional delegation to the Philippines. In Japan, Taft met with Prime Minister Taro Katsura. In the Taft-Katsura memorandum, the U.S. recognized Japanese control over Korea, and Japan disavowed aggressive designs on the Philippines.
Roosevelt endorsed Taft to run after his second term ended. Taft was a reluctant politician. His mother predicted that “the malice of the politicians would make you miserable.” Taft would end up serving as president for one term, from 1909-1913.
Roosevelt expected Taft to follow Roosevelt’s policies but Taft was his own man. They had personality clashes over tariffs and taxes. When Taft appointed his own cabinet and did not vigorously follow Roosevelt’s legislative agenda, Roosevelt and his followers began to undermine Taft’s efforts.
President Taft backed the 16th Amendment allowing the income tax, reorganized the State Department, strengthened the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), brought dozens of antitrust suits, signed the statehood bills for New Mexico and Arizona (making the U.S. 48 states), and appointed six U.S. Supreme Court justices.
The President described his diplomatic strategy in the Far East and Caribbean as “substituting dollars for bullets,” or “dollar diplomacy.” It tried to use trade and investment to promote peace and stability abroad, and prosperity at home. When “dollar diplomacy” failed, Taft protected American interests with “Marine diplomacy,” sending troops to Panama and Cuba during brief periods of crisis and to Nicaragua in 1912, where they remained until 1925. He resisted pressures to invade Mexico during its revolution.
Progressives expected Taft to continue Roosevelt’s reforms, while conservatives urged him to end Roosevelt’s anti-free market policies. As Taft shifted his policies toward the conservatives, rifts developed in the Republican party.
As Taft’s relationship with Roosevelt became strained, a split erupted in the Republican party. Roosevelt’s smoldering discontent with Taft’s administration flashed into open hostility during a 1910 speaking tour of the West.
Roosevelt ran against Taft as a Republican but lost the primary, so he formed a third party, the National Progressive, or “Bull Moose” Party. Roosevelt, in evaluating Taft’s presidency, remarked, “Taft meant well, but he meant well feebly.” Taft criticized Roosevelt’s leadership and complained of the “hypocrisy, the insincerity, the selfishness, the monumental egotism, and almost the insanity of the megalomania that possess Theodore Roosevelt.”
Roosevelt saw the President as a “steward of the people” who could do anything not forbidden by the Constitution and the law. He touted the “New Nationalism,” arguing that big business could be beneficial. He envisioned a strong federal government regulating big business and big labor. Woodrow Wilson’s view was similar to Roosevelt’s.
Taft felt that the President was limited to the powers explicitly granted by the Constitution and other laws. Taft was especially offended by Roosevelt’s attacks on the courts as obstacles to reform. Taft argued the law could not be subject to public whim.
Because of this split in the presidential race, Woodrow Wilson won the 1912 election. Before Wilson’s inauguration, Taft wrote, “The nearer I get to the inauguration of my successor, the greater relief I feel.”
At the end of Taft’s term in office, he was ready to leave. “I’m glad to be going, this is the lonesomest place in the world.”
After his presidency, Taft became a professor of constitutional law at Yale University. During World War I, he headed the board that mediated disputes between defense manufacturers and labor.
In 1921, Taft became tenth chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court under President Warren Harding. He regarded the appointment as the pinnacle of his career. He wrote, “Presidents come and go but the court goes on forever.” After four years of being Chief Justice, he wrote, “I don’t remember that I ever was President.”
His court affirmed presidential removal powers, upheld Prohibition, and further strengthened the ICC and the federal government under President Calvin Coolidge. His opinions upheld labor’s right to organize. He also supported a new U.S. Supreme Court building that would be physically and symbolically separate from the other two branches of the federal government, but he wouldn’t live to see it built.
He felt that court rulings should be close to unanimous but the court was deeply divided over labor issues and property issues. Taft resigned in February of 1930 due to illness, and he died a few weeks later, becoming the first President to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. It was written that “He made himself the most loved.”
