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William Taft: Heavy

2017-08-28

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[00:06.06]
  • VOA Learning English presents America’s Presidents.
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  • Today we are talking about William Howard Taft, who took office in 1909.
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  • In some ways, the story of Taft’s presidency is also a story about Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency.
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  • Roosevelt had been president for the eight years before Taft.
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  • The two men were friends; Roosevelt was even a mentor to Taft.
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  • But the two men were very different.
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  • Roosevelt was energetic, both in his physical abilities and in his use of executive power.
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  • His vision for the country was progressive.
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  • In contrast, Taft was a more conservative, heavy man who fell asleep in meetings, and who did not make decisions quickly.
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  • In fact, Americans often remember Taft because of his size.
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  • His weight changed frequently, but as president Taft usually weighed about 135 kilograms.
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  • One popular story claims that Taft got stuck in a White House bathtub.
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  • This story is not true.
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  • However, it is true that Taft had a special bathtub made for him.
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  • Several men could sit comfortably in it.
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  • As president, Taft did continue some of Roosevelt’s reforms, but in a more orderly way.
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  • He also took some actions that contradicted Roosevelt’s wishes.
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  • In four years, the two men had gone from political allies to competitors for the White House.
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  • Taft was another president who was born in the state of Ohio.
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  • He grew up in the city of Cincinnati, along with five siblings.
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  • Taft’s father was a well-known lawyer, public official and diplomat.
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  • He was an advisor to President Ulysses Grant.
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  • His mother was an intelligent, independent woman who also worked for the public good.
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  • The Tafts had high expectations for their son.
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  • He became an excellent student, who went on to study at Yale and then the University of Cincinnati Law School.
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  • Taft sought a career path that he hoped would lead him one day to the U.S. Supreme Court.
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  • He worked as a lawyer, and then as a judge in Ohio.
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  • Along the way, he met Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt helped Taft advance his career as a judge.
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  • But one person was not happy about the career move: Taft’s wife.
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  • Taft had married an intelligent, independent woman named Helen Herron, known as Nellie.
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  • She had always wanted to be first lady, and she urged her husband to follow a path toward the White House.
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  • In time, Nellie Taft had her wish.
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  • In 1900 President William McKinley offered Taft a position in the Philippines.
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  • The islands had come under the control of the United States after the Spanish-American War.
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  • McKinley wanted Taft to help prepare the Philippines to be ruled by civilians, instead of by soldiers.
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  • Taft worried he would not like the job; however, he knew that it was a good chance to build a political career.
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  • Taft was right about that.
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  • But he was wrong about disliking the job.
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  • He enjoyed it so much that he turned down two offers to return to the U.S. and serve on the Supreme Court.
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  • In the Philippines, Taft successfully established courts, schools, a transportation network, and a health care system.
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  • Taft did have pejorative views about the people who lived there – he did not think they were yet capable of governing themselves.
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  • But he performed his job as governor general effectively.
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  • Taft might have even stayed in the Philippines if it were not for his friend Theodore Roosevelt.
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  • In 1901, Roosevelt became president. He asked Taft to become his secretary of war.
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  • Taft agreed, partly so he could continue to supervise the Philippines.
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  • But the job also put him in a position to become president himself.
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  • William Taft did not really want to be president.
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  • But Theodore Roosevelt and Nellie Taft wanted him to be.
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  • During the election of 1908, Taft permitted Roosevelt to do most of the campaigning for him.
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  • He spent a lot of time golfing.
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  • Taft was the first president to be strongly linked – so to speak – to the sport of golfing. (Another word for golf course is “links.”)
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  • Yet voters approved of Taft.
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  • They likely hoped he would continue the reforms of Roosevelt. He won the election easily.
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  • Once in the White House, however, Taft did several things that reversed Roosevelt’s positions.
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  • First, Taft signed a bill that did not reduce tariffs as much as many progressive activists wanted.
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  • Then, Taft removed one of Roosevelt’s friends from a goverment position.
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  • Taft believed he was correct in making the move, but Roosevelt and many other Republicans were furious.
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  • Some historians say they did not give Taft enough credit for the many reforms he did make.
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  • His government pursued a large number of anti-trust suits against big business.
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  • It also advanced two Constitutional amendments – one to establish a federal income tax, and another to permit voters to elect senators directly.
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  • As the end of Taft’s term in the White House came near, the Republican Party was divided.
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  • At their 1912 convention, a majority of delegates nominated Taft for president again.
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  • But a number left the meeting in anger.
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  • They created a new group, called the Progressive Party, and nominated as their candidate Theodore Roosevelt.
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  • Taft and Roosevelt, along with the Democratic Party candidate, fought a bitter campaign during 1912. Of the three, Taft came in last.
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  • Roosevelt came in second.
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  • The divided Republicans had given control of the White House to the Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson.
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  • Happily for him, Taft’s story does not end there.
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  • Taft taught at Yale University Law School for a while.
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  • Then, when a Republican took the White House again, President Warren Harding appointed Taft as chief justice of the Supreme Court.
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  • He is the only person to lead both the executive and judicial branches of the U.S. government.
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  • Taft was clear about which one he favored: He was much more comfortable as a justice than he was as president.
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  • One journalist at the time described Chief Justice Taft as “a smiling Buddha, placid, wise, gentle, sweet.”
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  • He even lost weight.
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  • I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.
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