Three years ago, I wrote an article which included an excellent review of The Bully Pulpit. I had been fascinated to read the review of the story surrounding the relationship between Presidents Roosevelt and Taft, especially because I had just been going through old family photos from the Philippines. If I had ever known that Taft had been Governor General of the Philippine Islands, I had forgotten. Now, three years later, I've found another connection to the book. Did you read my recent article on family trees? Well, I discovered that a great-uncle was Taft's Secretary when he was Governor General of the Philippines. Read this review, and you will learn about Taft's experiences in the Philippine Islands and so much more. Then read the book - I definitely will.
By the way, Doris Kearns Goodwin will be visitng Seattle on October 1, as part of the Seattle Arts and Lectures series. She will speak on her forthcoming book, Leadership in Turbulent Times, which will explore presidential leadership throughout history. I plan to order that book for Plymouth Library so keep an eye out for it.
Book: The Bully Pulpit
By: Doris Kearns Goodwin
First published: 2013 by Simon & Schuster, Inc.
This was an unlikely book for me to find, pick up and read. My initial attraction to this
weighty tome was the author, perhaps the most read, and widely appreciated of current
The book jacket informs the prospective reader that the book is about President Theodore
Roosevelt and his successor, President William Taft. The book also contains more
obscure information about the contemporaries of the two presidents, family members and
third parties, and that material is just as interesting.
I like most students, before and after me, thought of the “Bully Pulpit” as being
synonymous with a blustering President Teddy Roosevelt, and he with the “rough riders’
and perhaps the charge up San Juan Hill (in Cuba) during the short Spanish American
If one thought of President William Taft at all, he might think of an exceedingly obese
(fat) man weighing some 300 pounds. Upon graduation from Yale, Taft returned his
native Ohio to attend Cincinnati Law School, determined to become a judge.
Both men were Republicans, but they were not appreciated by the party powers.
Roosevelt was appointed to the New York City police commission. As a new member of
that commission, he became acquainted with investigative reporters who knew many of
the unseemly secrets of the city life.
The author recounts how Roosevelt would go “touring” late at night with one Lincoln
Steffens, a criminal reporter who knew the seamy side of New York City life, and who
guided Roosevelt to meet vice and corruption face to face. This was in the day of the
Tammany Hall government, where the “bosses” profited greatly, financially and
politically, by controlling vice and corruption. The newspapers published the fight
between Roosevelt and Tammany Hall, but the bosses were slow to give up their powers.
* Some wanted Roosevelt awarded the nation’s highest military honor for that service,
but the Congressional Medal of Honor was only awarded posthumously, nearly 100 years
later by President William Clinton.
The public, however, which had been the principal victims of corruption supported
Roosevelt as their leader and he was elected Governor of the State of New York. In his
two years as governor, Roosevelt was so effective that the party bosses conspired to
block his re-election as governor. To put him in a role where the powerful would be
“rid” of this pest, they caused him to be nominated for Vice President on the political
ticket with President William McKinley
When McKinley was assassinated after just six months in office, Roosevelt was back in
power on a far larger stage.
In the 1890-s, while Roosevelt progressed upward from police commissioner
to Assistant Secretary of the Navy, to colonel in the Rough Riders, to Governor to Vice
President under McKinley, Taft had progressed from trial judge in Cincinnati to
appointment to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, just one step below his ultimate goal
of appointment to the US Supreme Court. McKinley persuaded Taft, over the objections
of Mrs. Taft and hesitation of Taft himself, to lead the Philippine Commission as
Governor General replacing General Douglas MacArthur, who was military governor
after the war with Spain liberating the Philippines. This was the job that Roosevelt
wanted for himself, while he was “stuck” in the position of Vice President under
President McKinley convinced Taft to take the Philippine role promising that he would
appoint Taft at the first opening to Taft’s ultimate objective: The US Supreme Court.
Here the book and the story of the two men might have ended in obscurity. However in
the far off Philippine Islands, freed of Spanish rule by the recent war, the islands were in
resurrection against the United States as an unwanted foreign occupier. The US military
occupation forces, led by a young general, Douglas MacArthur, faced open revolt.
Taft living simply with his family among the local population became immensely popular
locally. The local population came to understand that Taft was present to lead them to
greater self-government, and the “revolters” were largely won over peaceably.
With MacArthur withdrawn, the Taft family was moved into the palatial quarters that
MacArthur had occupied. Taft was the Governor General of the Philippines. Taft and
his wife, Nellie, entertained the local population in their new home.
