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Who Is William Howard Taft?

William Howard Taft oversaw construction of the Panama Canal for the Roosevelt administration.
The White House, home of the president of the United States.
The southern facade of the White House.
Following his time as U.S. president, William Howard Taft served on the United States Supreme Court as chief justice.
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  • Written By: S. N. Smith
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 17 July 2014
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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).

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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.

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Discuss this Article

anon148691
Post 6

I have a problem with you saying that Taft's mother was a "Massachusetts native." In that day and age, the only true "natives" were the American Indians.

anon148649
Post 4

yes- the author saw the key points and politics well and communicated them clearly.

Please make a printer-friendly option. This is too hard. --elle fagan

anon148629
Post 3

Interestingly, William Howard Taft is better known as Chief Justice for the Supreme Court of the U.S. than as President of the U.S.

I am pleased that the writer of this piece chose to focus more on the Chief Justice as opposed to the Presidency of William Howard Taft.

obsessedwithloopy
Post 2

The time when president Taft was in the office was definitely a different time, with different rules.

It has passed about one hundred years since his presidency, but for example while in the White House the lawn served as a pasture for his cow, Pauline Wayne, who supplied milk for the family.

anon23963
Post 1

This article was excellent. it helped me write my president report and I think i am going to do good. Who ever wrote this article keep writing. it was good and clear to understand. I think you should write a book and probably on him.

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