TWENTY SIX

William Howard Taft
1909-13

One evening in January 1908, Secretary of War William Howard Taft ( 1857-1930) and his wife Helen dined at the White House with the Roosevelts and some of their friends. After dinner they all went to the library on the second floor for a chat. But TR sat down in an easy chair, threw his head back, closed his eyes, and began chanting: "I am the seventh son of a seventh daughter. I have clairvoyant powers. I see a man standing before me weighing about 350 pounds. There is something hanging over his head. I cannot make out what it is; it is hanging by a slender thread. At one time it looks like the Presidency -- then again it looks like the Chief Justiceship." "Make it the Presidency!" exclaimed Mrs. Taft. "Make it the Chief Justiceship!" cried Taft. 1 It ended up being both: the Presidency in 1908 and the Chief Justiceship in 1921. But Taft neither wanted nor enjoyed the Presidency; the happiest years of his life were those he spent on the Supreme Court from 1921 to 1930. "Presidents come and go," he once said, "but the Court goes on forever."2

Taft simply was not a good politician. He was careless about names, for one thing. When he headed the War Department, he saw eight reporters just about every day; but for all of his affability and jolly good nature he never learned any of their names or the names of the newspapers they represented. One day Colonel W. R. Nelson, owner of the Kansas City Star, came to Washington on business and had occasion to see Taft. During the conversation he mentioned

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