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Pinchot Politics

October 18, 2017

The 1911 prosecution of U.S. Steel was not the first occasion for friction between former President Theodore Roosevelt and his hand-picked successor William Howard Taft.  Most prominent was the firing of Gifford Pinchot in 1910.

Pinchot was the first Chief of the U.S. Forest Service.  He had been appointed to this position by Roosevelt in 1905 and was retained by Taft at first.  James R. Garfield, son of assassinated President James A. Garfield, had been Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Interior.  He was replaced by former Seattle Mayor Richard Ballinger, who had recently served as head of the General Land Office. Pinchot and the outgoing Secretary of the Interior saw eye-to-eye on many issues, but Pinchot and his new boss clashed head-to-head.

Taft hoped to keep Pinchot as part of his Administration, but Pinchot deliberately and publicly opposed Ballinger, and by implication, Taft.  The only choice was to fire Pinchot for insubordination.  Pinchot made sure he spoke with Roosevelt long before Taft could say anything in his own defense.

Taft and Roosevelt had not communicated much since the 1909 Inauguration.  Roosevelt had deliberately gone on a safari.  He did not write to Taft because it would not have been good optics for the former President to do so.  Taft did not write either.  He felt it was necessary to put his own stamp on the Presidency before consulting with his mentor.

If Taft had been regularly consulting with Roosevelt, explaining himself all along, detailing how he was advancing a progressive agenda, he might have kept the former President’s support.  Perhaps Roosevelt would then have felt free to offer timely suggestions, and perhaps if Taft had followed some of those suggestions, he might have been re-elected in 1912.  But this was not to be.

 

 

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