|Term of office||March 4, 1909 – March 3, 1913|
|Preceded by||Theodore Roosevelt|
|Succeeded by||Woodrow Wilson|
|Date of birth||September 15, 1857|
|Place of birth||Cincinnati, Ohio, United States|
|Date of death||March 8, 1930|
|Place of death||Washington, D.C.|
|Spouse||Helen Herron Taft|
William Howard Taft (September 15, 1857 – March 8, 1930), was the 27th President of the United States, the 10th Chief Justice of the United States, a leader of the progressive conservative wing of the Republican Party in the early twentieth century, a professor at Yale University Law School, a pioneer in international arbitration, and a staunch advocate of world peace that verged on pacifism.
Taft served as Solicitor General, a federal judge, Governor-General of the Philippines and Secretary of War before being nominated for President in the 1908 Republican National Convention with the backing of his predecessor and close friend Theodore Roosevelt. It was Taft's promises to carry forward all of Roosevelt's policies more than anything else that enabled Taft to win the Republican nomination.
Two amendments to the U.S. Constitution were passed during Taft's presidency. The 16th Amendment gave the federal government the right to levy an income tax, which became increasingly important as a source of revenue. The 17th Amendment changed the appointment of U.S. Senators by state legislatures to direct election of senators by the people.
Taft is the only president to have served both as head of the executive and judicial branches of the United States government. However, he was much more comfortable in the courtroom than the White House. Becoming Chief Justice of the Supreme Court had been his lifelong personal ambition.
Taft was born on September 15, 1857, in Cincinnati, Ohio, to Unitarian parents. The second of five children, his mother was Louisa Torrey, a graduate of Mount Holyoke College. His father Alphonso Taft came to Cincinnati in 1839 and opened a law practice. Alphonso was a prominent Republican, who served as Secretary of War under President Ulysses S. Grant. He was one of the founders of the Republican Party machinery that lasts to this day.
The William Howard Taft National Historic Site is the Taft boyhood home. The house in which he was born has been restored to its original appearance.
Like his father, Taft attended Yale College in New Haven, Connecticut. There, he was a member of Skull and Bones, the secret society co-founded by his father in 1832. He was also a member of the Beta chapter of the Psi Upsilon fraternity. His college friends knew him by the nickname "Old Bill." Initially, given Taft's physical size, Yale's American football coach wanted him to join the college squad, but Taft's father refused to give him permission, citing both concern for his son's safety and his personal opinion that football was "not a gentleman's sport." Instead, Taft rowed on the Yale crew and was an accomplished wrestler. In 1878 Taft graduated from Yale, ranking second in his class. After college, he attended Cincinnati Law School, graduating with a Bachelor of Laws in 1880. While in law school, he worked on the local newspaper The Cincinnati Commercial.
After admission to the Ohio bar, he was appointed assistant prosecutor of Hamilton County. Two years later, in 1882, he was appointed as the district collector of Internal Revenue. Taft married his longtime sweetheart, Helen Herron, in 1886. In 1887, he was appointed as a judge of the Ohio Superior Court. In 1890 President Benjamin Harrison appointed him Solicitor General of the United States. Bolstered by his legal acumen, in 1892, President Harrison appointed him an associate judge for the newly created United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, covering Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee. He held that post until 1900. He eventually became the chief judge of the Sixth Circuit, and as chief judge, he wrote one of his most famous opinions in Addyston Pipe and Steel Company v. United States (1898). It was then that he met Theodore Roosevelt for the first time, who was, at the time, a United States civil service commissioner. In 1893, while still on the Sixth Circuit, Taft completed the legal dissertation on which he had been gradually working since becoming Solicitor General, thereby earning a Doctor of Laws from Yale Law School. Between 1896 and 1900, Taft was dean and professor of Law at the University of Cincinnati, in addition to his concurrent judgeship.
In 1900, President William McKinley appointed Taft as the chairman of a commission to organize a civilian government in the Philippines, which had been ceded to the United States by Spain following the Spanish-American War and the 1898 Treaty of Paris. Taft had initially been opposed to the annexation of the islands and told McKinley that his real ambition was to become a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He reluctantly accepted the appointment when McKinley suggested that he would be "the better judge for this experience." From 1901 to 1903 Taft served as the first civilian Governor-General of the Philippines, a position in which he was very popular among Americans and the Filipino people. For example, in 1902, Taft visited Rome to negotiate with Pope Leo XIII for the purchase of lands in the Philippines owned by the Catholic Church. Following successful negotiations with the Pope, Taft then persuaded Congress to appropriate $7,239,000 to purchase the lands, which Taft then sold to Filipinos on easy terms. In 1903, President Roosevelt offered Taft the seat on the Supreme Court to which he had for so long aspired, but he reluctantly declined when native Filipino groups begged him to remain in Manila as Governor-General.
