William Howard Taft

William Howard Taft

27th President, 1909-1913

Early Life and Pre-presidency

Official Presidential portrait of Taft, 1911 Artist: Anders Zorn

Official Presidential portrait of Taft, 1911
Artist: Anders Zorn

  • Born on September 15, 1857 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
  • Parents: Alphonso Taft and Louisa Maria Torrey. Siblings: Charles Phelps, Peter Rawson, Horace Dutton, Henry Waters, and Frances.
  • Attended Woodrow High School in Cincinnati, graduating in 1874. He then attended Yale College graduating in 1878.
  • Worked as a courthouse reporter for the Cincinnati Commercial while studying law at the Cincinnati Law School. He graduated in 1880 and was admitted to the bar in the same year.
  • Appointed Assistant Prosecutor of Hamilton County, Ohio in 1881, then became the local Collector for the Internal Revenue Service in 1882.
  • Married Helen Herron (1861–1943) on June 19, 1886. Children: Robert Alphonso (1889–1953), Helen Herron (1891–1987), and Charles Phelps (1897–1983).
  • Appointed judge of the Cincinnati Superior Court in 1887.
  • Appointed Solicitor General to the United States in 1890 by President Benjamin Harrison.
  • Appointed judge of the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1892.
  • While serving as a judge in the Court of Appeals, he was also a professor of law and Dean of of the University of Cincinnati Law school from 1896 to 1900.
  • Appointed Governor-General of the Philippines from 1901 to 1903 by President William McKinley. While serving as Governor-General, he twice declined an offer by McKinley to serve in the Supreme Court (his ambition), believing his work in that country was not yet finished.
  • As Governor-General of the Philippines he negotiated with Pope Leo XIII in Rome to purchase 390,000 acres of church property for $7.5 million dollars, which he later sold to Filipinos under low-cost mortgage terms.
  • Appointed Secretary of War in 1904 by President Theodore Roosevelt. As Secretary he was responsible for overseeing the development in the Philippines and the construction of the Panama Canal.
  • He was also appointed provisional governor of Cuba in 1906.
  • Nominated by the Republican Party as its candidate for President in the 1908 election. Taft won 51.6% of the popular vote and the majority of the electoral votes.

Presidency

Taft circa 1907

Taft circa 1907

  • Took his oath of office on March 4, 1909 at the Senate Chamber, U.S. Capitol.
  • Taft proposed to Congress a 1% income tax on all corporations except banks. He also proposed to adopt an amendment to the Constitution allowing for the collection of personal income tax by the federal government.
  • In July 1909, Congress passed a resolution to amend the Constitution to authorize the government to collect income tax. This would become the Sixteenth Amendment.
  • In August 1909, signed the Payne–Aldrich Tariff Act, which lowered the tariffs on certain imported goods.
  • In September 1909, Taft embarked on a tour of the southern and western states.
  • Signed the Postal Savings Bank Act in June 1910. The law would allow one bank in each state to be supervised by the federal government, which would give a 2% interest on accounts less than $500.
  • Taft signed a reciprocity agreement with Canada in July 1911. In September 1911, the treaty would be rejected by the Canadian legislature.
  • Several uprisings in Mexico against the dictator Porfirio Diaz concerned Taft enough to order the mobilization of 20,000 federal troops along the Mexican border in March 1911 to protect Americans who were residing in Mexico.
  • On March 27, 1912, First Lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Chinda, the wife of the Japanese ambassador, planted the first two of 3020 cherry trees along the Tidal Basin. The trees were a gift from Tokyo to Washington, D.C. to commemorate the growing friendship between the two countries.
  • In 1912, Taft signed a bill creating the Children’s Bureau in the Department of Commerce to protect the welfare of children.
  • Taft signed the bill to admit New Mexico to the Union on January 6, 1912; Arizona was admitted to the Union on February 14, 1912.
  • On February 25, 1913, the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, allowing the federal government to collect income taxes.
  • In March 1913, Taft vetoed the Webb–Kenyon Interstate Liquor Act prohibiting the shipment of liquor into states considered “dry.” Congress overrode the veto and passed the bill.
  • By the end of his term, the Supreme Court had filed 90 anti-trust lawsuits.
  • Taft was nominated as the Republican Party Presidential candidate for the 1912 elections. He lost to Woodrow Wilson of the Democratic Party.

Post-presidency

Taft during his tenure as Chief Justice, ca. 1921-1929

Taft during his tenure as
Chief Justice, ca. 1921-1929

  • After leaving the presidency, Taft taught at Yale Law School as Chancellor Kent Professor of Law and Legal History.
  • Elected President of the American Bar Association in 1913 and served for a year.
  • In 1914, Taft was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
  • Taft was known for being overweight. When he left the White House, he weighed more than 300 pounds. One year later, he had lost 80 pounds.
  • Became co-chairman of the National War Labor Board from 1918 to 1919.
  • Became the first president of the League to Enforce Peace in 1915. The organization campaigned for the creation of an international body to promulgate world peace in response to the First World War.
  • Upon the death of the current Chief Justice, President Warren G. Harding nominated Taft to the position. The Senate approved his nomination and he took his oath as Chief Justice on July 11, 1921.
  • Taft is the only U.S. president to become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In 1925 and 1929, he gave the oath of office to Calvin Coolidge and Herbet Hoover, respectively.
  • As Chief Justice, he travelled to Great Britain to study English courts. He was accorded a state welcome by King George V and Queen Mary.
  • In 1925, through Taft’s initiative, the Supreme Court was provided its own building separate from Congress, where the justices used to hear cases. The Supreme Court Building would be completed in 1935, five years after Taft’s death.
  • Retired as Chief Justice on February 3, 1930 due to failing health.
  • Died March 8, 1930 in Washington, D.C.
  • He was interred at Arlington National Cemetery three days after his death and following a state funeral. He would be the first out of only two presidents buried in the cemetery.
  • The William Howard Taft National Historic Site in Cincinnati, Ohio includes his boyhood home, which has been restored and furnished to look as it did during Taft’s residency there.
  • Taft’s children and descendants continued to be active in law and politics, particulary in their home state of Ohio.