William Howard Taft

The 27 president of the United States

Early LIfe

· William Howard had two half-brothers, Charles Phelps [q.v.] and Peter Rawson; there were two younger brothers, Henry Waters and Horace Dutton, and a sister, Fanny Louise. At twelve he was at the head of his class, at thirteen he entered the Woodward High School in Cincinnati, and at seventeen he was ready for Yale, where he matriculated in the fall of 1874. Taft did well at Yale. He delivered the class oration on his graduation in 1878, and was second in a class of 121. Then turning his face westward, he went back to Cincinnati where, in 1880, he received his law degree from the Cincinnati Law School and was admitted to the Ohio bar. He was a large, too good-natured young man with a tendency toward sloth which worried his father and his youngest brother, Horace. Thus he was rebuked by the former in the summer of 1879 for being at a boat race when he might have been handling a minor law suit. This weakness for procrastination never really left Taft. He was constantly complaining, when in the White House, that he had not yet had time to prepare some speech and would have to get it in shape in too brief a time. On the other hand, the law was a rather casual mistress in the eighties. While studying, he also had time to serve as a court reporter for the Cincinnati Commercial."

His words

"I don't hesitate to say that I would rather have been chief justice than president." --William Howard Taft"


After the Spanish-American War, the United States acquired the Philippines. Thinking that the war's end would bring independence, a band of Filipinos led by Emilio Aguinaldo fought a long, ugly guerilla war when it became apparent that independence was not forthcoming. As American troops squelched the insurgent movement, President William McKinley realized that the new governor, whom he had yet to appoint, faced a very volatile situation. He turned to William Howard Taft who protested, "I am not the man you want. To begin with, I have never approved of keeping the Philippines." McKinley responded, "I think I can trust the man who didn't want them better than I can the man who did.Throughout much of his life, Taft coveted an appointment to the Supreme Court. But in October 1902 and again in January of 1903, when President Theodore Roosevelt offered to appoint him to the high court, Taft declined the offer saying, "It has always been my dream to be in the Supreme Court, but . . . I should go straight back to the Philippines" because "those people expect me back and believe I will not desert them." Besides, said Taft, Nellie "was quite disappointed that I should be `shelved' on the bench at my age."Taft did accept Theodore Roosevelt's March 1903 proposal to join his cabinet, only after being assured that "as secretary of war you would still have the ultimate control of the Philippine situation." Nellie Taft approved, writing that this post was in keeping with "the kind of career I wanted for him and expected him to have." After her husband took office on February 1, 1904, he became responsible for the construction of the Panama Canal.As a member of the president's official family, the secretary of war not only came to know Theodore Roosevelt better officially, but the two became close friends. As 1908 neared, he became convinced that his secretary of war should succeed him as chief executive. Although Nellie Taft was delighted with this turn of events, her husband expressed apprehensions and seemed much less ecstatic about the prospect of becoming Theodore Roosevelt's successor. "Politics when I am in it makes me sick," said Taft candidly in 1906.

Getting involved

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."


the only person to have held both offices. Taft was elected president in 1908, the chosen successor of Theodor Rosevelt, but was defeated for re-election by Woodrow Wilson in 1912 after Roosevelt split the Republican vote by running as a third-party candidate. In 1921, President appointed Taft chief justice, a position in which he served until a few weeks before his death.

Taft was born in Cincinnati in 1857, the son of Alphonso Taft , a US Attorney General and Secretary of War, and notable member of the Skull and Bones secret society. William Taft attended Yale and was a member of Skull and Bones like his father, and after becoming a lawyer was appointed a judge while still in his twenties. He continued a rapid rise, being namedand as a judge of the 6th court of appeals. The president appointed Taft . In 1904, Roosevelt made him and he became Roosevelt's hand-picked successor. Taft declined repeated offers of appointment to the Supreme court, believing his political work more important.


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