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Ship Building 1909-13 - Taft, William H.

Distinguished jurist, effective administrator, but poor politician, William Howard Taft spent four uncomfortable years in the White House. His route to the White House was via administrative posts. President McKinley sent him to the Philippines in 1900 as chief civil administrator. Sympathetic toward the Filipinos, he improved the economy, built roads and schools, and gave the people at least some participation in government. President Roosevelt made him Secretary of War, and by 1907 had decided that Taft should be his successor.

William Jennings Bryan, running on the Democratic ticket for a third time, complained that he was having to oppose two candidates, a western progressive Taft and an eastern conservative Taft. Progressives were pleased with Taft's election. "Roosevelt has cut enough hay," they said; "Taft is the man to put it into the barn." Conservatives were delighted to be rid of Roosevelt -- the "mad messiah." Taft alienated many liberal Republicans who later formed the Progressive Party, by defending the Payne-Aldrich Act which unexpectedly continued high tariff rates.

Unlike Roosevelt, Taft did not believe in the stretching of Presidential powers. He once commented that Roosevelt "ought more often to have admitted the legal way of reaching the same ends."

From 1909 to 1913, President William Howard Taft and Secretary of State Philander C. Knox followed a foreign policy characterized as "dollar diplomacy." Taft shared the view held by Knox, a corporate lawyer who had founded the giant conglomerate U.S. Steel, that the goal of diplomacy was to create stability and order abroad that would best promote American commercial interests. Knox felt that not only was the goal of diplomacy to improve financial opportunities, but also to use private capital to further U.S. interests overseas. "Dollar diplomacy" was evident in extensive U.S. interventions in the Caribbean and Central America, especially in measures undertaken to safeguard American financial interests in the region. In China, Knox secured the entry of an American banking conglomerate, headed by J.P. Morgan, into a European-financed consortium financing the construction of a railway from Huguang to Canton. In spite of successes, "dollar diplomacy" failed to counteract economic instability and the tide of revolution in places like Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and China.

In 1911 Mexico erupted in a violent political and social revolution. Porfirio Diaz, the long-time Mexican dictator, was forced to flee Mexico. By 1913 problems were so severe in Mexico that some U.S. officials feared that the Mexican revolution might overflow into the United States. To prevent any problems, President Taft ordered the U.S. Army to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border. Taft confined his objectives to securing his own nation's borders and restricting the participation of US citizens in the conflict. Taft's policy focused on the traditional and military-centered objectives of securing the territory of the United States and regulating a frontier.

By 1910 a new element entered, not considered in the original General Board shipbuilding program. The fleet of 48 battleships contemplated in the program put forward in 1903, on a 2-battleship per year building program, to be ready in 1919, contained all battleships then borne on the list, beginning with the Indiana. Experience had not yet in 1903 demonstrated the effective life of battleships, nor had any exhaustive study been made of it.

Beginning with the program recommended for 1911, the matter of the effective life of battleships was seriously taken into consideration, since experience had shown that the 3 older battleships, then 20 years old from date of authorization, were approaching their limit of usefulness. Further studies from American experience and from that of other navies and from practice abroad convinced the General Board that the effective life of battleships was about 20 years from time of completion; and that, hence, to maintain a fleet at a given strength it was necessary to lay down a replacement ship 20 years from the time of the laying down of the original ship.

Secretary of the Navy George von L. Meyer for the year 1911 recommended but two battleships and two colliers, although in the same report he recognized tho great urgency for additional vessels, stating that - In recognition of activities abroad he said that - "An examination of the shipbuilding programs of the principal naval powers shows that great activity in warship construction Is everywhere manifest at the present time." For the second time in two years Germany was laying down 3 battleships, a buttle cruiser, 2 scout cruisers. 12 destroyers, and authorizing $3,570,000 for submarines, and the British appropriations were, as during the preceding year, even much greater.

In two of the first three years of Mr. Meyer's Incumbency, he recommended only 4 battleships, 2 fuel ships, and 1 repair ship. In 1911 he added a recommendation for 2 battleships, 2 gunboats, 2 submarines, 1 fuel ship, 1 submarine tender, and 2 tugs ; but there was no provision for the battle cruisers, which were at that time being developed by the principal foreign navies, that only 2 submarines were recommended in three years, and scout cruisers and destroyers were omitted altogether, so that at a time when other nations were developing vessels of high speed and submarines of great cruising radius, the Secretary of the Navy was recommending no ships faster than 21 knots, and only 2 submarines in three years.

For 1911 the General Board practically duplicated its recommendation for 1910, and in 1912 they were renewed almost item by item with the exception that 2 battle cruisers were added. The presidential election took place on the 6th of November 1912, and on the 20th Mr. Meyer flled his report. Except that he recommended 3 battleships instead of 4, his recommendations for that year coincided with the recommendations of the General Board, and Congress at that session authorized the construction of 1 battleship, 6 destroyers, 4 submarines, 1 transport, and 1 supply ship.



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