William Howard Taft - US Presidents in History

Taft held a number of important titles besides that of President, from Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to territorial Governor to Secretary of War.
Taft held a number of important titles besides that of President, from Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to territorial Governor to Secretary of War.

5. Early Life

William Howard Taft, 27th President of the United States and 10th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, was born in Ohio on September 15, 1857. Young William followed in his father’s footsteps and became a lawyer. He graduated from Yale Law School second in his class, and went on to practice law in Cincinnati. In 1887, he was elected to the Superior Court of Ohio, where he served for several years before becoming a judge in the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Taft loved the law, and had his eye set on an appointment to the United States Supreme Court. However, his wife, Helen, had political aspirations for him, which he would follow, only to return to law once more later in life.

4. Rise to Power

When President McKinley appointed Taft as Chief Civil Administrator in the Philippines in 1900, he accepted and Taft and his wife made the move. He grew to love the people there, and tried to improve their lives by building better infrastructure and giving the people a chance to give their own input on territorial government affairs. In 1904, Taft travelled back to the United States to become Secretary of War at President Roosevelt’s request. Roosevelt decided not to run for re-election in 1908, and instead backed Taft for the Presidency. Taft was very hesitant and disliked the campaigning process, but he ultimately won on a platform to continue Roosevelt’s progressive reforms, defeating Democrat William Jennings Bryant, a populist from Nebraska.

3. Contributions

Taft did not have a very dynamic presidency, although he did make some important strides in promoting conservative and progressive political agenda items alike. While the rumor that Taft got stuck in a bathtub in the White House is unconfirmed, he did break up the "Bathtub Trust", a group of porcelain makers trying to elevate prices. This was only one of more than 80 trusts he dissolved while in office. His most significant work as President went toward efforts in passing the 16th and 17th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which allowed for a federal income tax and the popular election of senators, respectively. Later, Taft became the only President to later serve as Chief Justice on the Supreme Court as well. There, he lobbied for the Judge’s Act of 1925, which gave the Court more autonomy in selecting the cases it would decide. He wrote more than 250 decisions while on the Court, the most famous being Myers v. United States (1926), which gave the U.S. President more authority to remove Federal officials.

2. Challenges

Pressured into the Presidency, Taft was caught between two extremes of a polarized Republican Party. He himself was more of a Conservative, but Progressive Republicans expected him to follow in the footsteps of Roosevelt. Taft did pursue some Progressive policies, but he also enacted a number of Conservative laws, including the Payne-Aldrich Act, which kept tariffs high. He also did not appoint any prominent Progressive figures to U.S. Federal Government positions. Roosevelt eventually became so angry at Taft’s divergence from the Progressive plans that he broke from the Republican party altogether, forming his own Progressive Party. In 1912, with the Republican vote split between Taft and Roosevelt, Democrat Woodrow Wilson surged to a landslide victory.

1. Death and Legacy

During his years in the Supreme Court, Taft said, “I don’t even remember that I was President.” He always preferred dealing with the law over politics, and Taft thoroughly enjoyed serving as Chief Justice, which he proudly did until his death in 1930. His presidency, although uncomfortable, marked a change in the dynamics of the Republican party. He left the Constitution with two new amendments, and the country with a new income tax that would later support U.S. involvement in World War I.


More in Society