Ohio History Journal

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Principles Without Program: Senator

Robert A. Taft and American Foreign





When it came to domestic policy, there was very little that was confusing

about Senator Robert Alfonso Taft of Ohio (1889-1953). A die-hard conser-

vative, Taft remained up until his death a convinced enemy of Franklin

Roosevelt's New Deal and the assault on the Constitution which he believed

it to represent. So solid were his political credentials that he came to be

known widely as "Mr. Republican," defining the party itself in an era when

the terms "Republican" and "neanderthal" were, in the eyes of many, syn-


Yet in the realm of foreign affairs Taft's policies have been subject to a

good deal more misunderstanding, and they were certainly more ferociously at-

tacked by his contemporaries, who tended to dismiss him with epithets such

as "isolationist" and "obstructionist." Frustrated by the Ohioan's opposition

to aid for Great Britain during World War II, one British intelligence officer

described him as "a limited little man with ignoble values," although he ad-

mitted that Taft had "a tough acute mind."1

After the war Taft became even more controversial as an early opponent of

Cold War measures. When he dared criticize the Truman administration's in-

creasing overseas commitments, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., in 1952 accused

him of espousing a "halfway" policy in resisting communism-a policy

which the historian likened to throwing a fifteen-foot rope to a man drowning

thirty feet from shore. The prominent liberal columnist Richard Rovere simi-

larly wrote Taft off as a legitimate presidential candidate in 1948, asserting

that the next president "should be an executive of the human race...who will

boldly champion freedom before the world and for the world.... [which] Taft

simply could not do." Soon after Taft's death, John P. Armstrong in the





John E. Moser is a Franklin Teaching Fellow in the Department of History at the University

of Georgia. He is the author of Twisting the Lion's Tail: American Anglophobia between the

World Wars (New York: New York University Press, 1999).



1. Quoted in Thomas E. Mahl, Desperate Deception: British Covert Operations in the United

States, 1939-44 (Washington, D.C., 1998), 164.