March 4th is the old inauguration day of the United States. And today is the 100th anniversary of the inauguration of one of the 43 white guys who came before Brack Obama.
William Howard Taft was sworn in on this day in 1909.
Before becoming president, Taft had the distinction of being an imperialist at a time when the issue occupied great debate. He was against the acquisitions of the former Spanish colonies, and yet oversaw one of them. He served as the first (civilian) Governor-General of the Philippines, from 1901 to 1903. His reign term included part of the bloody war which claimed the lives of more than 200,000 Filipinos. He then went on to serve as Secretary of War for Teddy Roosevelt, before winning the presidency in 1908.
His one term in office was something of a salt and pepper experience–that is, while he is generally not seen as one of the best presidents, he’s neither seen as one of the worst. He was something of an anti-trust kind of guy, who also managed to get cozy with big business. He never seemed a vigorous imperialist, but his “dollar diplomacy” led to the sending of the U.S. Marines to occupy Nicaragua (which they did until 1925). Let’s just say it was a mixed record.
I’ve always been something of a Presidential Trivia fan, and so I can’t let the occasion pass without the mention of his three claims to fame:
First, he was the last president to wear facial hair. I know the ole’ handlebar mustache is only a good decade away from being back in, so I doubt he’ll be the last.
Second, he was the only person in U.S. History to head both the Executive and Judicial branches of government. That’s right, after leaving the White House, Taft found himself in the position he always wanted–Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He was appointed in 1923 and served until 1930. While this distinction has the possibility of being topped, I’m not so sure. Seems we’re hitting a phase of history where former presidents aren’t looking for a way to stay connected to the world’s largest bureaucracy. But it’s possible.
His third (and most secure) claim to fame is the weight problem that plagued him for most of his life. He weighed in somewhere between 320 and 360 lbs. during his term in office. Taft was the fattest president in U.S. History. Say what you will, but I don’t see this one going down anytime soon. Girth is no longer seen as a sign of prosperity, and I doubt it will again.
He was so big…that he actually got stuck–several times–in the White House bathtub. He had a custom one put in to accomodate his size. At the Mission Inn, in Riverside (CA), there is a chair made for him during his 1909 visit to that part of California. It’s unclear whether or not he ever sat in it, but I suggest you don’t pass up the chance if you’re ever in town. I’m no slouch myself, but I fit neatly with my little sister and some room left over.
Taft may have been sensitive about his weight, but he worked in a time when the press was ruthless with politicians. So, as a defense mechanism, he developed quite a sense of humor about it. My favorite story about it goes like this:
Senator Chauncey Depew (New York) introduced Taft to a crowd of supporters. He said the portly head of state was “pregnant with integrity and pregnant with courage.” When Taft rose to speak he declared, “Well, if it’s a boy, I’ll call him William. If it’s a girl, I’ll call her Theodora. But if it turns out to be just wind, I’ll call it Chauncey.”