William H. Taft 1921 Typed Letter Signed – Incredible Content Mentioning Many Topics Including Warren G. Harding and The Titanic


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27th President.  Four-page typed letter signed (TLS) “Wm H. Taft”, May 12, 1921, personal stationery from New Haven, Connecticut, 8×11, to Gus Karger at the Post Building in Washington, D.C., discussing a wide variety of topic, including the League of Nations, the sinking of the Titanic, and the citizens of Vermont, in full:

I have yours of of May 9th, and have been very much interested in what you say.  I am greatly rejoiced at the clear cut decision of Harding and Hughes to have a representative in the three bodies on the other side, I have felt that it would not be wise to express, so completely as I feel it, my satisfaction. It is only carrying out what the President has in many of his speeches clearly given everybody to understand he was going to; but the Bitter Enders [those who reject U.S. membership in the League of Nations] have always ignored these statements in the sweeping general elections that they have used in respect to Harding’s attitude. Of course Lodge will be with Harding before he gets through. His course is as wavering as possible, full of emphatic statements, which he has to take back, or at least to vary from every little while. He has to explain them. He is as troubled as Grosvenor used to be in the House, and it is because he hasn’t any pole star of conduct, except his own selfishness and vanity, and a desire to be regular and to be on the side of the man who has any power with his own party. He will criticise Harding under his breath, I have no doubt, and say some sneering things before he will come around.  If Knox opposes Harding, which you intimate that he thinking of doing, it means the end of his power and that of Penrose in Pennsylvania, and the ultimate coming to the Senate of Crow and Sproul.  As I recollect it, Knox has a good deal of his [?] but information seems to indicate that the Governor and Crow are in control there, and they would be glad to side with Harding against any insurrection on the part of the Senators from the State.  Indeed Sproul was a League of Nations man; and while he goes with his party, he would not be with the Bitter Enders.

They asked me to write an editorial on the announcement that the Knox resolution was held up by Harding in the House, but I shied away from it, because when the bill is being forced along a passage, as the Bitter Enders now are, it is just as well not to flaunt a red flag in his face.

I thank you for your instances of Shank and Mayor Johnson and Don Roberts, as indicative of the present working of the primary system.

I hope to go to Ohio on Saturday, and to be Cincinnati over Sunday, and speak at Delaware Monday night, and to return so as to be in New Haven again Tuesday night.  The Delaware people have been misled as to my willingness to go West next Fall to speak in a lecture course there, and so they telegraphed me to know whether I could come this month.  I found a day when I could go and make $500.00 by going, so I concluded to unite a visit there, with a visit to Cincinnati over Sunday, which I am glad to make, because I want to see people there every little while.  I hope I can run across you while I am out there.

I know Davis and I think he is a pretty light weight [?] I presume the appointment of Daugherty puts Bob Wolff in the anti-administration column, if he can carry out successfully a hostile movement.  I don’t recognize who Harvey Smith is whom you name.

Last Sunday, Helen and Fred and Mrs. Taft and I motored up to Waterbury.  Charlie and Eleanor had preceded us, with Charlie’s two little girls, one two and one-half years old, and the other nice months old.  The name of the first is Eleanor and the second is Sylvia Howard Taft.  Sylvia Howard was the maiden name of my grandmother Taft.  We all had dinner at the Chase mansion of the other grandfather, and then we went to the church and Sylvia Howard was christened.  Then we motored back to New Haven and I caught the evening train for Boston, reaching Boston about 11.00 o’clock.  On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, I delivered five lectures on legal ethics.  My last lecture was early enough Wednesday morning to enable me to catch the noon train for New York, which landed me there in time to attend a dinner which Dwight, Hilles’ partner, gave to Hollis on the eve of his sailing for Europe.  He sails to-day.  Dwight had there Nicholas Murray Butler, and his wife, Jim Sheffield and his wife, and the Captain of the Mauretania on which Hilles sails. That Captain was the Captain of the Carpathia, Captain Rostron, who saved so many lives of passengers who were picked up in the boats from the Titanic after the Titanic went down. Congress voted him a medal and its thanks, and I presented the medal to him. He was wearing the evidence of it in a button in his evening dress. Of course that was the biggest thing in his life and he very much cherishes it. Meantime it is a good thing to have the friendship of the Captain, as Hilles will have, and I hope it means that he will get as comfortable service as possible.

