DescriptionWilliam H. Taft Letters to John Wesley Hill. A collection of approximately 60 typed letters spanning the years 1908-1929, the bulk written during his presidential campaign and his presidency. Dr. John W. Hill was the chancellor of Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee from 1916-1936, and prior to that, a pastor at the Metropolitan Temple Methodist and Episcopal Church in New York City. Both Hill and Taft were originally from Ohio, their personal friendship spanned decades; and as evidenced by the content of these letters, touched all aspects of their lives including political and spiritual realms.
Prior to becoming president, Taft served as Secretary of War under President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt strongly supported Taft to be his successor, despite Taft's initial hesitance to run for office. By early 1908, Taft was fully invested in the campaign. Nevertheless, a letter to Dr. Hill reveals Taft's own self-doubts about his campaign. Taft was only one of four presidents who were Unitarians, deviating from the usual Trinitarian Christian beliefs that most presidents have held, and a potential roadblock in his election.
In a letter written from Hot Springs, Virginia on August 12, 1908, Taft writes to Dr. Hill: "Of course I am interested in the spread of Christian civilization, and believe that civilization in general is dependent on the spread of Christianity, but to go into a dogmatic discussion of creed, I will not do so whether I am defeated or not...If the American electorate is so narrow as not to elect a Unitarian, well and good. I can stand it if that is to be the standard. I appreciate very much your interest and your anxiety to stop such a defection as that you describe, but I can do nothing to prevent it. If a man's religious creed is to play a part in his election or otherwise, when he has lived a fairly moral life, and has done what he could for the good of the country, and merely stands in the same place that Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, John C. Calhoun and Senator Hoar stood in, and is to be proscribed from holding political office, why the sooner we know it the better". Letter is darker toned along right edge, minimal foxing, signature is bold.
Taft enlisted Dr. Hill's aid during the campaign after seeing his successful work during the previous campaigns for William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. Hill would give many a rousing speech in support of Taft during the 1908 campaign season, often downplaying the differences between Unitarianism and more mainstream Christian denominations. Taft would come to heavily rely on him as evidenced in a September 15, 1908: "I have seen some people who have heard your speeches in Maine, and they say they are great. I sincerely hope we may be thrown together in the campaign. I need your assistance". Lightly toned, usual mail folds, adhesive ghosting and residual material on verso.
One of the key platforms of Taft's presidency was his dedication to achieving world peace and participated in numerous political ventures and campaigns in his pursuit of peace. Taft was made honorary president of the International Peace Forum, a title he accepted on April 4, 1911. He was a great supporter of settling international disputes through arbitration, and pushed for arbitration between England and France. In a letter dated February 20, 1912 he shares his thoughts on the matter:
"I consider that the ratification of the pending arbitration treaties with England and France by the Senate of the United States with complete the greatest step that has been taken within the last fifty years toward the securing of the settlement of all international controversies by arbitral methods. Any progress toward the abolition of war and the upholding of civilized, peaceful and Christian treatment of the issues that arise between the countries of the world should be welcomed by all friends of mankind'. Toning at edges, light creasing along center fold, small amount of ink transference, signature is bold.
Sadly, the Senate would not ratify the arbitration treaties. Even when Taft was out of office, he still championed the idea of arbitration to solve conflicts. He wrote Dr. Hill about the topic in a letter dated March 14, 1915: "I was glad to see you and Jack in New York and to know that you are doing such good work in stirring up the ideas of the people on the subject of a Court of Arbitral Justice. It is essential that these seeds should be planted in the people in order that public opinion may be brought to bear upon the Senate when new treaties are negotiated, as they will be and when the old-time narrowness of the Bourbons of the Senate will seek to defeat the treaties". Lightly toned around edges, light creasing from folds, signature is bold.
Taft would seek re-election in 1912, but was soundly beaten by Woodrow Wilson. In a three-page letter to Hill dated November 10, 1912, Taft ruminates on his feelings, stating that although he was disappointed, he hadn't thought he would win anyway. He writes, in part: "I have your very kind, eloquent and inspiring note of November 7th. I thank you for your proper reading of my present mental state. I could not truthfully say that I do not regret the inability to carry out some plans that I think I might have matured and made useful to the nation in the next four years. That is the greatest satisfaction that a man can have. But of personal disappointment, I know you will believe me when I say there is none. Hopeful as I was, because I felt that being the leader I must be hopeful, I still held clearly in my mind the logic of the situation and the possibilities and probabilities in respect to the result of Tuesday's election. I confess I do not feel at all differently today from what I felt two or three weeks ago. I did not permit myself to contemplate the possibility of another four years in the White House. I looked forward then, as I look forward now, to retire into private life and to the difficulties of making an income which should enable me to give comfort to my family...The conviction that I could not be elected drove away many who would have otherwise voted for me, and the fear of the Bull Moose drove many to vote for Wilson, whose assistance I could have had has they thought there was any chance for my election...I have proven to be a burdensome leader and not one that aroused the multitude, not one that was calculated to lead on to victory in a close contest. I am entirely content to serve in the ranks, but I must be allowed to express myself as I will on the subject of the constitutional form of government and these new fads and isms which have blinded so many as to what is real and what is fustian. You have done eloquent work in the cause of Republicanism and in my cause, and I want you to know how highly I value your efforts. Your words are full of inspiration. The newspapers have treated me in a very kindly way since my defeat, and I believe I can say the truth when I tell you that I harbor no ill will against anybody, even Beveridge - could I put it more strongly? I hope our paths may soon cross, my dear Doctor, and meantime I beg you to believe that I am, with great affection and profound respect." Lightly toned, darker around edges, usual mail folds, else fine, signature is bold.
Taft became a Professor at Yale University in 1913, four weeks after leaving the White House. As president of the League to Enforce Peace, Taft also did his best to prevent the outbreak of war through establishing an international association of nations. In 1916 he addressed the League about creating an organization after the war that would prevent future wars, and he supported the establishment of a League of Nations when it was presented for the Treaty of Versailles. Taft has the distinction of being the only person to serve both as president and as a Supreme Court chief justice. (His lifelong desire had been to be chief justice, not president.) He was appointed in 1921 and served as chief justice until his death in 1930.
This archive is an incredible and personal collection of letters from Taft to his friend. They offer a glimpse into Taft's mindset both during his campaign and his presidency. The archive includes a retained carbon of a letter from Dr. Hill and three images of Taft. From the Estate of Malcolm S. Forbes.
Condition: Overall the condition of the items in the archive range from good to near fine. All letters have mail folds. Slight toning or foxing on some letters, with occasional stray staining and light wear.
Fees, Shipping, and Handling Description: Archive - Letter/Photo (view shipping information)
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