“Do It Now"

November 20, 1909

Edward Windsor Kemble

“Do It Now"

Presidential Administration, William Howard Taft; Sports and Recreation; Symbols, Uncle Sam;

Taft, William Howard;

No 'Places' indexed for this cartoon.

No caption.

By training and experience, William Howard Taft was comfortable and effective as a lawyer, judge, and administrator, and most coveted a seat on the Supreme Court (for which he later served as chief justice, 1921-1930).  In 1903, he warned his eager political supporters, his wife, Helen (“Nellie”), foremost among them:  “Don’t sit up nights thinking about making me president for that will never come and I have no ambition in that direction.”  Taft finally gave in, though, and in 1908 accepted the Republican nomination for president, defeating Democrat William Jennings Bryan in the general election that November.  It was the first and only elective position he held.

Appearing less than a year into Taft’s administration (1909-1913), this cartoon reflects criticisms that the new president was too involved in his social life, particularly sports and travel, and not attentive enough to his presidential duties.  Uncle Sam commands that Taft write his first annual message to Congress, due in December, while the distracted president contemplates a golf ball.  Attired in golfing gear, Taft’s sport coat is stuffed with menus, symbolizing the 300-pound president’s avid interest in food; “notes,” “data,” and “evidence,” implying an overcautious reliance on information-gathering at the expense of decision-making; and references to his recent speaking tour through the West and South.

Taft made good use of the first travel allowance that Congress had ever allocated to a president.  Like President Theodore Roosevelt’s use of the “bully pulpit,” President Taft believed he could gain public support for his policies by taking his case directly to the people.  When this cartoon was published, Taft had just returned from a national speaking tour to rally the public behind the Payne-Aldrich Tariff.  Lacking Roosevelt’s charisma, his stumping rarely resulted in widespread approval.  Yet, Taft persisted, often traveling for months at a time, and logging over 150,000 miles during his single term, making him the most traveled president to that date.

Instead of public support, what President Taft did generate was press criticism that he was neglecting his responsibilities as the nation’s chief executive.  The Outlook, an influential periodical during the early-twentieth century, told Taft to stay in Washington to provide leadership so that issues would not reach the crisis stage.  The annual Gridiron Club dinners of the Washington press corps poked fun at his penchant for travel, banqueting, and leisure pursuits.  Editorials also harped on the backlog of executive appointments, complaining that the president took far too much time reviewing the records and recommendations of job applicants.

The Tafts were a very convivial couple, hosting numerous dinner parties, frequently attending the theater, and engaging in many other social activities while residing at the White House.  In addition, they spent considerable time at a summer retreat in Beverly, Massachusetts, where they rented an estate on Massachusetts Bay.  Usually every day while there, the president visited the nearby Myopia Hunt Club, where he played the eighteen-hole golf course. 

In fact, Taft was the first president to play golf, and his participation was so enthusiastic and well publicized that he helped make the sport more popular in the United States, with the number of players on public courses doubling during his administration.  When Harper’s Weekly speculated in May 1909 who the new president’s closest unofficial advisors would be, the newspaper referred to the as-yet-unknown group as the “golf cabinet” (similar to President Andrew Jackson’s “kitchen cabinet” of advisors and Theodore Roosevelt’s “tennis cabinet”).  Taft enjoyed other sports, too, particularly professional baseball for which he started the tradition of the president throwing out the first ball on the season’s opening day.

At the White House, President Taft woke at 7 a.m. to perform a regimen of physical exercises, breakfasted an hour later while reading the morning newspapers, and arrived by 9 at his office, where he reviewed important correspondence and his daily schedule with his private secretary.  After a 10-minute session with public visitors, during which he shook hands with 150-200 people, the president kept his formal appointments between 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., at which time he ate an apple.  The rest of the afternoon was allocated to executive business and, on Tuesdays and Fridays, cabinet meetings.  According to Harper’s Weekly, the mornings were for those who wished to see the president, while the afternoons were reserved for those whom the president wished to see.  At 5 p.m., he often enjoyed a walk or horseback ride, and sometimes worked late after dinner.

President Taft’s typical day was not only busier with the nation’s business than many in the press allowed, but his administration achieved a number of accomplishments despite his failure to win reelection in 1912.  Although many criticized the Payne-Aldrich Tariff of 1909, it was the first attempt at tariff reform since 1897.  The Taft administration also put Roosevelt’s conservation policies on firmer legal ground, advanced a series of antitrust lawsuits far more numerous and effective than under Roosevelt the “trust-buster,” passed stringent railroad legislation, neared completion of construction of the Panama Canal, established a separate Department of Labor (formerly merged with the Department of Commerce), regulated political contributions from business corporations, imposed an eight-hour day on federal public works projects, enhanced the Pure Food and Drug Act, and suffered no major scandal.  Taft also appointed six Supreme Court justices and almost half of the federal judges during his single presidential term.

Robert C. Kennedy

“Do It Now"
July 14, 2024

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