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William Howard Taft, 27th president of the United States of America, was born on 15 September 1857, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Louise Torrey Taft, his mother, was a Massachusetts native and Alphonso Taft's second wife. Alphonso, father of William Howard Taft, was a Vermonter who had moved to Cincinnati 20 years prior to his son’s birth to establish a law practice. He became a judge and eventually held the positions of secretary of war and attorney general during the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant.
Growing up, William Howard Taft was a good student. In 1874, he was admitted to Yale University. At Yale, he was studious and well liked. He graduated as salutatorian of his class in 1878 and returned to Ohio to enter the Cincinnati Law School.
Upon graduation from law school in 1880, things moved quickly for Taft. He passed the Ohio bar exam in short order, and in 1881, was appointed assistant prosecutor of Hamilton County, Ohio. From 1883 to 1887, Taft spent a few years in Cincinnati, working as a lawyer in private practice. During this time he became assistant county solicitor for Hamilton County.
On 19 June 1886, Taft married Helen Herron. Helen, whom Taft nicknamed "Nellie," was an intelligent woman whose ambitions for her husband would be instrumental in the evolution of his career. Over the course of their marriage, Taft and Nellie would have three children: Robert Alphonso (1889–1953), Helen Herron (1891–1987), and Charles Phelps (1897–1983).
In 1900, President McKinley sent Taft to serve as chief civil administrator in the Philippines. Taft constructed schools and roads, improved the economy, and sought other ways to assist the Filipino people. In 1901, Taft became the first civil governor of the Philippines and continued to carry out his work toward achieving Filipino independence.
Following McKinley's assassination, President Theodore Roosevelt saw Taft as a valuable asset and assigned him to the post of secretary of war. From 1904 to 1908, Taft oversaw construction of the Panama Canal.
By the time the 1908 presidential elections came around, Taft had become closely identified with Roosevelt. Roosevelt declined to run for the presidency and instead used his influence to secure Taft's nomination. William Howard Taft won this election, becoming the 27th president of the United States.
Unfortunately for Taft, Roosevelt turned out to be a tough act to follow. Taft lacked Roosevelt's political flair and genius for public speaking. Taft's presidency was much haunted by the specter of his first and greatest love: the law. His great faith in the law was evidenced by the 80 antitrust suits he set into motion during office. One such suit was leveled against U.S. Steel, in direct contradiction to a deal Roosevelt had accepted. Roosevelt was greatly displeased with the actions of the man he'd helped place in office, and the relationship between the two men deteriorated precipitously.
Taft's presidency was characterized by advocacy of world arbitration to solve conflict, foreign policy that embraced the practice of "dollar diplomacy," and the dissolution of trusts. Taft supported the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, and appointed six justices to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Although he pursued world peace, by the 1912 elections, Taft and Roosevelt were engaged in a personal battle. Frustrated and fed up, Roosevelt determined to wrest control back from Taft. Taft, however, won the Republican Party's nomination. Undeterred, Roosevelt formed his own party, the Progressive, or Bull Moose, Party. Ultimately, they split the Republican vote, and Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic candidate, took the election.
In his post-presidential career, Taft taught law at Yale Law School. He was elected president of the American Bar Association. In 1921, he was appointed Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court by President Warren Harding. Taft is the only U.S. president to date to hold the position of Chief Justice, and the only individual to helm both the Judicial and Executive branches of the government.
At last, Taft was again doing the work he loved, enjoying his tenure on the Supreme Court immensely. Finally, though, in February 1930, ill with heart disease, he had no choice but to retire. William Howard Taft died almost exactly one month later, on 8 March 1930, and became the first U.S. president to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who was William Howard Taft and what is he known for?
William Howard Taft was the 27th President of the United States, serving from 1909 to 1913. He is known for being the only person to have held both the presidency and the position of Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, where he served from 1921 to 1930. Taft's presidency was marked by his commitment to progressive reforms and his support for antitrust laws, although his approach was more conservative compared to his predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt.
What were William Howard Taft's major accomplishments as president?
During his presidency, William Howard Taft focused on trust-busting, successfully pursuing antitrust litigation more aggressively than Roosevelt, with over 70 cases during his term. He also established the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and supported the 16th Amendment, which allowed Congress to levy an income tax. Additionally, Taft expanded the civil service and made improvements to the postal system, according to the Miller Center (https://millercenter.org/president/taft/domestic-affairs).
How did William Howard Taft's presidency impact the judicial system?
After his presidency, Taft's most significant impact on the judicial system came during his tenure as Chief Justice. He advocated for and oversaw the implementation of the Judiciary Act of 1925, which gave the Supreme Court greater control over its docket and the ability to prioritize cases of national importance. This reform enhanced the efficiency and decision-making power of the nation's highest court.
What was William Howard Taft's relationship with Theodore Roosevelt?
William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt were initially close allies, with Taft serving as Roosevelt's Secretary of War and his chosen successor for the presidency. However, their relationship deteriorated after Taft took office, as Roosevelt became increasingly critical of Taft's policies, which he perceived as a betrayal of his progressive platform. This led to a split in the Republican Party and Roosevelt's run against Taft in the 1912 election as a third-party candidate.
Did William Howard Taft have any notable achievements after his presidency?
Yes, after his presidency, William Howard Taft achieved notable success as the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. He is credited with modernizing the federal court system and improving the administrative efficiency of the courts. Taft's leadership in the judiciary is often considered his greatest legacy, overshadowing his single term as president. His tenure as Chief Justice is generally viewed as a period of significant progress for the American legal system.