In 1912, Roosevelt’s “New Nationalism” promised populism rampant and a plebiscitary presidency untethered from constitutional inhibitions: “I don’t think that any harm comes from the concentration of powers in one man’s hands.” And “I believe in pure democracy,” the purity being unmediated, unfiltered public opinion empowered even to overturn state court decisions by referendums. This galvanized Taft’s determination to resist Roosevelt (“my closest friend”) in the name of judicial independence. Taft had vetoed the legislation admitting New Mexico and Arizona to statehood because the latter’s constitution provided for the recall of judicial decisions. Arizona removed this quintessentially populist provision — then restored it once safely inside the Union.
Taft correctly compared Roosevelt to the first populist president (whose portrait would be hung in the Oval Office in 2017 by a populist president): “There is a decided similarity between Andrew Jackson and Roosevelt. He had the same disrespect for law when he felt the law stood between him and what he thought was right to do.”