President Taft Breaks From Teddy Roosevelt -- His Closest Friend
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THE MAKING OF A NATION – a program in Special English by the Voice of America.
June 18, 1910, was an exciting day for Theodore Roosevelt. It was the day the former American president returned from a long trip to Africa and Europe. Hundreds of thousands of people were in New York City to welcome him home. There were speeches and bands and a parade.
It was the perfect end to a trip that began three weeks after Theodore Roosevelt completed his presidency.
Most of the trip was a huge success. In Africa, Theodore Roosevelt spent months hunting wild animals. He shot many lions, elephants, and other animals. He brought all of them back and gave them to the Smithsonian Institution.
After hunting in Africa, he and his wife, Edith, went to Europe.The Roosevelts visited Italy and met the king and queen. They visited Vienna and met the ruler of Austria and Hungary. In Germany, they met Kaiser Wilhelm the second.
Kaiser Wilhelm invited the former American president to watch a big parade of German troops. He told him: "You are the first civilian who has ever joined the Kaiser in reviewing the troops of Germany."
The two men were photographed shaking hands. On the back of the photograph, the Kaiser wrote: "When we shake hands, we shake the world."
The Roosevelts met the kings and queens of Norway, Belgium, and the Netherlands. They met the crown princes of Sweden and Denmark. And, while in England, Mr. Roosevelt served as America's official representative at the funeral of King Edward the Seventh.Theodore Roosevelt made a number of speeches at several universities, including Oxford and the Sorbonne. Yet all these activities did not keep him from reading newspapers and letters from home. The news troubled him.
He had led the Republican Party with great success. Now, the party seemed to be falling apart. It had split into two groups. One group included conservatives who supported President William Howard Taft. The other group included progressives who opposed Taft.
Theodore Roosevelt had worked hard to get William Howard Taft elected. President Taft had been in office a little more than a year. Yet in that short time, he had broken almost completely with the progressives who had supported Roosevelt.The split developed because progressives expected Taft to rule as Roosevelt had done -- with energy and emotion. They wanted a man who could excite people with dreams of social progress. Theodore Roosevelt was such a man. William Howard Taft was not.
He was a big, slow-moving man. He refused to make quick decisions. As a former judge, he depended on facts, not emotion, to make decisions.
President Taft did much to carry out the reform programs Theodore Roosevelt had begun. But his methods led people to believe that he was really trying to kill the programs.Taft wrote to Roosevelt shortly before the former president sailed for home.
"I do not know if I have had harder luck than other presidents," he said. "but I do know I have succeeded far less than others. I have been trying to carry out your policies. But my method of doing so has not worked smoothly."
A few weeks later, Theodore Roosevelt returned home. In a speech to those who welcomed him in New York, he said: "I am ready and willing to do my part to help solve America's problems. And these problems must be solved if this country is to reach the high level of its hopes."
To president Taft, Roosevelt wrote: "I will make no speeches or say anything for two months. But I will keep my mind open. . . as I keep my mouth shut."President Taft invited Theodore Roosevelt to visit him at the White House. Roosevelt said he could not. However, he did meet with many of the progressive opponents of the president.
Later, he met with Taft at the president's summer home in Massachusetts. It was not a happy meeting. The two friends were tense. By this time, Roosevelt had decided that he agreed with the progressives. He believed President Taft had turned back many of Roosevelt's policies.Roosevelt decided it was time for him to go to the American people. He accepted an invitation to a celebration in Wyoming.
He traveled west by train. He stopped in many towns and cities to make speeches. He spoke of party unity. He tried to heal the split that had weakened the Republican Party. But the policies he proposed were progressive. Conservatives refused to support them.
President taft could not understand Rosevelt's purposes. "If only I knew what he wanted," Taft said, "I would do it. But he has told me nothing. I am deeply wounded. He gives me no chance to explain my position or to learn his."Theodore Roosevelt hoped his speaking trip would help Republican Party candidates win in the 1910 congressional elections. His efforts seemed to fail. Republicans were defeated in many states.
For a year after the party's defeat in the congressional elections, Theodore Roosevelt remained silent. Then, near the end of 1911, America's political parties began to prepare for the presidential election that would be held the following year.
Roosevelt was sure Taft could not be re-elected. Taft had become very conservative. He had close ties to business interests. What the people wanted, thought Roosevelt, was a progressive president. What they wanted was a man like himself.
So, Theodore Roosevelt began to speak out again in opposition to many of the things President Taft was doing. For example, President Taft had proposed treaties with Canada, Britain, and France. Roosevelt criticized them.Taft was troubled. He told a friend: "It is very hard to take all these blows from Roosevelt. I do not know what he is trying to do, except to make my way more difficult. It is very hard to see a close friendship going to pieces like a rope of sand."
By now it was clear to Taft that Roosevelt wanted to be the presidential candidate of the Republican Party in the election of 1912.
Earlier, this would have pleased Taft. He would have been happy to leave the White House. But the situation was different now. Roosevelt had changed. Taft felt that the policies he proposed seemed too extreme. Taft decided it was his duty to oppose Roosevelt and the progressives. He would seek re-election.
Taft believed he could win the Republican nomination for president. He still had the support of many party leaders.Four months before the Republican nominating convention opened, several progressive Republican governors appealed to rRosevelt. They urged him to declare himself a candidate for president. Roosevelt, they said, was the man to lead the nation into a new era of social progress.
Then Taft made a strong statement against the progressives. "They are seeking," he said, "to pull down the temple of freedom and representative government." A reporter asked Roosevelt to answer Taft's statement. Roosevelt said: "my hat is in the ring." That meant he was a candidate. Now, the conflict was in the open. And Roosevelt was ready to fight.In his speeches, Roosevelt criticized Taft bitterly. In a voice shaking with hatred, he said Taft was controlled by conservative politicians. He said taft stood in the way of progress. He said Taft was disloyal.
Taft had to answer. In one speech, he said: "This tears my soul. I am here to answer an old and true friend who has made many charges. I deny all those charges. I do not want to fight Theodore Roosevelt. But I am going to fight him."
After the speech, a reporter looked for the president. He found him sitting alone, his head in his hands. His eyes were filled with tears. "Roosevelt was my closest friend," Taft said.
You have been listening to the Special English program, THE MAKING OF A NATION. Your narrators were Tony Riggs and Frank Oliver. Our program was written by Frank Beardsley.