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The Colonel and the Judge

October 11, 2017

President Theodore Roosevelt had the temperament of a military commander and had done his political apprenticeship as state assemblyman and governor of New York.  His successor William Howard Taft had the temperament of a judge and had once been Solicitor General.  He also served as governor-general of the Philippines and as Secretary of War, doing a creditable job in these executive positions.  But he never dreamed about becoming President of the United States.  His dream was to become Chief Justice.

Each had a different leadership style.  Roosevelt micromanaged the departments and agencies of the executive branch.  Taft delegated and gave his cabinet latitude to carry out Administration policy.  Roosevelt’s interference enabled him to maintain a consistent message before the American people.  After all, if the Presidency is the “bully pulpit,” then the executive branch should be the amen corner!  Taft’s management style got him internal results, but it also needlessly divided the Republican Party.

A President cannot simply allow a subordinate to carry out Administration policy with no regard for the political consequences, but that’s exactly what happened when Taft instructed the Justice Department to prosecute U.S. Steel.  The special assistant to the Attorney General was preparing a formidable antitrust suit.  If politics had been a consideration, the Tennessee Coal and Iron aspect of the case might have been set aside in order to spare former President Roosevelt any embarrassment.  He had been deceived by the bankers who overstated the case for U.S. Steel’s acquisition of this supplier.  But the Attorney General was no politician.  Neither was his special assistant, the man who was the de facto prosecutor.  He wasn’t even a Republican!

Roosevelt was outraged.  He had already been disappointed by Taft’s handling of some other issues, and he was beginning to consider whether he should run against his hand-picked successor for the nomination.  Taft had lost the Congress in 1910.  How could he be expected to carry the slate in 1912?






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