Taft’s salary was $17,500 per year, including his expenses for the Philippine
administration. Taft had to receive financial support from his brother Charlie, who was a
successful businessman in Ohio to stay afloat financially in his new position.
But in addition to working to establish an “independent” Philippines, Taft also worked to
increase commerce between the two countries. He urged Congress to withdraw the
adverse tariffs on Philippines sugar and other exports to the US, and he was still working
at this, unsuccessfully, when he returned to the United States.
The last decade of the 19th Century and the 1st decade of the 20th Century was a turbulent
period for the United States. Corporate “giants and political bosses controlled much of
the wealth and power in the country. Roosevelt was trying to break the powers of the big
corporations, first as Governor of New York and then as President. He was successful in
large part due to the vital assistance of the investigating press, which came to be known
as the “muck-rakers”. Though he was a Republican he had to fight corporations and the
Republican Congress, which was decidedly pro-business. They were united in trying to
limit Roosevelt to his one “inherited” term as President.
President Roosevelt tried to persuade Taft to return from the Philippines to Washington
where he could support the President. Twice he offered Taft an appointment to his
beloved goal: The Supreme Court, but Taft was reluctant to abandon the Philippine
people and their fledgling country.. Taft was “driven” to see the Philippine people
succeed as an eventually independent country. *
Finally Roosevelt persuaded Taft to return to the United States and become
Secretary of War, a position that would still put him over the army in the Philippines.
More important to Roosevelt, Taft would be a substantial supporter of the President and
would speak around the country on behalf of what Roosevelt was trying to accomplish.
The author thinks that Taft was in instrumental in preventing the Republican powers from
nominating someone other than Roosevelt for a second term as President in 1904 when
his inherited term was nearing an end in 1904.
But the by-in-large standoff between Roosevelt and Congress continued into his second
term. Roosevelt, the would-be “trust-buster”, supporter of women’s suffrage, workers’
rights and reduced tariffs, was not to be successful, and announced in 1908 that he would
not seek re-election for a 3rd term, but would support Taft as his successor. As the two
men were very close in their positions, he thought Taft would achieve what he had not
been able to achieve. **
The author recounts at length how Taft was elected President in 1908, and on the day of
his inauguration the following March, Roosevelt left the country to travel extensively in
Africa and later in Europe.
* Independence would not come to the Philippines until long after Roosevelt and Taft
**Roosevelt regretted having announced he would seek no 3rd term soon after making it.
When Roosevelt returned to the country in early June, 1910, he had become dissatisfied
with the progress President Taft had made in completing what had been the Roosevelt
agendas. The two men became increasingly estranged over the next two years.
In 1912 Roosevelt and Taft competed for the Republican nomination for President. Taft
the “smoother” politician won the nomination, and Roosevelt, with his followers,
claiming that the nomination had been stolen, bolted the Republican Party and ran for
President in 1912 as leader of the Progressive Party. Both men lost the election to the
Democrat nominee, Woodrow Wilson.
But as interesting as the political lives of the two Presidents were, the author recounts the
social history of life in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century. “The rich got rich
and the poor got poorer” as the song of the 1930s went.
The book recounts the life of a poor Irish immigrant, Samuel McClure, who went on to
become publisher of in investigative magazine, McClure’s, which became wildly
popular with the middle classes. After his initial successes he joined with a woman
reporter, Ida Tarbell, to publish the exposé of the abuses of John D. Rockefeller and his
massive corporation, The Standard Oil Company. The story was so “damning” that the
public at large “demanded” legislation that ultimately led to the break-up of the company.
Others included Lincoln Steffens, William Allan White, William Baker and occasionally
others who provided the support necessary to successfully fight the Congress, big
corporations, political bosses, who were interested only in maintaining their privileged
Roosevelt and Taft, once closest friends, turned enemies during the election of 1912, lost
by both men. Their enmity continued despite the attempts of mutual friends to reconcile
the two. In June 1918 an ailing Roosevelt was seated alone in a hotel dining room when
Taft, who was in the hotel and advised that Roosevelt was about to leave, rushed into the
dining room and greeted his former friend. To the standing applause of nearly 100 other
diners and waiters, the old friendship was restored. But the “Bull Moose” never fully
recovered, and some seven months later, Roosevelt died. (Pp. 744-748)
Taft was finally appointed Chief Justice of the US Supreme court in 1921, the position to
which he always aspired, more than the Presidency of the US. He served until early 1930
when he retired and shortly thereafter died. (P. 749)
I recommend this book. It is the history of a not-too-long-bygone period. This review
does not do it justice.