The Taft family legacy continued with Charles Phelps Taft II (1897-1983), one of William’s sons, who graduated from Yale Law School in 1921. Charlie, as he liked to be called, practiced law in Cincinnati and became a leader of the movement to reform city government. He served 16 terms on the city council and one term as mayor, earning the nickname “Mr. Cincinnati.” Charlie served in several positions in Washington before and during WWII, administering community war services and foreign relief.
The Taft family sold their two-story Greek Revival house in 1899, and successive owners modified it. In 1938, the William Howard Taft Memorial Association worked to save the house from demolition. In 1969, the federal government designated the house a national historic site.
After visiting the Taft site, I was on the road and by 10:25, I crossed the state line of Indiana: Crossroads of America and Lincoln Boyhood Home.
A road sign reminded me: Abortion Stops a Beating Heart.
I drove past a sign for Metamora, Indiana’s canal town. A dead raccoon stiffened beside the road, and I passed Carriage House Antiques. For 20 miles, I-74 was under road construction, reduced to two lanes. All around me the landscape was flattened and glowing with the gold-tipped tassels of cornstalks.
A sign promised relief: “Big Truck Injury? Call the Hammer.” After this, I chose not to get bogged down in Boggstown. I drove around Indianapolis. I was listening to the podcast by Paula Poundstone and she talked about fake IRS calls that sound like a voice coming from an iron lung. She introduced her word for the day: Tyrotoxism, poisoning by cheese or other milk products.
I stopped for lunch at Arby’s, where I got a Classic Beef and Cheddar. Soon after I got back on the road, I was reminded by a billboard that Real Christians Obey Jesus’s Teachings.
Another sign argued that Zoning Creates Problems: It Doesn’t Solve Them, and another warned to Verify the Media Before You Believe Them.
By 2:00, I’d crossed into Illinois: The Land of Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area and crossed over the Vermilion River.
Another sign said “In the Beginning, God Created (and then a picture of apes with a line drawn through it).”
I passed Kickapoo State Park and stopped at the Salt Kettle Rest Area. I gained an hour at the Indiana-Illinois state line, so it was now 1:20. I was still trapped on the two-lane highway and was getting annoyed by the orange and white barrels and the restricted lanes.
Fields and fields of corn, tall and golden, spread out all around me. Near Mahomet it was flat, flat, flat, with silver silos, farm houses and green fields of soybeans, one of Illinois’s most valuable farm products. A gray dappled big sky, shredded with blue, loomed all around me.
Billy Bragg sang in “When the Roses Bloom Again” that his thoughts were of tomorrow. I passed Historic Monticello, the Sangamon River, Cisco, Decatur and Bloomington. The landscape was an unchanging vista of silos on farmland – flat with a smattering of trees. I passed through Niantic and Illiopolis while Trevor Hall sang of hiding in a lime tree. Silver silos and corn gleamed in the afternoon sunlight.
Finally, I was welcomed to Springfield, Illinois, a rather depressed-looking town. It was 3:15, and Lana del Ray sang about the end of America, and I couldn’t help but wonder if it really were the end, with all the sad towns I’d passed along the way. This would be my stopping point for the day, but only after I visited the Lincoln Home National Historic Site.
*Drove: 335.8 miles; Steps: 5,999, or 2.54 miles*
*Monday, September 2, 2019*
(All information about the William Howard Taft National Historic Site is from the brochure and the plaques at the site, done by the National Park Service.)
“ON JOURNEY” INVITATION: I invite you to write a post on your own blog about the journey itself for a recently visited specific destination. You could write about the journey you hope to take in the year ahead. If you don’t have a blog, I invite you to write in the comments.
In this case, my intentions for my “Road Trip to Nowhere” was to pick a theme a day. My theme for today was Justice.
Include the link in the comments below by Tuesday, May 19 at 1:00 p.m. EST. When I write my post in response to this challenge on Wednesday, May 20, I’ll include your links in that post.
This will be an ongoing invitation, once on the third Wednesday of each month. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂
I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!
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