Plotting to Kill the President: Assassination Attempts from Washington to Hoover

By Mel Ayton | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 11
Targeting William Howard Taft

What difference does it make? If someone should decide to take a shot at me
how could he miss?

—William Howard Taft, responding to a warning by Secret Service agents that the
corpulent president had exposed himself to assassination

William Howard Taft was an academic and a legal thinker, but it is generally agreed his time in office was not a happy period in his life. He overate. He often fell asleep at his desk. He was, according to Ira T. Smith, who worked in the White House mailroom under nine presidents, from McKinley to Truman, “the most puzzling, and in some ways the most disliked [president].” Smith wrote that although Taft did not lack “charm or intelligence,” the public viewed him as a “fat, good-natured smiling man whose administration was not especially good and not especially bad.”1

Before he became president, William Howard Taft experienced dangers that the inevitable consequences of holding public office brought. When he was secretary of war under Theodore Roosevelt, Taft visited China, Japan, and the Philippines. During his trip he was stalked by a Japanese would-be assassin. The unnamed potential assailant stalked the secretary from Kyoto, and at Kobe he boarded Taft’s ship, the USS Minnesota. When Taft and his entourage disembarked, the stalker remained onboard, and when he was approached by officials he said he wanted to

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