Little does history remember the death of Vice President Garret Augustus Hobart at the tender age of 55, barely a month before the beginning of the present century. Yet we have cause to lament that, in the words of the Psalmist, this humble personage was not granted a span of 70, or even 80, years. For it can be shown that his premature death loosed an unprecedented series of tragic and evil consequences. The legacy of Hobart’s early demise was an onslaught of carnage, sorrow, and suffering, the likes of which the world had theretofore neither seen nor dared to imagine.

It is a strange and little-known fact of history that most of the calamities that have befallen humanity during the present century stem directly from Hobart’s death on November 21, 1899. That this obvious cause-and-effect relationship has not been widely acknowledged is a sad but telling commentary on the competence of modern historians. To correct this oversight a new outlook on the present era is needed, one that will correct the record and explain how and why our much-boasted civilization went awry during the past 90 years.

The first and most obvious outcome of Hobart’s death was the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. With his previous Vice President dead. President McKinley needed a running mate in 1900. Theodore Roosevelt, through the contradictory actions of his political friends and enemies, was launched as the new candidate for Vice President. Ipso facto, upon the assassination of William McKinley, Roosevelt became President.

At first blush it does not seem that the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt should be considered a “disaster.” On the contrary, according to the “conventional wisdom,” Theodore Roosevelt was one of our greatest Presidents. In some respects this is undoubtedly so. Nevertheless, Roosevelt made one tragic and completely unforgivable error which completely negates the virtues that history credits to his account.

Unfortunately for the country and eventually the world, Roosevelt had a fatal character flaw: he loved a good fight, even from afar. Ever captive of his animal instincts, the impetuous young President was eager to embroil the United States in the war between Russia and Japan. Roosevelt offered to mediate a peace treaty, the two combatants agreed, and the 1905 Treaty of Portsmouth was the result. At about the same time, Roosevelt needlessly involved the United States in a nasty quarrel between France, Britain, and Germany over the future of Morocco.

Never mind that for these efforts Roosevelt was awarded the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize, for there are two reasons why Roosevelt’s so-called “positive” (read meddling) foreign policy was the first great mistake of the 20th century. First, it set a precedent that the United States would henceforth be willing to stick its nose into Europe’s and Asia’s disputes and civil wars. Second, we earned Germany’s distrust and Japan’s lasting enmity for our trouble. Japan’s animosity toward the United States festered and grew for the next 35 years and culminated with the attack on Pearl Harbor. Japan came away from the Portsmouth negotiations with the firm conviction that the United States had helped Russia cheat her out of a large monetary indemnity. And, as she did in 1945, Japan vowed not to get mad, but instead to get even.

With the precedent now set (one that would haunt future generations), we can turn to Big Bill Taft’s titanic-sized mistake. But first let’s see how the presidency of William Howard Taft was another result of the death of Garret Augustus Hobart. In 1908, Theodore Roosevelt handpicked Taft to be his successor. Roosevelt was so popular and powerful that he could have put virtually am one in the White House in 1909. He was idiosyncratic enough to select Bill Taft, probably because the lethargic Taft would never have had enough ambition to seek the job on his own initiative, hi reality Taft was a good President and a fine man. His reputation has suffered merely because his term was sandwiched between two supposedly great Presidents: that “damned cowboy” Teddy Roosevelt and the tiresome and self-righteous Calvinist Woodrow Wilson.

Taft made only one of history’s “great mistakes,” but it was more than enough. Taft’s error was that he supported the idea of the personal income tax and was the prime advocate of the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The amendment is only one sentence (30 words), but it changed the basic nature of our Republic forever. Beginning in 1913, Congress could legally tax personal incomes. Suddenly the potential for exponentially increased riches for the government’s coffers was at hand, and history clearly demonstrates that politicians will exercise their “divine right to spend” more than they should, buying, or at least attempting to buy, their reelection in the process. Taft could have stopped the income tax, but instead he ardently supported it. The bill authorizing the constitutional amendment was passed in the early months of Taft’s presidency, and Taft proudly certified the amendment’s final ratification by the 36th state on February 25, 1913, only seven days before he left office.

