William Howard Taft

Smarter than stupid, of course; but does the intellectual tradition that began with the century suggest there is such a thing as being too smart for the country’s good?

They’ve all had things to say about their fellow Executives. Once in a great while one was even flattering.

John Adams said Thomas Jefferson’s mind was “eaten to a honeycomb with ambition, yet weak, confused, uninformed, and ignorant.” Ulysses S. Read more >>

Most of our Presidents have been avid athletes, even Taft. Could a party safely nominate an overweight and unabashed couch potato who scorned exercise?

Right now, of course, it is the coming election that provides most of the material on which this column casts its regular history-conscious eye. But not this time. September is the month of pennant races, and I’ve got baseball as well as Presidents on my mind. Read more >>

An old, familiar show is back in Washington. There’s a new cast, of course, but the script is pretty much the same as ever. Here’s the program.

WHEN THE IRAN-CONTRA STORY BROKE LAST NOVEMBER, A NUMBER OF public figures as well as news commentators put the revelations in a historical context. Read more >>

The curiously troubled origin of a brief and fitting inscription

On February 9, 1911, Congress approved a bill authorizing construction of a monument to Abraham Lincoln in the nation’s capital. The notion of building such a memorial had long moved many people for varied reasons. Read more >>

At the turn of the century, a crusading magazine editor exhorted women to seek peace of mind and body through simplicity. For a generation, they listened.

FOR THE THIRTY YEARS between 1889 and 1919, Edward Bok and the magazine he edited—Ladies’ Home Journal—exerted a profound influence over middle-class American values. Read more >>

The ex-Presidency now carries perquisites and powers that would have amazed all but the last few who have held that office

Americans used to take their dinners seriously. The preposterous social arbiter Ward McAllister proclaimed in 1890 that “a dinner invitation, once accepted, is a sacred obligation. Read more >>
Perched on Mount Falcon as the mist rose and the cloudcapped towers caught the first rays of the morning sun, it would seem a dream palace, the residence of the Great Khan or a Dalai Lama, remote, unapproachable, yet somehow the center of the world. Read more >>

The Big Ditch had so far been a colossal flop, and Teddy Roosevelt desperately needed an engineering genius who could take over the job and “make the dirt fly.” The answer was not the famous Goethals, but a man whom history has forgotten.

The Panama Canal was the biggest, most costly thing Americans had ever attempted beyond their borders, as was plain to everyone in the summer of 1905, and particularly to the man most responsible for the project, Theodore Roosevelt. Read more >>

In the era of the Bull Moose, Progressivism became a party; the man behind Roosevelt was, of all things, a Morgan partner