William Howard Taft in Progressive Era Politics
William Howard Taft (1857-1930) was the 27th president of the United States and Theodore Roosevelt's hand-picked successor. Taft supported Teddy Roosevelt's "Square Deal" policy of attempting to strike a balance between employers and employees and conservatives and Progressives, but it soon proved impossible to please everyone. Taft simply did not have Roosevelt's personal charisma. Over time, he wound up satisfying conservatives more often than Progressives. His administration nonetheless pursued more antitrust suits than Roosevelt.
Taft appointed conservatives to several key government posts, which embroiled him in controversy almost immediately. His secretary of the interior, Richard A. Ballinger, was accused of colluding with private business to release valuable Alaskan coal fields for development. Taft's refusal to fire Ballinger and his firm position against Gifford Pinchot (head of the Forest Service) forever alienated him from Roosevelt supporters. Taft also betrayed a platform pledge by going along with the Payne-Aldrich Act, which not only failed to substantially reduce duties (as Progressives had promised), but actually raised several of them. An outraged Roosevelt challenged Taft for the Republican nomination in 1912, and though Taft won the primary, in the general election he received an even smaller percentage of the popular vote than Roosevelt, who ran as third-party candidate.