The Gilded Age - Sample Essay
He often was inept with words and not good at creating political allies (Pringle). During his time in office Taft was part of three significant firsts for an American president: the first President to buy automobiles, the first to create the tradition of throwing out the first pitch at the beginning of the baseball season and the first to take in a salary of $75,000 as President (William Howard Taft, Pringle). “Yet Taft’s lack of ideological passion and narrow interpretation of presidential power would cause him to lose the support of the progressives within his own party” (William Howard Taft).
As the twenty-seventh president of the United States, Taft came into office in 1909, in the height of the Progressive era. Known to history as an extremely conservative president, his friendship with Roosevelt gave him a solid base on which to build his progressive presidency. During his time in office, Taft’s main concerns in domestic policy revolved around dealing with business trusts and tariffs, while in foreign affairs there were many revolutions taking place during his presidency, most notably in Mexico, China, Honduras and Nicaragua.
Some of his policies, though controversial, dealt with how he “could assert U. S. influence in foreign lands through investment and trade” (William Howard Taft). A closer look at his time in office shows a man whose presidency was shaped by the Progressive era, despite Taft’s own conservativeness. William Howard Taft’s approach to foreign policy was revolutionary for its time. While Roosevelt had sough to “bend weaker nations to his will” through the show of military might, Taft’s approach revolved around the money (The Gilded Age).
Known as Taft’s Dollar Diplomacy, he supported the investment of American dollars into the economies of the smaller foreign nations. Wealthy Americans would invest their own cash and make money in the process of creating political allies; however, because of the political instability that was occurring within the countries Americans were investing in, the plan was largely a failure. In fact, Taft had to send in troops to nations such as Honduras, Nicaragua, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic to protect the investments of Americans.
In the end, the Dollar Diplomacy was unsuccessful at creating political allies and helping Taft’s presidency (The Gilded Age). Taft’s other main priority as President of the United States was to break up the monopolies that existed within the large corporations. Called “trust-busting”, Taft was intent on prosecuting big businesses as allowed under the Sherman Antitrust Act and won more lawsuits against them in his four years in office than Theodore Roosevelt had done in his entire presidency (U. S. History). In fact, Taft filed ninety lawsuits during his four years as President (The Gilded Age).
Two of Taft’s major accomplishments were the dissolution of the Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company and the lawsuit against J. P. Morgan’s U. S. Steel Corporation; however, the latter angered his friend and predecessor Theodore Roosevelt (The Gilded Age). This would prove to be an important factor when Taft would seek re-election. Before and during Taft’s election, he had gained the favor of the Progressive Republicans that were so important during this period and they had placed their hopes on him when it came to the lowering of a tariff that would become known as the Payne-Aldrich Tariff to history.
Taft did not have enough political allies within the party to keep the bill from continuing through the Conservative Republicans basically unchanged and Taft was forced to sign it into law, enraging the Progressives (Spark Notes). Taft then referred to it called it “the best tariff in history”, angering Progressives so much that they denounced him and called him a traitor (Pringle). At the same time Taft became embroiled in the Ballinger-Pinchot affair which occurred after he fired the head of the forestry department, Gifford Pinchot.
Pinchot had opposed the sale of public lands earmarked for conservation in the Rocky Mountains and Alaska to developers, but Taft and his Secretary of the Interior supported it (Pringle). By Taft supporting Ballinger, he became known as someone against conservation and “earned him many enemies within his own party”, including Theodore Roosevelt (Gilded Age). Taft became known as a president that in fact weakened conservation policies already in place, making it easier for business to do what they want when it came to the environment (U. S. History).