Poor Taft was doomed to serve only one term as President because he wouldn’t take his marching orders from Theodore Roosevelt. TR at first tried to let Taft be Taft, but physical dimensions aside, there really wasn’t much that was presidential about the jolly walrus. Before long Teddy, who, as his uppity daughter Alice once said, “had to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral,” couldn’t leave well enough alone. Soon the former friends became bitter enemies.

The outcome of this blood feud within the Republican Party was the election of Woodrow Wilson. TR tried to wrestle the Republican nomination away from Taft in 1912, but the Republicans were not about to cashier an incumbent President. So in a fit of childish petulance TR formed the Progressive “Bull Moose” Party and ran as a third-party candidate against both Wilson and Taft. Together Roosevelt and Taft garnered 7,610,000 votes to 6,286,000 votes for Wilson. However, since the Republicans split their vote among two candidates, Wilson was the victor. Thus, the death of Hobart led to Roosevelt in 1901, who then anointed Taft in 1909, which in turn resulted in Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration in 1913.

Woodrow Wilson made three mistakes, and, in addition, unknowingly altered history by appointing a Hyde Park blue blood, one Franklin D. Roosevelt, as Assistant Secretary of the Navy. But in this essay we are only interested in Wilson’s really big mistakes.

First, Wilson quickly had Congress pass legislation implementing the income tax that had been handed to him on a silver platter by his Republican predecessor. With this new ability to extract billions from the populace, it was possible for Wilson to build up the American military. Wilson talked a mighty good peace with his high-flown and hypocritical rhetoric of being “neutral in thought as well as deed.” In 1916, Wilson ran for reelection on the “He kept us out of the war” platform, but he cleverly played both sides of the street by also advocating “preparedness.” Wilson was an ardent supporter of the two great war preparations bills to expand the Army and Navy, which his toadies pushed through Congress in the summer of 1916. These measures insured that by April 1917, when Wilson called Congress into special session to declare war, the United States ahead} had a good start on building the armed forces it would need to go to war against Germany.

So warmongering was the first of Wilson’s great errors. He dragged his nation into Europe’s civil war, with the result that over 100,000 of our fine young boys never came home. It was Wilson, that imperious, idealistic, know-it-all Wilson who set the precedent that the United States would willingly, if not eagerly, send millions of its best men across the oceans to fight in the Old World’s civil wars. It was the same ninny Wilson who convinced the nation to turn its back on our traditional policy of letting Europe have the privilege of settling its own messes. Because of Wilson the United States had the pleasure of experiencing firsthand the carnage of both World War I and World War II.

One could even say-that Hobart’s death also led to the deaths of countless thousands in the influenza epidemic of 1918-1919. This forgotten pandemic killed about 675,000 Americans in the ten months from September 1918 through June 1919. Note that the combined battle deaths of U.S. forces in World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam total only 423,000. Unlike usual attacks of influenza, this virus did not concentrate on killing the very young and very old. It was most often fatal to young men in their prime, for reasons science has never understood. Conditions in the armed services were perfect for spreading the disease: the cheek-by-jowl living of the ramshackle military camps, the trains that were used to deliver troops throughout the nation, the sardine-like conditions on troop ships at sea, the munitions plants that brought millions out of their homes into daily contact with the multitudes, even the crowded public places where men were required to report for induction. Yes, Woodrow Wilson’s war was the perfect means of insuring that in short order the plague was distributed far and wide, evenly and rapidly across the continent. In 1918, we could not properly fight both the plague and the war. So, in keeping with the hoary philosophy that individual deaths are tragedies but thousands are just statistics, the war was considered more important. Lives be damned, the military effort continued unabated, while the disease completed its lethal work under ideal government-approved conditions.

If the United States had had the good sense to let the Europeans fight their own fight in 1917, the world undoubtedly would have been spared the suffering and carnage caused by communism. By the summer of 1917, Germany had already knocked Russia out of the war, and in short order the Germans would have done away with Lenin and his lackeys. The Russian Civil War, the 1920 war between Poland and Russia, the great crimes of Stalin, the communists’ intentional starvation of millions in the Ukraine in the 1930’s, the genocide against the Kulaks, World War II, the Iron Curtain, the gulag, the nuclear arms race, the Cold War, the Korean War, the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban missile crisis, the Vietnam War, and all the other plagues and terrors that the world has reaped as a result of communism during the last 75 years—all perhaps could have been avoided if only Woodrow Wilson had simply kept his nation out of the war, which Wilson promised to do with nauseating regularity while he was running for reelection.

