by Matthew Schaefer
This post is the second in an intermittent series describing the continuing saga of Herbert Hoover’s connections to U.S. Presidents. In 1910, the 36 year-old Hoover wrote letters to friends explaining that he’d grown bored with the game of making money and that he’d welcome a new challenge. Well-connected friends immediately brought Hoover to the attention of President Taft, writing: ‘Should he enter public life in any capacity, he is a man who will make himself felt.’
One friend replied that Hoover might find a good fit as director of the newly created Bureau of Mines. On August 25, 1910, Hoover wrote: ‘It is up to every man to do a service for his country when it can be done, and if my name, as an entirely independent outsider, with not one scrap of American mining interests, and with no personal or other alliances, would be of help in organizing the Bureau, I would be willing.’ To Hoover’s chagrin, Taft chose Joseph Holmes, an occupational health and safety expert, to be the first director of the Bureau of Mines.
The lives of Hoover and Taft went in different directions for the next decade. Their paths crossed again when President Warren Harding tapped each man to serve his administration. Harding appointed Hoover Secretary of Commerce beginning March 4, 1921. Hoover immediately expanded the scope of Commerce, remaking the quietest cabinet post into a dynamic engine for growth. Harding nominated Taft for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court on June 30, 1921. The Senate confirmed him that same day. Taft was sworn in on July 11, 1921, capping a career that included the unprecedented double duty of serving as President and Chief Justice.
Their paths next crossed when Hoover and Taft shared the platform during Hoover’s inauguration March 4, 1929. Chief Justice Taft misread the oath of office, exhorting Hoover to, ‘solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of the President of the United States and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, maintain [sic] and defend the Constitution.’ Not missing a beat, Hoover responded: ‘I do.’ Unlike the fuss made when the misreading of the oath by Chief Justice Roberts and President Obama led to a second oath-taking in 2009, Taft and Hoover kept calm and soldiered on.
Hoover’s last contact with Taft came when Taft’s failing health compelled him to resign as Chief Justice on February 3, 1930. In public statement the next day, Hoover said that Taft ‘has given almost unparalleled service to his nation. He leaves his great trust as Chief Justice not only with universal esteem and gratitude, but with the affection of the whole American people.’ Taft’s health continued to decline. He died on March 8, 1930. In his public remarks, Hoover noted Taft’s wide range of public service—Judge, Governor-General of the Philippines, Secretary of War, President and Chief Justice. Fittingly Taft was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.