1909 Presidential visit
The president left New Orleans on Tuesday morning, November 2. He stopped to deliver a speech at the Industrial Institute and College in Columbia, Mississippi before arriving at Birmingham's newly-opened Birmingham Terminal Station in the afternoon. An unsigned remark in the Birmingham Age-Herald of that day reported that "it is understood that the Terminal Station is so commodious that no alterations have been made necessary to permit Taft to enter."
Taft had been invited to deliver remarks during a Birmingham Chamber of Commerce banquet at the Hillman Hotel. Also in attendance were Governor B. B. Comer and U.S. Senator (and former Governor) Joseph Johnston. After accepting the podium, he joked that the "peculiar politics" of the South obliged former Governors to accept a term of "purgatory" in the Senate.
Taft expressed admiration for Birmingham as one of the handful of cities experiencing unlimited growth, and distinguished it from Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Minneapolis, Seattle and Los Angeles because of its mineral wealth, which he called, "something substantial and tangible at your doors upon which you can base your future with even more certainty than those other cities."
The President went on to caution that the material progress of the nation, of which Birmingham was a prime example, must be matched by efforts to improve the individual, to raise business standards, and to improve the moral character of the nation. He went on to observe that Birmingham's "cosmopolitan" business community, with many leaders drawn from the North and from other nations, was helping shepherd the U.S. out of its longstanding sectionalism, but without sacrificing its "noble traditions."
Taft remained in Birmingham through Wednesday, November 3 and made a public appearance that evening. He responded to a supporter in the crowd with a joking reference to Alabama's solidly Democratic vote in the 1908 election: "The fact that you had so little to do with putting me where I am," he continued, "makes me appreciate the warmth and sincerity of your reception all the more." He went on to advocate for continuing Theodore Roosevelt's popular initiatives to encourage honesty and integrity in business. He evaded a question about where he stood on the issue of alcohol prohibition by likening himself to Brer Fox.
As he entered the car to be driven back to the train station, Taft paused to greet groups of Confederate and Union veterans in two lines, shaking hands alternately with members of each group. A Confederate told him, "Mr President, you have captured the secessionists, the Ku Klux and the cranky Democrats, all of them." and Taft smiled and replied, "Well, that's a whole lot."
The presidential train left Birmingham at 4:10 in the afternoon of November 4 with brief stops in Opelika and Columbus, Georgia before a scheduled evening appearance at the Georgia State Fair in Macon.
- "Taft expresses love for the South." (November 4, 1909) Associated Press/Los Angeles Times
- "Speech at the Chamber of Commerce Banquet, Birmingham, Ala.", Chapter 49 of William Howard Taft (1910) Presidential Addresses and State Papers, from March 4, 1909 to March 4, 1910. New York: Doubleday, Page & Co. pp. 399-402