But as if two great mistakes were not enough for one President, Wilson’s blind crusade to “make the world safe for democracy” also led to a third mistake. In financing the Great War, Wilson set a precedent whereby the United States government would borrow billions of dollars but never retire the debts, thereby legitimizing the concept of a large and permanent national debt. Thus, Wilson was the first President to permanently mortgage the future of his country. The United States had had to borrow billions of dollars to fight its previous wars, and indeed the cost of the Civil War was proportionately much larger than the cost of World War I. But after all earlier wars the country had worked diligently to repay the debts. Not after World War I. When Woodrow Wilson took office the national debt was less than 1.2 billion dollars. Before Wilson left office it hit $26.6 billion. Wilson executed and buried for all time the precious policy that, except in rare circumstances, the federal government would not spend more than it takes in.

By 1920 the country was sick, both literally and figuratively, of Woodrow Wilson. His interventionist philosophy and strident preaching about what was supposedly good for the country and good for the world had exasperated people. The country was ready and willing, if not straining at the leash, to get shed of other peoples’ troubles. About any Republican for President would do.

Warren Harding filled the bill perfectly. Without a doubt, Harding was the closest thing to a perfect cipher to ever occupy the White House. But at least Warren Harding, unlike Theodore Roosevelt or William Howard Taft or Woodrow Wilson, never made any big mistakes. Frankly, the corruption of Harding’s appointees as well as Harding’s philandering “on the side” can be overlooked. The country has always been able to survive a few shysters in high office lining their pockets, and the nation is not really harmed just because it has a President whose main hobby stems from an excessive fondness for the opposite sex. These time-honored vices are infinitely preferable to those of so-called “good” Presidents who needlessly embroil their country in other nations’ disputes. Presidents who impose gargantuan new taxes. Presidents who send millions of American boys to die fighting other nations’ wars, or Presidents who send the nation irrevocably down the road to fiscal ruin. No, the plain truth is that all the critical mistakes of this century were made by the troika of “leaders” who followed in the wake of the untimely death of Garret Augustus Hobart.

I confess that a few years ago, while researching the history of my family, I uncovered an ugly skeleton. It seems that in 1911, over 35 years before I was born, my paternal grandfather Charles L. Hyde was convicted of mail fraud and sentenced to 15 months in the federal prison at Leavenworth, Kansas. Grandfather appealed but lost. But he did obtain a stay so that he could apply to President Taft for a pardon. Many months passed with no word.

Finally, Grandpa was ordered to surrender to the federal prison in Kansas by March 5, 1913. On March 3, Grandpa stood on the train platform in Pierre, South Dakota. His wife Katherine and their five children were on hand to see him sent to prison. With only minutes to spare. Grandpa’s lawyer ran up with a telegram: “President Taft has pardoned you!” It seems that President Taft, who had a nose for seeing justice done, referred Grandpa’s request to the U.S. Attorney General for review. However, for a long time Attorney General Wickersham didn’t check into it. Finally, Wickersham tended to the matter, and the result was that President Taft signed the paper granting Grandpa’s pardon on the last working day of his term.

On page 352 of the 1913 annual report of the U.S. Attorney General, Grandpa’s case is summarized as follows: “It seems that whatever dissatisfaction arose among the investors was created by a circular letter sent out by a discharged employee of the petitioner. . . . The misrepresentations when investigated dwindled to such a degree that the Attorney General was satisfied petitioner had done nothing to deserve a prison sentence.” Thus, due to the untimely death of Garret Augustus Hobart, the nation got Teddy Roosevelt, and only because of Roosevelt did William Howard Taft become President. And it’s only because of Taft that the country has the benefit of Harlow A. Hyde. Why? Because if Taft hadn’t been President my Grandpa would have gone to prison, and I know my mother would never have married the son of a convict!