HISTORY: President Taft’s train stops in Butler

By Rhonda Bletner - Bellville Star

It’s not unheard for a presidential candidate to pay a local visit. John Kerry passed through Bellville in 2004 during his campaign. And it was a rare treat when a U.S. president made a stop in Butler; then again, he was an Ohio resident.

“The Butler Times” reported the following in its May 17, 1912 paper:

The special train of President [William Howard] Taft stopped at Butler for about two minutes Wednesday at 12:15 p.m., while on its way to Mansfield, and the president made a few remarks to a crowd of several hundred people.

The Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center explained in a 2004 issue.

“Ohio has been the scene of numerous political showdowns in the race for the presidency. Perhaps none excited residents more than the primary campaign of 1912. Fighting for his political life, President William Howard Taft set out on a weeklong campaign tour through his native state to battle his one-time friend and mentor ex-president Teddy Roosevelt. It was the first time a sitting president had campaigned during the primaries. Both men needed Ohio’s delegates to win the Republican Party’s nomination at the upcoming convention.

As Taft’s train steamed into Ohio on the 13th of May, Roosevelt was only hours behind. Thrilled at the prospect of so much attention, Ohioans along the campaign route quickly constructed makeshift speaker platforms, flew flags, decorated their homes and businesses, and organized bands and parades. With factories and schools closed, excitement reigned as thousands waited for the chance to see President Taft and the dynamic Teddy Roosevelt.”

President Taft had been Roosevelt’s secretary of war and a trusted adviser, and the two had similar political ideas. Roosevelt lost the Republican nomination and so he formed the Progressive Party in order to run as a third candidate.

Today that’s a familiar notion as anti-Trump Republicans have been heard calling for a third party.

But back to 1912.

Theodore Roosevelt won more delegates than Taft in the election. And women’s suffrage, when women still struggled with the right to vote, made great gains in that election.

On the second page of that week’s “Butler Times,” a Columbus article reported that a woman asked Taft, as he walked to his car, “As a daughter of Ohio, I would like to know how you stand on the rights of women.”

“You don’t want me to commit myself on that question now just for your vote, do you,” Taft asked.

Perhaps she did.

President Taft traveled more than 3,000 miles up until the day before the election. But the effort was in vain: Democrat Woodrow Wilson won the election and won Ohio. Wilson garnered 40.96 percent of the popular vote; Taft 26.82 percent; and Theodore Roosevelt, 22.16 percent.

By Rhonda Bletner

Bellville Star