In 1904, Roosevelt appointed Taft as Secretary of War. Roosevelt made the basic policy decisions regarding military affairs, using Taft as a well-traveled spokesman who campaigned for Roosevelt's re-election in 1904. Taft met with the emperor of Japan, who alerted him of the probability of war with Russia.
Taft negotiated the Taft-Katsura Agreement, a secret diplomatic memorandum signed between himself and Prime Minister of Japan Katsura Taro on July 29, 1905. In the agreement, the United States recognized Japan's sphere of influence in Korea; in exchange, Japan recognized the U.S. sphere of influence in the Philippines. The agreement was not publicized until 1924, and was not a bilaterally signed document or even a secret treaty, but only a memorandum meant to smooth over Japanese-American relations. However, this agreement later came to be bitterly resented by Koreans, because it helped lay the groundwork for Japan's annexation of Korea in 1910.
In 1906, Roosevelt sent troops to restore order in Cuba during the revolt led by General Enrique Loynaz del Castillo, and Taft temporarily became the Civil Governor of Cuba. Taft personally negotiated with General Castillo for a peaceful end to the revolt. In 1907 Secretary Taft helped supervise the beginning of construction on the Panama Canal. Taft had repeatedly told Roosevelt he wanted to be Chief Justice, not president (and not an associate justice), but there was no vacancy. Roosevelt had other plans. He gave Taft more responsibilities in addition to the Philippines and the Panama Canal. For a period of 18 days, in July 1905, Taft was acting Secretary of State.
After serving nearly two full terms, the popular Theodore Roosevelt refused to run in the presidential election of 1908. Roosevelt certified Taft to be a genuine "progressive," and Roosevelt pushed through the nomination of Taft, his secretary of war, for the presidency. Taft easily defeated three-time candidate William Jennings Bryan.
Taft considered himself a "progressive" because of his deep belief in "The Law" as the scientific device that should be used by judges to solve society's problems. Taft proved a less adroit politician than Roosevelt and seemed to lack the energy and personal magnetism of his mentor, not to mention the publicity devices, dedicated supporters, and broad base of public support that made Roosevelt so formidable. When Roosevelt realized that lowering the tariff would risk severe tensions inside the Republican Party, pitting producers (manufacturers and farmers) against department stores and consumers, he stopped talking about the issue. But Taft ignored the risks and tackled the tariff boldly, on the one hand encouraging reformers to fight for lower rates, and then cutting deals with conservative leaders that kept overall rates high. The resulting Payne-Aldrich Tariff of 1909 was too high for most reformers, but instead of blaming this on Senator Nelson Aldrich and big business, Taft took credit, calling it the best bill to come from the Republican Party. Again he had managed to alienate all sides.
Unlike Roosevelt, Taft never attacked business or businessmen in his rhetoric. However, he was attentive to the law, so he launched antitrust suits, including one against the largest corporation, U.S. Steel, for an acquisition that Roosevelt had personally approved. As a result, Taft lost the support of antitrust reformers (who disliked his conservative rhetoric), of big business (which disliked his actions), and of Roosevelt, who felt humiliated by his protégé. Progressives within the Republican Party began agitating against Taft. Senator Robert M. LaFollette, Sr. of Wisconsin created the National Progressive Republican League to defeat the power of political bossism at the state level and to replace Taft at the national level. More trouble came when Taft fired Gifford Pinchot, a leading conservationist and close ally of Roosevelt. Pinchot alleged that Taft's Secretary of Interior Richard Ballinger was in league with big timber interests. Conservationists sided with Pinchot, and Taft alienated yet another vocal constituency.
Throughout his presidency, Taft contended with dissent from more progressive members of the Republican Party, many of whom continued to follow the political lead of former president Roosevelt.
Taft fought for the prosecution of trusts, eventually issuing 75 lawsuits, further strengthened the Interstate Commerce Commission, established a postal savings bank and a parcel post system, expanded the civil service and promoted the enactment of two amendments to the Constitution of the United States. The Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1913, mandated the direct election of senators by the people, replacing the previous system whereby they were selected by state legislatures. This eliminated a check and balance on power and reduced the power of states in relation to the federal government. Taft also signed The Organic Act of the Department of Labor, which in turn created the United States Department of Labor. In addition, he actively pursued what he termed "dollar diplomacy" to further the economic development of less-developed nations through American investment in their infrastructures.
