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

Updated on April 7, 2018
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Angela loves history and feels it is essential to our future to know the past or else be destined to repeat it.

Official Presidential Portrait

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His Family Life and School Years

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

Taft was born September 15,1857 in Cincinnati Ohio to Louisa Maria Torrey and Aphonso 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.

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 good 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, in which his father had co-founded in 1832.

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

In 1886, he married Helen "Nellie" Herron, who was 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 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. | Source

Federal Circuit Judge

At 34, he was appointed a Federal circuit judge. His true ambition was to become a member of the Supreme Court, but many others encouraged him towards 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 chief civil administrator. Taft greatly improved their economy through several steps. He set up a court system and public schools, built roads, and helped hospitals and banks become established. He also allowed the people to have limited involvement in the government.

His Presidency and the 16th Amendment of the Constitution

When McKinley was assassinated, 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 was even quoted saying, "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 that they had very different views with 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, 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.

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 that formed the Progressive Party were incensed due to his involvement in tariffs, while the conservative Republicans wanted fewer reductions and higher tariffs and did not like his proposition. Although Taft eventually pushed through the Payne-Aldrich Act, which was 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. He also made it so that Senators could be directly elected by the people. He began the Federal income tax, by adding the 16th amendment to the Constitution.

Supreme Court Chief Justice

In 1912, when Taft was ready to run for his second term Roosevelt strongly opposed Taft. The Republican's renominated Taft, so Roosevelt left the Republican party and ran for President under the Progressive party. This 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 went back to his judicial roots and served as a professor of law at Yale.

Years later, in 1921, President Harding appointed Taft to 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 greatest honor of his life. He even wrote, "I don't remember that I ever was President."

Fun Facts

  • First president to have an official White House car. It was a seven passenger, steam-powered, White Motor Company Model M.
  • Only American to have served both 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.
  • Income tax became established while he was in office, which was added to the Constitution as the 16th Amendment.

Excerpt from History Channel

Basic Facts

Question
Answer
Born
September 15, 1857 - Ohio
President Number
27th
Party
Republican
Military Service
none
Wars Served
none
Age at Beginning of Presidency
52 years old
Term of Office
March 4, 1909 - March 3, 1913
How Long Served as President
4 years
Vice-President
James Sherman
Age and Year of Death
March 8, 1930 (aged 72)
Cause of Death
failing health due to general arteriosclerosis and myocarditis

Signing Arizona's Statehood

February 14,1912, Taft signing Arizona Statehood Bill.
February 14,1912, Taft signing Arizona Statehood Bill. | Source

List of American Presidents

1. George Washington
16. Abraham Lincoln
31. Herbert Hoover
2. John Adams
17. Andrew Johnson
32. Franklin D. Roosevelt
3. Thomas Jefferson
18. Ulysses S. Grant
33. Harry S. Truman
4. James Madison
19. Rutherford B. Hayes
34. Dwight D. Eisenhower
5. James Monroe
20. James Garfield
35. John F. Kennedy
6. John Quincy Adams
21. Chester A. Arthur
36. Lyndon B. Johnson
7. Andrew Jackson
22. Grover Cleveland
37. Richard M. Nixon
8. Martin Van Buren
23. Benjamin Harrison
38. Gerald R. Ford
9. William Henry Harrison
24. Grover Cleveland
39. James Carter
10. John Tyler
25. William McKinley
40. Ronald Reagan
11. James K. Polk
26. Theodore Roosevelt
41. George H. W. Bush
2. Zachary Taylor
27. William Howard Taft
42. William J. Clinton
13. Millard Fillmore
28. Woodrow Wilson
43. George W. Bush
14. Franklin Pierce
29. Warren G. Harding
44. Barack Obama
15. James Buchanan
30. Calvin Coolidge
45. Donald Trump

Sources

  • Freidel, F., & Sidey, H. (2009). William Howard Taft. Retrieved April 22, 2016, from https://www.whitehouse.gov/1600/presidents/williamhowardtaft
  • Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act. (n.d.). Retrieved April 26, 2016, from http://www.american-historama.org/1881-1913-maturation-era/payne-aldrich-tariff-act.htm
  • 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 https://www.whitehousehistory.org/questions/what-are-some-interesting-facts-about-presidents-first-ladies
  • "William Howard Taft." Biography.com. August 08, 2016. Accessed April 02, 2018. https://www.biography.com/people/william-howard-taft-9501184.

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Angela Michelle Schultz

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      • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

        Angela Michelle Schultz 

        2 years ago from United States

        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.

      • RonElFran profile image

        Ronald E Franklin 

        2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

        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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