Published on the eve of the Republican National Convention, this Harper’s Weekly cartoon pokes fun at the girth of William Howard Taft, the soon-to-be presidential nominee of the GOP. Uncle Sam is amused to see the rotund candidate, whose weight fluctuated around 300 pounds, try unsuccessfully to fit into President Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough-Rider uniform. Beneath the mirth, however, is a serious criticism that Taft was slavishly mimicking Roosevelt’s political positions in order to gain the Republican nomination and the presidency.
In 1904, Taft had resigned as governor-general of the Philippines in order to become Roosevelt’s new secretary of war. In that office, Taft’s public pronouncements increasingly aligned with those of the president’s. Whereas he had long opposed American intervention in Latin America, Taft endorsed the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine and administered the construction of the Panama Canal. When he campaigned for Republicans during the 1906 congressional elections, he enthusiastically endorsed federal legislation backed by Roosevelt, such as the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act.
In response to criticism that he had shifted his opinions for political advancement, Taft stated in late 1907 that he took the president’s side on issues because their political principles and goals were in harmony. “Is it possible that a man shows lack of originality, shows slaving imitation, because he happens to concur in the views of another who has the power to enforce those views: Mr. Roosevelt’s views were mine long before I knew Mr. Roosevelt at all. …I am not to be driven from adherence to those views.” The president also believed that their thinking harmonized, and for the secretary’s loyalty and administrative talent, Roosevelt endorsed Taft as the best man to continue the policies of his administration. Note in the cartoon that the candidate has Roosevelt’s “My Policies” in his pocket.
With the president’s strong public support and behind-the-scenes maneuvering, Taft secured the nomination before the Republican Convention met in mid-June. Following Taft’s victory in the general election that November, Roosevelt wrote to British historian George Trevelyan, “Taft will carry on the work substantially as I have carried it on. His policies, principles, purposes and ideals are the same as mine…” By 1910, the former president had changed his mind. Although Taft was by inclination more conservative than his predecessor, Roosevelt had moved further to the left over his political career. In 1912, he challenged Taft for the Republican nomination and, after losing at the convention, as an independent candidate. The split in the Republican Party allowed Democrat Woodrow Wilson to win the White House.