William H. Taft's Presidency

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How did Taft disappoint the reformers on conservation?

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Murl Larson eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Taft angered conservationists by appointing Richard Ballinger as secretary of interior. Ballinger, a former Seattle mayor, believed, like Taft, that Roosevelt reserved too many lands for public use, and he wanted these lands open to development. Chief Forester, Gifford Pinchot, a leader in the early forest conservation movement and a personal friend of Roosevelt, went to Congress and wrote articles for Collier's criticizing Ballinger. When Taft fired Pinchot, Roosevelt felt betrayed, even though it was concluded that Pinchot was in the wrong for not addressing this with his superior, Ballinger.

This led to a rift in the party between those who favored Taft and those who favored Roosevelt. Even though it was suspected that Ballinger had his own economic interests at heart in opening up the public land, he was allowed to stay on as secretary of the interior. The Ballinger-Pinchot controversy was but one part of a rift that would divide the Republican party in 1912 and lead to the election of Woodrow Wilson.

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The major way in which Pres. Taft dissapointed reformers who cared about conservation was in his firing of Gifford Pinchot.  Gifford Pinchot was the highly respected head of the Divison of Forestry.  Pinchot engaged in harsh and public criticism of his boss, the Secretary of the Interior (Richard Ballinger).  Ballinger had opened public lands to private development.  This angered conservationists like Pinchot.

Because of Pinchot's repeated criticisms of Ballinger, Taft fired Pinchot.  This made conservationists angry and it also annoyed Theodore Roosevelt, who had appointed Pinchot when he was president.

By angering these people, Taft helped split the Republican Party, leading the party's defeat in the 1912 presidential election.

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