Through the early years of his presidency, Taft had difficulties with Nicaragua when the United States shifted its interests to Panama for the purposes of building a canal. Nicaraguan President José Santos Zelaya negotiated with Germany and Japan in an unsuccessful effort to have a canal constructed in his country. The Zelaya administration had growing friction with the United States government, when the latter started giving aid to his conservative opponents in Nicaragua. In 1907, U.S. warships seized some of Nicaragua's seaports. In early December, United States marines landed on Nicaragua's Caribbean coast. On December 17, 1909, Zelaya resigned and left for exile in Mexico. The U.S.-sponsored conservative regime of Adolfo Díaz was installed in his place. Military invasions increased with an amphibious military landing of United States marines in 1910 and again in 1912. The Marines stayed in Nicaragua through 1925.
One of Taft's main personal goals while president was to promote world peace. Given his judicial sensibilities, he believed that international arbitration was the best means to effectuate the end of war. As such, he championed several reciprocity and arbitration treaties. In 1910 he convinced congressional Democrats to support a reciprocity treaty with Canada, but the Liberal Party Canadian government that negotiated the treaty was turned out of office in 1911 and the treaty collapsed. In 1910 and 1911, however, he secured the ratification of arbitration treaties that he had successfully negotiated with the United Kingdom and France and was thereafter known as one of the foremost advocates of world peace and arbitration.
To solve one impasse during the 1909 tariff debate, Taft proposed income taxes for corporations and business. The new tax on corporate net income was one percent on net profits over $5,000. Legally it was designated an excise on the privilege of doing business and not a tax on incomes as such. In 1911, the Supreme Court in Flint vs. Stone Tracy Company approved it.
An income tax on individuals required a constitutional amendment, which was passed with little controversy in July 1909, by 77 to 0 in the Senate and 318 to 14 in the House. It was quickly ratified by the states, because it was considered as a tax on the wealthy. In February 1913, it became a part of the United States Constitution as the 16th Amendment. Since then the federal income tax has increasingly been used to tax middle and lower class citizens.
Despite his obvious achievements, progressives decried Taft's acceptance of the Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act, which levied a tariff with protective schedules, his opposition to the entry of Arizona into the Union because of its progressive constitution, and his growing reliance on the conservative wing of his party for political guidance. He was criticized for having too great an intimacy with conservative Senator Nelson W. Aldrich and Speaker of the House Joseph G. Cannon. By 1910, Taft's party was thoroughly divided between progressives and the Old Right.
Taft later broke contact with Roosevelt in one of the most well-publicized political feuds of the twentieth century. In the U.S. presidential election of 1912, Taft outmaneuvered Roosevelt and kept control of the Republican Party. Roosevelt was forced to create the Progressive Party. The "Bull Moose" ticket split the Republican vote and resulted in the election of Democratic Party candidate Woodrow Wilson. Many historians argue Wilson would have won anyway, because the Republican factions would not support each other.
|President of the United States||William Howard Taft||1909–1913|
|Vice President of the United States||James S. Sherman||1909–1912|
|Secretary of State||Philander C. Knox||1909–1913|
|Secretary of the Treasury||Franklin MacVeagh||1909–1913|
|Secretary of War||Jacob M. Dickinson||1909–1911|
|Henry L. Stimson||1911–1913|
|Attorney General||George W. Wickersham||1909–1913|
|Postmaster General||Frank H. Hitchcock||1909–1913|
|Secretary of the Navy||George von L. Meyer||1909–1913|
|Secretary of the Interior||Richard A. Ballinger||1909–1911|
|Walter L. Fisher||1911–1913|
|Secretary of Agriculture||James Wilson||1909–1913|
|Secretary of Commerce and Labor||Charles Nagel||1909–1913|
Taft appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:
Notably, Taft's six appointments to the Court rank third only to those of George Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt; his appointment of five new justices tie the number made by Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln. Four of Taft's appointments were relatively young at ages 48, 51, 53 and 54, respectively.
Two of the appointments were quite unusual because he appointed his predecessor as chief justice, as well as his successor as chief justice, even though the latter resigned to run for the presidency.