Hilles is hopeful that Dillingham’s candidate from Vermont may be induced to accept the Chief Justiceship of the Court of Customs Appeals at Washington instead of the Circuit Judgship, in order to give a chance to promote Mayer.  Mayer deserves promotion, and the man from Vermont, while I expect is a good lawyer, is not so exceptional as to justify keeping Mayer out of deserved promotion.  But Harding I think has promised Dillingham, whom he is very fond of, and will not break his promise.  I told Hilles and Butler, who were both anxious about it, that I knew the Vermont species and that this Judge would much prefer to live in Vermont, visit New York, have his expenses paid in New York, and return to Vermont, and to be a considerable person in Vermont, rather than to be buried in Washington.  They know what a Circuit Judge is in Vermont, but in Washington the Chief Justice of the Court [?] has to explain every time what his court is in order that [?] know what his functions are, and who he is.  If they think the canny Vermonters who live near the Canadian line do not know the difference between a real Circuit Judgeship of a circuit like New York, Connecticut and Vermont, and the Chief Justiceship of a Customs Court, they are not familiar with Vermonters. My Father was a Vermonter.  I hope there may be some opportunity for the promotion of Mayer.  The case of Upton is dreadful.  It is bad enough to nominate a man because of the political services of his wife is characteristic of the reasons that would govern Hays, but I am sure would not govern Harding, except that Hays persuaded him into a promise.  I am told that he is struggling to find some reason to get out of it, and I hope he will.  Her refusal to support Wadsworth will perhaps play some part in it.  Hays and Dewey are bound to lock horns, and with Wadsworth in the Senate, the controversy isn’t so uneven as it might be.

Four page letter on four separate sheets. Heavy dampstaining to right and top edges, though not affecting most of legibility. Some typed additions in different format.  Several hand corrections.  Overall in fair condition with remarkable content.

Karger was the press chief of William Howard Taft’s 1908 presidential campaign and director of the Republican Party’s press bureau in the 1912 presidential election.

During the 1920 election campaign, Taft supported the Republican ticket, Warren G. Harding (by then a senator) and Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge; they were elected.  Taft was among those asked to come to the president-elect’s home in Marion, Ohio to advise him on appointments, and the two men conferred there on December 24, 1920. By Taft’s later account, after some conversation, Harding casually asked if Taft would accept appointment to the Supreme Court, for if Taft would, Harding would put him there. Taft had a condition for Harding: that having been president, and having appointed two of the present associate justices and opposed Brandeis, he could only accept the chief justiceship. Harding made no response, and Taft in a thank-you note reiterated the condition and stated that Chief Justice White had often told him he was keeping the position for Taft until a Republican held the White House. In January 1921, Taft heard through intermediaries that Harding planned to appoint him, if given the chance.

White by then was in failing health, but made no move to resign when Harding was sworn in on March 4, 1921.  Taft called on the chief justice on March 25, and found White ill, but still carrying on his work and not talking of retiring.  White did not retire, dying in office on May 19, 1921. Taft issued a tribute to the man he had appointed to the center seat, and waited and worried if he would be White’s successor. Despite widespread speculation Taft would be the pick, Harding made no quick announcement.  Taft was lobbying for himself behind the scenes, especially with the Ohio politicians who formed Harding’s inner circle.

It later emerged that Harding had also promised former Utah senator George Sutherland a seat on the Supreme Court, and was waiting in the expectation that another place would become vacant.  Harding was also considering a proposal by Justice William R. Day to crown his career by being chief justice for six months before retiring. Taft felt, when he learned of this plan, that a short-term appointment would not serve the office well, and that once confirmed by the Senate, the memory of Day would grow dim. After Harding rejected Day’s plan, Attorney General Harry Daugherty, who supported Taft’s candidacy, urged him to fill the vacancy, and he named Taft on June 30, 1921.  The Senate confirmed Taft the same day, 61–4, without any committee hearings and after a brief debate in executive session. Taft drew the objections of three progressive Republicans and one southern Democrat. When he was sworn in on July 11, he became the first and to date only person to serve both as president and chief justice.