William Howard Taft
William Howard Taft was born September 15, 1857, in Cincinatti, Ohio.
The son of a distinguished judge, Taft graduated from Yale, then returned to Cincinnati to study and practice law, but preferred law to politics. He was appointed a Federal circuit judge at 34. President McKinley sent him to the Philippines in 1900 as chief civil administrator. President Roosevelt made him Secretary of War, and by 1907, decided that Taft should be his successor. The Republican Convention nominated him in 1908 when Roosevelt chose not to seek re-election.
Taft disliked the campaign and called it “one of the most uncomfortable four months of my life.” Nonetheless, he pledged his loyalty to the Roosevelt program, popular in the West, while his brother Charles Taft reassured Eastern Republicans of his support for business. William Jennings Bryan, running on the Democratic ticket for a third time, complained that he had to oppose two candidates, a western progressive Taft and an eastern conservative Taft.
After election, Taft recognized that his techniques would differ from Roosevelt’s. Unlike Roosevelt, Taft did not believe in stretching of Presidential powers. He once commented that Roosevelt “ought more often to have admitted the legal way of reaching the same ends.”
Taft alienated many liberal Republicans by defending high tariffs, and in response, they formed a new party, the Progressives. He pushed a trade agreement with Canada through Congress that would have pleased Eastern advocates of low tariffs, but the Canadians rejected it. He further antagonized Progressives by supporting his Secretary of the Interior against accusations of failing to carry out Roosevelt’s conservation policies.
In the angry Progressive onslaught against him, little attention was paid to his administration’s accomplishments: 80 antitrust suits, support for Consitutional amendments for a Federal income tax and the direct election of Senators, a postal savings system, and direction to the Interstate Commerce Commission to set railroad rates. Arizona and New Mexico became the 47th and 48th states to join the Union.
In 1912, when the Republicans renominated Taft, Roosevelt bolted the party to lead the Progressives, guaranteeing the election of Woodrow Wilson.
Taft, free of the Presidency, served as Professor of Law at Yale until President Harding made him Chief Justice of the United States, a position he held until just before his death in 1930. To Taft, the appointment was his greatest honor; he wrote: “I don’t remember that I ever was President.”