Robert Alphonso Taft was a conservative American politician and statesman, and a member of one of America’s most prominent political families of his time. He served as a U.S. Senator from the state of Ohio from 1939 until his death in 1953. At the time of his death Taft was the Senate Majority Leader. He also had presidential aspirations, seeking out the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 1940, 1948, and 1952, but remained unsuccessful, unlike his father, William Howard Taft, who was the 27th President of the U.S.
One of the most well-known conservatives of his time, Taft earned the nickname of “Mr. Republican” given to him by his peers. Taft is often known remembered by historians as one of the most powerful Senators of the twentieth century, and the U.S. Senate’s primary opponent of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “New Deal” domestic policies. Taft is also known as a major advocate of a foreign policy of non-interventionism, and for successfully leading the conservative coalition’s effort to curb the expanding power of labor unions in America after Roosevelt’s death.
Just a few years after his death, a committee led by Senator John F. Kennedy selected Taft as one of five of the greatest U.S. Senators in history. Kennedy would also go on to profile him in his book “Profiles in Courage,” describing him as a politician who was able to demonstrate personal strength and conscientious action in the pursuit of what he felt was the right path, in spite of the fact that his views were sometimes contrary to those of the majority of Americans.
On this bike ride, I went to visit the D.C. memorial to honor the man known as “Mr. Republican,” the Robert A. Taft Memorial and Carillon. Located north of the Capitol on Constitution Avenue between New Jersey Avenue and First Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, the memorial consists of a marble tower encircled by jets of water that flow into a basin that rings the base, and a 10-foot bronze statue of Senator Taft. The shaft of the tower measures 100 feet high, 11 feet deep, and 32 feet wide, and was designed by architect Douglas W. Orr. The statue was sculpted by Wheeler Williams.
An inscription on the memorial above the statue reads, “This Memorial to Robert A. Taft, presented by the people to the Congress of the United States, stands as a tribute to the honesty, indomitable courage, and high principles of free government symbolized by his life.” An additional engraving on the side of the memorial reads, “If we wish to make democracy permanent in this country, let us abide by the fundamental principles laid down in the Constitution. Let us see that the state is the servant of its people, and that the people are not the servants of the state.”
The carillon contains twenty-seven bells in the upper part of the tower, which were cast in the Paccard Foundry in France and are considered among the finest quality in the world. The largest of the bells, called the bourdon bell, weighs 7 tons. The bells are well matched and produce rich, resonant tones which can be heard throughout Capitol Hill and much of downtown D.C. The large central bell rings out on the hour, while the smaller fixed bells chime on the quarter-hour. By resolution of Congress, the carillon bells together play “The Star-Spangled Banner” at 2 p.m. on the Fourth of July.
The Robert A. Taft Memorial and Carillon is an unusual memorial, with a prominent location and grand scale that exceeds that for many Presidential memorials in D.C. It is truly a testament to the popularity of and respect for the man known during his political career as Mr. Republican.