Title Reviewed:
Mr. Republican: A Biography of Robert A. Taft

Author Reviewed:
James T. Patterson

Richard T. Ruetten


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 70, Issue 1, pp 86-87

Article Type:
Book Review

Download Source:

Mr. Republican: A Biography of Robert A. Taft. By James T. Patterson. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1972. Pp. xvi, 749. Illustrations, bibliographical note, notes, index. $12.50.)

The Taft family has been fortunate in its choice of biographers. In the 1930s the family selected Henry Pringle as the "authorized" biographer of President William Howard Taft. The result, published in two volumes in 1939, remains the fullest treatment of the twenty-seventh President. In 1967 the Tafts turned to James T. Patterson, historian and author of Congressional Conservatism and the New Deal (1967) and The New Deal and the States (1969) to produce the biography of Senator Robert A. Taft. The result is Mr. Republican, a judicious, well written, thoroughly researched study, which, despite Patterson's disclaimer, is as nearly definitive as any biography can be. In addition, reflecting the profession's current interest in psychohistory, the author occasionally and cautiously probes Taft's psyche.

For the first time Taft's political philosophy emerges clearly. No longer may detractors label him a cold reactionary, an apologist for big business, or a hopeless isolationist. Taft disliked big capitalists, especially those on the eastern seaboard and, like his father, warmly supported a little trust-busting now and then. He upheld labor's right to strike, although labor unions caused him some uneasiness. Suspicious of Dig government as well as of big business, he nonetheless endorsed social security, public housing, federal aid to education, a minimum wage, and a strong presidency. Indeed, after reading Patterson's volume, one reviewer concluded that Taft was above all a Populist, an identification that would probably distress both the Tafts and the Populists.

If Taft's views on domestic policy seem clear and consistent, the same is not true of his foreign policy positions. As Patterson observes, Taft could not reconcile his criticisms of Soviet behavior with his stand against NATO. In denouncing Harry Truman's foreign policies in Asia, Taft not only contradicted himself but also found it impossible to develop and articulate persuasive alternatives. Foreign policy was simply not his forte.

Patterson's Mr. Republican permits few criticisms. The book is occasionally repetitious, especially in analyses of Taft's personality. Technically, it is not true that the child labor amendment of 1924 "died" when Ohio became "the thirteenth state to reject it" (p. 100). And several scholars would dispute Patterson's contention that the "bosses" in the "infamous smoke-filled rooms" dictated the choice of Warren G. Harding in the Republican convention of 1920 as well as his conclusion that "few conventions in American history have displayed such coldblooded unconcern for quality" (p. 87).

Finally, if Patterson dispels many of the unflattering myths about Taft, he also exposes some of the senator's less attractive characteristics. Taft was a chronic redbaiter, arguing as early as 1936 that "if Roosevelt is not a Communist today, he is bound to become one" (p. 156), and nearly every election year saw him pack the red bogey in his campaign baggage. This is the dislikable Taft, for redbaiting has to be the greatest red herring in American politics in the twentieth century.

California State University, San Diego

Richard T. Ruetten

Published by theĀ Indiana University Department of History.