Wednesday, January 19, 2005


In today's WaPo, David Von Drehle evaluates past inaugural addresses. In an accompanying piece, he provides his ten best and worst addresses, along with comments. At number 9 is William Howard Taft's 1909 address. According to Von Drehle, the speech is "too long and dry, but rich, especially in its frank discussion of racial issues."

After reading the speech, I shudder to think what Von Drehle thinks about racial issues. Taft was clearly no Souther demogogue, but his speech reflected the racial prejudices of the day. Take this passage where Taft acquieses to the disenfranchisement of Southern blacks:

The danger of the control of an ignorant electorate has therefore passed. With this change, the interest which many of the Southern white citizens take in the welfare of the negroes has increased.

He goes on to say that as President he would not appoint blacks to federal positions if it would, as it invariable did, antagonize southern whites.

 But it may well admit of doubt whether, in the case of any race, an appointment of one of their number to a local office in a community in which the race feeling is so widespread and acute as to interfere with the ease and facility with which the local government business can be done by the appointee is of sufficient benefit by way of encouragement to the race to outweigh the recurrence and increase of race feeling which such an appointment is likely to engender. Therefore the Executive, in recognizing the negro race by appointments, must exercise a careful discretion not thereby to do it more harm than good. On the other hand, we must be careful not to encourage the mere pretense of race feeling manufactured in the interest of individual political ambition.

And then there's this:

Personally, I have not the slightest race prejudice or feeling, and recognition of its existence only awakens in my heart a deeper sympathy for those who have to bear it or suffer from it, and I question the wisdom of a policy which is likely to increase it. Meantime, if nothing is done to prevent it, a better feeling between the negroes and the whites in the South will continue to grow, and more and more of the white people will come to realize that the future of the South is to be much benefited by the industrial and intellectual progress of the negro. The exercise of political franchises by those of this race who are intelligent and well to do will be acquiesced in, and the right to vote will be withheld only from the ignorant and irresponsible of both races.

Rather myopic given that 87 blacks had been lynched in the preceding year.

1 comment:

QPRHigh said...

Here's an idea - come back to relevant topics, say the finest inaugural speech in 44 years or the happy exercise of the right to vote by 7 million exuberant Iraqis.