President Taft was not nearly as popular as President Roosevelt had been. For example, in 1909 the Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act passed with Taft's signature. The tariff deeply divided Taft's own party. Many progressive Republicans were unhappy with the previous tariff of 46 percent on imported goods. The new tariff lowered tariff rates to 41 percent. When Taft hailed this as an excellent bill, it upset the progressives who felt that it was just a patronizing token change.
As America's fattest president, Taft was the butt of many jokes. His weight when he left the White House was around 330 pounds. During his presidency, Taft once became stuck in the White House bathtub. A new tub brought in for his use was so large it could hold four average-size men.
Continuing to Fight Trusts
Taft followed Roosevelt's lead to continue the fight against unfair business practices by enforcing antitrust laws. One of his biggest suits was a Justice Department investigation of antitrust activity with Standard Oil. Eventually, a suit was brought before the Supreme Court that resulted in the corporation breaking up into thirty-four smaller companies in 1911. Many of the major oil companies today, such as Exxon-Mobil and Chevron, can trace their roots to the Standard Oil Company.
Even while fighting trusts, Taft did not publicly speak against trusts and unfair business practices, and his silence alienated him from progressive reformers. Further, his antitrust suits caused him to become very unpopular with big business, including powerful companies like U.S. Steel. President Taft found himself in a difficult position with both progressives and conservatives. His actions never seemed to go far enough for the progressive elements in his party and often went too far for the conservatives. Moreover, his policies caused a rift between him and former president Roosevelt that would come back against Taft in the election of 1912.
President Taft made numerous foreign policy decisions based on something called Dollar Diplomacy. He felt as did his secretary of state, Philander Knox, that the purpose of diplomacy was to improve financial opportunities at home and abroad while also using capital to help U.S. interests overseas. In other words, America would use military and diplomatic actions to promote U.S. business interests abroad.
Taft used this policy in 1912 when he sent marines into Nicaragua to help stop a rebellion that the government deemed would be unfriendly to American business interests. In China, Taft had Secretary Knox secure an agreement that an American banking conglomerate would be able to join with Europeans who were financing a railway. Unlike his predecessor, Roosevelt, Taft did not want to stretch the powers of the president. He felt strongly that the actions of the president should be accomplished within the confines of the previously outlined presidential powers.