William Howard Taft: Domestic & Foreign Policy

Instructor: Evan Thompson

Evan has taught high school History and has a bachelor's degree in history with a master's degree in teaching.

William Taft was handpicked by the immensely popular Theodore Roosevelt to succeed him as president. Though Taft did not live up to expectations, he did try to contribute through his domestic and foreign policies. Read on to find out more.

Presidency of William H. Taft

William Howard Taft took office in 1909 as the hand-picked successor to Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt, champion of the progressive movement, expected Taft to carry on his agenda. Taft started by doing so, but as his term continued and he talked to more old-guard Republicans in Congress, he began to take more traditionally conservative approaches to the issues. His term ended up being a mixture of successes and failures. Let's examine it more closely.

President William Howard Taft
President William Howard Taft

Reforms

Several reforms passed during the Taft Administration. One was the Mann-Elkins Act of 1910, which expanded the power of the Interstate Commerce Commission. Another act -- one that Taft greatly supported -- split the Department of Commerce and Labor into two separate cabinet-level departments. Congress also proposed two constitutional amendments and submitted them to the states. One was the Sixteenth Amendment, which established an income tax, and the other was the Seventeenth Amendment, which made U.S. Senators directly elected by voters instead of selected by state legislatures. The Sixteenth Amendment was ratified by the states while Taft was president, while the Seventeenth Amendment was ratified shortly after Taft left office.

Trust-Busting

Taft's predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt, was called the 'Great Trust-Buster' for his administration's efforts to break up monopolies, or trusts. Three big trust breakups that occurred under Taft were Standard Oil, the American Tobacco Company, and the American Sugar Refining Company. However, Roosevelt blasted Taft when the administration moved to break up U.S. Steel. By 1911, Taft had eased efforts to bust trusts due to his big-business connections, irking progressives. Even though Taft had more trust-busting prosecutions -- 99 -- than Roosevelt, Roosevelt was the one who was more well-known for that activity.

Roosevelt giving his policies to Taft
Taft Roosevelt Policies

Dollar Diplomacy

Taft's foreign policy was chiefly categorized by Dollar Diplomacy -- encouraging U.S. businesses and banks to establish locations or make loans in foreign countries in an effort to foster good international relations. Taft went so far as to have U.S. government officials go overseas to boost sales and initiate sales, namely in heavy industry and military machinery. The policy largely failed -- trade with China declined, and American business investment in Latin America actually increased anti-American feelings that started with military interventions spawned by Roosevelt.

Tariff Reform

Taft called for a special session of Congress with the specific purpose of lowering the tariff. Progressives favored a low tariff because high tariffs tended to benefit big business. Taft, being elected on progressive principles, promised a low tariff, declaring that he would veto any bill whose tariff reduction was not large enough for his liking. While Congress deliberated, the big-business favoring faction of the Republican party talked Taft into backing down. When the Payne-Aldrich Tariff -- which did not lower the tariff by much -- came to his desk, he signed it into law and called it the 'best tariff bill ever passed by Congress.' This irked progressives -- especially those in the progressive wing of the Republican Party, who felt double-crossed.

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