Conservative Robert A. Taft
Like other Old Right conservatives (rightly said to be the spiritual descendants of antebellum Southern conservatives), Robert A. Taft looked askance at the newly-discovered “civils rights” and saw the Constitution as controlling any and all civil liberties. The likely 1948 and 1952 presidential candidate of the GOP, he was thrust aside by the developing liberal wing of that party in favor of Thomas Dewey and Dwight Eisenhower. The same liberal wing of the GOP helped defeat conservative Barry Goldwater’s presidential run in 1964.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Conservative Robert A. Taft
“In 1945 he voted against a compulsory federal Fair Employment Practices Committee, declaring that “Race prejudice is a deplorable thing . . . but I don’t believe it is possible to legislate human prejudice out of existence. This seems to me an interference by Federal Government in millions of employer-employee relationships – the regulation of business and individual life. I particularly object to giving some Federal board power to pass on the motives of the employer, a fact almost impossible to determine in most cases . . .”
Taft . . . in an address to the colored students of North Carolina College . . . told his audience that the “control of education under our Constitution is in the jurisdiction of the States and not of the Federal Government. As long as States provide equal educational facilities for white and colored children in the primary schools, I do not think the Federal Government has the constitutional power to require a State to change its established system of education.”
This qualification was not calculated to please the audience. Taft’s position was that if qualitative equality of segregated schools existed in fact, then the federal government possessed no constitutional authority to intervene; presumably he would not have assented to Chief Justice Earl Warren’s later decision that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”
Negroes interested in politics generally were friendly toward Senator Taft. One colored citizen of Ohio remarked, “Our Senator Taft’s record is wonderful . . . Senator Taft is not pro-Negro. He is not pro-white. He is not pro-labor, nor pro-management. The man has some strange passion for justice. He is not trying to win our votes so much as he is trying to do what is right.”
Asked to explain his general position on civil rights, Taft replied that civil liberties could be understood only in the context of the Constitution; therefore an unqualified endorsement of Negro claims, in the abstract, was impossible for him.
“Broadly speaking,” he continued, “the question is whether I feel that the Federal Government should intervene to protect individuals in their constitutional rights against the actions of other individuals and State and local governments.” He believed that the federal authorities should intervene when such action was clearly sanctioned by the Constitution.
(The Political Principles of Robert A. Taft, Russell Kirk, James McClellan, Fleet Press, 1967, pp. 74-76)