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William Taft: 27th President: Highest Judicial & Executive Office

Angela loves history and feels it is essential to our future to know the past—or else we're destined to repeat it.

Official Presidential Portrait

Taft's Official Presidential Portrait

Taft's Official Presidential Portrait

His Family Life

William Howard Taft was the only man to ever serve as both Chief Justice, the highest judicial position, and American President, the highest executive position.

Taft was born September 15, 1857, in Cincinnati, Ohio, to Louisa Maria Torrey and Alphonso Taft. He had four brothers and one sister. Alphonso, his father, served under President Ulysses S. Grant as both Secretary of War and attorney general. He also served under Chester A. Arthur as an ambassador.

Taft's Education

Early on, he attended private schools and later attended Yale University, where he played both baseball and football. He was a rather large man, standing 6'2" and weighing 300 pounds. Despite his size, he enjoyed dancing and tennis and was known for his excellent sportsmanship and laughter. In 1910 as President, when the baseball season began, he threw the first ball, a custom many Presidents follow today. While at Yale, he joined the now-notorious secret society Skull and Bones, which his father had co-founded in 1832.

He later attended the University of Cincinnati College of Law, where he got his law degree. Although he broke tradition by attending the University of Cincinnati College, he followed his ancestors, including his father and grandfather, by going into law.

In 1886, he married Helen "Nellie" Herron, a childhood friend of his sister Frances. They meet at a sledding party. Nellie had visited the White House as a youth and often joked she dreamed of someday living there. Taft often joked if he ever became President of the United States, it would be because of Nellie. His true desire was to become Supreme Court Justice.

The Supreme Court

A photo of the United States Supreme Court justices in 1925. Taft is in the front center.

A photo of the United States Supreme Court justices in 1925. Taft is in the front center.

Taft as Federal Circuit Judge

At 34, he was appointed a Federal circuit judge. His real ambition was to become a member of the Supreme Court, but many others encouraged him toward politics, including his wife, Helen Herron Taft.

President McKinley took notice of Taft and, in 1900, chose Taft to govern the Philippines when the United States acquired it as a chief civil administrator. Taft significantly improved its economy through several steps. He set up a court system and public schools, built roads, and helped establish hospitals and banks. He also allowed the People to have limited involvement in the government.

16th Amendment of the Constitution

After McKinley's assassination, Theodore Roosevelt asked him to serve in the Cabinet as Secretary of War. They became good friends, and in 1908, Roosevelt backed Taft helping him become President as the Republican candidate. He said, "Taft is the most lovable personality I have ever known." Taft did not enjoy the campaign and referred to that time as "one of the most uncomfortable four months of my life."

The man who ran on the Democratic ticket, William Jennings Bryan, had similar feelings by competing against Taft. He felt that he was opposing two candidates, the western progressive Taft because progressives were pleased with those who backed Taft, and the eastern conservative Taft because the conservatives were glad to be rid of Roosevelt they called the "man messiah."

Unfortunately, Roosevelt and the Progressive party soon realized they had very different views from Taft on many issues. First off, Roosevelt felt that Taft needed to focus more on conservation. Taft also felt that Roosevelt stretched his Presidential powers, which he revealed when he stated that Roosevelt "ought more often to have admitted the legal way of reaching the same ends." He did not want to do the same as President.

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Unlike Roosevelt, who steered clear of any acts that had to do with tariffs, Taft felt that high tariffs harmed consumers, impeded competition, and protected trusts. Roosevelt warned him against getting involved with such issues. Once he began pursuing this route, liberal Republicans formed the Progressive Party were incensed due to his involvement in tariffs. At the same time, the conservative Republicans wanted fewer reductions and higher tariffs and did not like his proposition. Although Taft eventually pushed through the Payne-Aldrich Act, a compromise between the two, it ultimately led to the splitting of the Republican party.

Aside from the uproar in policies, Taft did many good things that are often overlooked. He initiated 80 antitrust suits. Taft also made it so that the people could directly elect senators. He began the Federal income tax by adding the 16th amendment to the Constitution.

Signing Arizona's Statehood

February 14,1912, Taft signing Arizona Statehood Bill.

February 14,1912, Taft signing Arizona Statehood Bill.

Supreme Court Chief Justice

In 1912, when Taft was ready to run for his second term, Roosevelt strongly opposed Taft. The Republicans renominated Taft, so Roosevelt left the Republican party and ran for President under the Progressive Party, which may have caused a split in the conservative vote, which caused both candidates to lose to Woodrow Wilson, a Democratic candidate.

Taft was glad to leave the White House. He referred to his time there as "the lonesomest place in the world." After his presidency, he returned to his judicial roots and served as a law professor at Yale.

Years later, in 1921, President Harding appointed Taft as Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, a position he held until his death in 1930. He is the only President to have served as both Chief Justice, the highest judicial office, and President, the highest executive office. This position suited him well, and he felt this was the most incredible honor. He wrote, "I don't remember that I ever was President."

Fun Facts

  • The first president to have an official White House car. It was a seven-passenger, steam-powered, White Motor Company Model M.
  • He was the only American to have served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the highest judicial position, and United States President, the highest executive position.
  • Buried in Arlington National Cemetery along with only one other president. (JFK).
  • New Mexico and Arizona became states while he was in office.
  • He added the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, which established income tax.

Basic Facts

Question Answer


September 15, 1857 - Ohio

President Number




Military Service


Wars Served


Age at Beginning of Presidency

52 years old

Term of Office

March 4, 1909 - March 3, 1913

How Long Served as President

4 years


James Sherman

Age and Year of Death

March 8, 1930 (aged 72)

Cause of Death

failing health due to general arteriosclerosis and myocarditis


  • Freidel, F., & Sidey, H. (2009). William Howard Taft. Retrieved April 22, 2016, from
  • Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act. (n.d.). Retrieved April 26, 2016, from
  • Sullivan, G. (2001). Mr. President: A book of U.S. presidents. New York: Scholastic.
  • What are some interesting facts about presidents and first ladies? (n.d.). Retrieved April 22, 2016, from
  • "William Howard Taft." August 08, 2016. Accessed April 02, 2018.

© 2016 Angela Michelle Schultz


Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on April 28, 2016:

That is a very interesting thought, but I have a feeling that it was because Taft was such a people person, that he probably didn't like being disliked for the choices he made. He got a lot of criticism. It doesn't appear most presidents felt the way he did.

Ronald E Franklin from Mechanicsburg, PA on April 27, 2016:

That Taft considered the presidency "the lonesomest place in the world" is interesting. I don't get the impression that modern presidents look at it that way. Is it just that in our media age they've learned to hide the oppressiveness of the weight of presidential responsibility, or is it that presidents today feel they have greater support from staff?

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