Upon leaving the White House in 1913, Taft was appointed Kent Professor of Constitutional Law at Yale University Law School. The same year, he was elected president of the American Bar Association. He spent much of his time writing newspaper articles and books, most notably his series on American legal philosophy. He also continued to advocate world peace through international arbitration, urging nations to enter into arbitration treaties with each other and promoting the idea of a League of Nations even before World War I began.
When the First World War I broke out in Europe in 1914, Taft founded the League to Enforce Peace. He was co-chair of the powerful National War Labor Board in 1917 and 1918. Although continually advocating peace, he strongly favored conscription once the United States entered the conflict, pleading publicly that the United States not fight a "finicky" war. He feared the war would be long but was for fighting it out to a finish, given what he viewed as "Germany's brutality."
In 1921, when Chief Justice Edward Douglass White died, President Warren G. Harding (an Ohio Republican) became the only president to nominate a former president to the Supreme Court, fulfilling Taft's lifelong ambition. Virtually no opposition existed to the nomination, and the Senate unanimously confirmed Taft by voice vote. He readily took up the position, and served until 1930. As such, he became the only president to serve as Chief Justice, and thus is also the only former president to swear in subsequent presidents, giving the oath of office to both Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. He remains the only person in the history of the United States to have led both the Executive and Judicial branches of the United States government, and as of 2006, is also the last president to hold public office after his presidential term ended.
Taft traveled to England in 1922 to study the procedural structure of the English courts and learn how they disposed of a large number of cases expeditiously. During the trip, King George V and Queen Mary received Taft and his wife as state visitors. With what he had learned in Great Britain, Taft advocated passage of the 1925 Judges Act, which empowered the Supreme Court to give precedence to cases of national importance, thereby allowing the Court to work more efficiently. Taft was also the first Justice to employ two full time law clerks.
In 1929 Taft successfully argued for the construction of the Supreme Court Building, reasoning that the Court needed to distance itself from Congress as a separate branch of government. Until then, the Court had heard cases in a designated room in the basement of the Capitol. However, Taft did not live to see the building's completion in 1935.
While Chief Justice, Taft wrote the opinion for the Court in more than two hundred cases out of the Court's ever-growing caseload. His philosophy of constitutional interpretation was essentially a historical, contextualist sort of strict constructionism. Some of his more notable opinions include:
Evidence from eyewitnesses and from Taft himself strongly suggests he had severe obstructive sleep apnea during his presidential term of office, a consequence of his 300-340 pound (136 to 159 kg) weight. His legendary tendency to fall asleep in almost any circumstance, an open secret and source of embarrassment for his intimates, is now understood to have been the most obvious manifestation of the disease. Within a year of leaving the presidency, Taft lost approximately 80 pounds (32 kg). Undoubtedly, this weight loss extended his life.
Taft retired as chief justice on February 3, 1930, because of ill health and was succeeded by Charles Evans Hughes, whom he had appointed to the court while president. Taft died on March 8, 1930, due to heart complications. Three days later, on March 11, he became the first American president to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The only other president buried there is John F. Kennedy. Taft was the first chief justice not to have died in office since Oliver Ellsworth.
A third generation of the Taft family entered the national political stage in 1938. The former president's oldest son, Robert A. Taft I, was elected to the United States Senate. His younger son, Charles Phelps Taft II, served as mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio from 1955 to 1957. Two more generations of the Taft family later entered politics. The president's grandson, Robert Taft, Jr., served a term as a U.S. Senator from Ohio from 1971-1977; the President's great-grandson, Robert A. Taft II, was governor of Ohio from 1999 to 2007. William Howard Taft III was U.S. ambassador to Ireland. William Howard Taft IV was once a high official in the United States Department of State. He is now in private law practice.
According to a famous anecdote, when asked about his time on the Supreme Court and as president, Chief Justice Taft allegedly remarked, "I don't remember that I ever was President."
All links retrieved October 21, 2016.
Orlow W. Chapman
|Solicitor General of the United States
1890 – 1892
Charles H. Aldrich
|Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
1892 – 1900
Henry Franklin Severens
Arthur MacArthur, Jr.
|Governor-General of the Philippines
1901 – 1904
Luke E. Wright
|United States Secretary of War
February 1, 1904 – June 30, 1908
Luke Edward Wright
|Republican Party Presidential nominee
U.S. presidential election, 1908 (won), U.S. presidential election, 1912 (lost)
Charles Evans Hughes
|President of the United States
March 4, 1909 – March 3, 1913
Edward Douglass White
|Chief Justice of the United States
July 11, 1921 – February 3, 1930
Charles Evans Hughes
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