- Historic Sites
There Was A Storm Outside And A Bit Of Frost Within
(when Taft succeeded Teddy Roosevelt) (at one of the White House’s most unfortunate house parties)
December 1969 | Volume 21, Issue 1
Now, at 12:55 on March 4, 1909, the infirmities of old age were apparent in the Chief Justice. He spoke the words of the oath, but they could not be heard by those assembled in the chamber. Taft, towering over him, repeated his apparent silences in a firm voice that could be heard by everyone on the floor and in the galleries. Then, instead of asking the Presidentelect to swear to “faithfully execute the office of the Presidency,” Fuller said “faithfully execute the Constitution.” (Standing next to Taft, Philander Knox, the incoming Secretary of State, whispered, “Don’t do it!”)
As soon as the last words of the oath, “defend the Constitution of the United States,” had died away, a signal flashed from the dome of the Capitol proclaiming that he had been sworn in. A ten-inch gun responded; it was in the navy yard, a mile and a half away. The boom it created was joined by every noisemaker in the District of Columbia: steam whistles, horns, rattles, cheers. And for fifteen minutes the manufactured echo of that boom continued, an arranged spontaneity insisting shrilly, raucously, deafeningly that the Taft administration was welcome.
“The office of an inaugural address,” President Taft was saying, while the festive noises in his honor continued, “is to give a summary outline of the main policies of the new administration so far as they can be anticipated.”
He then went on to deliver those paragraphs that he had not deleted that morning before breakfast. He would carry out his distinguished predecessor’s policies: fight the domination of trusts; revise the tariff downward; build a “proper army” and a “proper navy” that would insure peace; conserve ihe nation’s natural resources; protect workmen in industry.
Mrs. Taft sat throughout the ceremony with perfect poise and self-command. Serenity, it appeared, had completely displaced worry. But there were thoughts, and some dwelt on the eagerly anticipated ride back to the White House with the President of the United States, for she left immediately after his address in order to meet him in the Rotunda, from which place they would go to the carriage.
But she didn’t leave before T. R. had leaped to his feet and hurried up to lier husband, who later reported to her that T. R. had said, “God bless you, old man. It is a great state document.” (Mrs. Taft thought T. R.’s comment had been, “Bully speech, old man.”) “Goodbye and good luck, again,” T. R. said quickly. “I’m off.”
Rules forbade applause in the Senate Chamber, but it broke out for T. R. as he made a hurried exit, moving as though pursued. At this point the mood changed abruptly, becoming one of celebration, lor a vast number of cheering New York Republicans closed in on T. R., eager to accompany him the three short blocks to the new Union Station. They surrounded the double surrey in which he rocle with his secretary, William Locb, and marched along with it. Spectators also streamed on each side of the street and thus declared their devotion. And at the height of the whole emotional outpouring, a big brass band pounded and blew T. R.’s favorite tunes: “A Hot Time in the Old Town,” “Carry Owen,” and finally “AuId Lang Syne.”
During the two-hour wait at the station, there was an impromptu reception in its presidential suite. And shortly after 3:00 T. R. and Mrs. Roosevelt made their way to the parlor car “Clyde.” To the three thousand people present—two rows, a dozen deep, lining each side of the station—T. R. declared that while he had had a “bully time” as President, he was glad to lay down the duties of office. “Good-bye, all,” he said, lifting his hat. “Good luck to you.”
As the train pulled out, those lining the platform fortified themselves and each other by repeating a comforting phrase, “He’ll be back! He’ll be back!” These emotional farewells substantiated Irvin S. Cobb’s observation that “you had to hate the Colonel a great deal to keep from loving him.”
As the train took T. R. to Oyster Bay, Taft, in furcollared coat and silk hat, stood in the reviewing stand watching the parade in his honor. Not to keep people waiting in the cold for the parade, he had hurried lunch. Mrs. Taft was there beside him, bundled up in a heavy fur coat, not wanting to miss any aspect of the inauguration. Earlier, when she had reached the White House after the trip from the Capitol, she had stood in the entrance hall on the great brass seal that was imbedded in the floor. Around it were the words, “The Seal of the President of the United States.” After reading them she thought (as she said later), “And now that meant my husband!”