44 Days of Presidents: William H. Taft
Posted On: 10/21/2016 - 1:58pm, Posted By: David Conzett, Curator of History Objects & Fine Art
In our series, 44 Days of Presidents, we present artifacts, documents, and connections to our local and national history from our collections that represent each of the 44 Presidents of the United States as we gear up for the 2016 Presidential election.
William H. Taft
The son of Alphonso Taft, a United States Attorney General and Secretary of War under President Ulysses S. Grant, William Howard Taft was introduced to U.S. politics at an early age. Taft graduated from Yale College in 1878 and Cincinnati Law School in 1880. After several years as an assistant county prosecutor, Taft was appointed to the Superior Court of Cincinnati in 1887.
While Taft had always aspired to be appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, his political career took a number of detours through the years. Following the Spanish-American War of 1898, Taft was appointed the Civilian Governor of the Philippines by President William McKinley. As Governor, he opposed the harsh terms of the U.S. military and treated the Filipino people fairly and cooperated with them in an effort to prepare them for eventual self-rule.
Following his success in the Philippines, Taft was appointed U.S. Secretary of War in 1904 by his long-time friend President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt had become president following the assassination of President McKinley in 1900. Following his reelection in 1904 Roosevelt stated that he would not run for another term in 1908 – a decision he would later regret. The president used his political influence and actively campaigned for Taft against William Jennings Bryan in the election of 1908; Bryan’s third presidential campaign. Taft won the election easily and took office on March 4, 1909.
Taft’s foreign policies and domestic interests were far more conservative than Theodore Roosevelt’s more progressive agenda, which would lead to a rift with his old friend. In the election of 1912 Taft was opposed by Democrat Woodrow Wilson. Theodore Roosevelt, determined to continue his progressive agenda, ran as a third party candidate of his “Bull Moose” party and split the Republican ticket. Woodrow Wilson won the election.
Taft returned to Yale University and taught law and legal history for several years. In 1921 he was appointed Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court by Warren G. Harding. He is the only person to have held both the office of U.S. President and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. William Howard Taft died on March 8, 1930.