Any link may be advertising for which I may get a commission if you buy, at no additional charge to you. See my Disclaimer.
William Howard Taft became the 27th President of the United States in 1909. Later, he became the 10th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He’s the only person to serve both roles. Just one of the 10 Best Reasons to treasure Taft! Why did I say “treasure Traft”? I don’t believe he ever ran the Treasury Department! However, he had a very long, impressive resume!
The picture above shows the Taft family home entrance. He grew up in this house, which is now a museum and National Historic Site. While visiting remained limited due to COVID, I happened to be there on a “slow day” and saw much of the house and the museum next door. Taft, like many presidents, lived a life of service to his country. Here’s a link to the National Historic Site of his former home.
His career goal, becoming Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, came about after he held the office of President of the United States! The only person to ever do that. While the possibility of that happening again is rare, it remains a possibility. Here’s a link to the US President’s website on The Driveby Tourist.
Mr. Resume – 10 Best Reasons to treasure Taft!
Taft grew up in Cincinnati, even while his father was away as an ambassador to Austria-Hungary. He attended Yale University, becoming the first of five presidents to do so. (Gerald Ford, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton became the other four.)
By the way, Harvard leads with eight presidents graduating from there. Yale is second.
Taft achieved popularity at Yale. While not particularly athletic, he participated in intramural wrestling. His jovial nature and integrity endeared him to fellow students and faculty. While he wasn’t the smartest, he excelled by hard work. He graduated second in his class in 1878.
He gained admission to the Skull and Bones, a Yale secret society co-founded by his father. Both “Bush I” and “Bush II” belonged as well.
Following Yale, he attended and graduated from Cincinnati Law School. All of his life, he loved the law!
Additional pictures and displays about his career stand “over there.” (Just to the right of this text!)
While he served as Secretary of War (now called Secretary of Defense), that obviously wasn’t his career highlight. I just posted it as an example of other posts about his life.
Here are 10 Best Reasons to treasure Taft!
- Judge, Ohio Supreme Court
- US Solicitor General
- Judge US Circuit Court of Appeals
- Dean, University of Cincinnati Law School
- President, Second Phillippine Commission
- Governor General of the Phillippines
- Secretary of War under Theodore Roosevelt
- 27th President of the United States
- Professor of Law Yale University
- 10th Supreme Court Justice of the United States
Above, you see Taft’s life-size cut out in his Cincinnati home. Next is a display of his father’s accomplishments. Finally, the cartoon represents politics at the time. Although he faced rumors of accepting illegal campaign contributions, he personally turned down any questionable contributions.
Yes, Taft remained a very “large” man much of his life. He tipped the scales at 340 pounds at one time in the White House. Taft installed an oversized bathtub in the White House as he didn’t fit in the existing tub! In later years, Taft attempted weight loss and did lose nearly 100 pounds over several years while the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. While he didn’t reach the point of tallest President, he definitely remains the heaviest! Doctors believe his excessive weight contributed to his health problems and death at age 72.
While in law school and shortly after, he worked for a Cincinnati newspaper, covering court news. Although the newspaper offered him a full-time position, he declined to practice law. Taft’s “real” career started with practicing law in Cincinnati. He returned to that practice several times during his career.
His first foray into government came about when President Chester A. Arthur appointed him Collector of Internal Revenue Service in 1882. He resigned in 1883 as he disagreed with terminating competent employees who were politically out of favor.
In 1887, the Ohio Governor appointed him to a vacancy on the Superior Court of Cincinnati. He served until the next election, which he won for a five-year term. In 1889, the Governor lobbied President Harrison to appoint him to the US Supreme Court. That was Taft’s lifelong ambition. Instead, in 1890, Harrison appointed him as Solicitor General of the United States.
He and his wife Nellie came into Washington society through the help of a friend of his father. While Nellie remained politically ambitious, Taft continued his comfort level, socializing with Supreme Court Justices. She encouraged him to socialize with Theodore Roosevelt and others at that level.
Taft introduced a policy still in effect today called the confession of error. The confession of error policy allowed the Federal Government to concede a case in the Supreme Court if the Solicitor General believed it should have lost. The cornerstone case resulted from an appealed murder conviction in which Taft thought the evidence was inadmissible.
Taft judgeship – another of the 10 Best Reasons to treasure Taft!
Although Taft proved successful as Solicitor General, winning 15 of the 18 cases he argued before the Supreme Court, he gladly accepted a judgeship in the Sixth District of the US Courts of Appeal, serving from 1892 until 1900. At that time, President McKinley called him to Washington and asked him to accept a role in the Philippine Commission. He accepted with the proviso that he become the head of the commission.
Taft’s work in the Phillippines
The commission took executive control of the Philippines on September 1, 1900. On July 4th, 1901, Taft became the civilian Governor. Taft sought to make Filipinos partners in the venture that led to self-government. While many of the American leadership viewed the locals as inferiors, Taft wrote, “we propose to banish this idea from their minds.” He did not impose racial segregation and treated Filipinos as equals at social events. Nellie recalled, “neither politics nor race should influence our hospitality in any way.”
When one became available, Taft thought McKinley would follow up with a Supreme Court nomination. However, McKinley was assassinated in September 1901. Theodore Roosevelt, the vice president, took office. In late 1902, Roosevelt asked Taft to allow his nomination as a Supreme Court justice. Even though that was Taft’s career goal, he didn’t want to leave his work in the Phillippines unfinished.
Roosevelt asked Taft to become Secretary of War. Since the Phillippine commission fell in that department, Taft agreed. Again, Taft continued to look forward to a Supreme Court nomination. However, when Roosevelt declined to run again in 1908, Taft became the presidential nominee.
Taft’s Presidential years
Taft took office and kept only two Cabinet officers. The beginning of a rift with Roosevelt. While regretting his decision not to run, Roosevelt went on a year-long hunting trip to Africa. Early in his Presidency, Nellie suffered a severe stroke. Taft spent several hours each day teaching her to speak again, which took a year. This decision likely affected his Presidency.
One of Taft’s recognized accomplishments was reorganizing the State Department by geographical areas. It included “desks” for the Far East, Latin America, and Western Europe, among others. Taft also sought tariff reductions as a way to improve foreign trade. Opponents sought to modify the tariff bill to include an income tax. Taft argued that the Supreme Court would rule it unconstitutional, as it had in the past.
Instead, Congress proposed a constitutional amendment to create an income tax. The required number of states ratified it in 1913. And the tariff bill became immediately controversial. Many felt that Taft lost the initiative, and the wounds never healed. Many also blame his lack of an easy relationship with the press on his quieter passion for the rule of law as opposed to Roosevelt’s charismatic leadership.
Taft’s successes in foreign affairs remain a plus for his Presidency. Primarily due to his Phillippine experience, Taft became adept at working with foreign leaders.
While Roosevelt gained fame as the “trust-buster,” Taft succeeded in 70 anti-trust cases in four years, while Roosevelt had 40 in seven years.
Taft appointed six justices to the Supreme Court, including the Chief Justice. Many felt that he nominated an older man to be Chief Justice as he still had that role as his ultimate career goal. Only George Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed more.
Taft’s re-election bid and presidential legacy
While Taft won more victories and suffered more losses over his time, in general, history views him as an average president. However, by 1912, his relationship with Roosevelt became severely damaged. While Taft won the Republican nomination over Roosevelt, Roosevelt decided to run as the candidate for the Progressive party, popularly known as the “Bull Moose” Party. With Roosevelt taking many Republican votes, Woodrow Wilson won an easy victory, with Taft finishing third in electoral votes behind Roosevelt. He only carried Utah and Vermont for eight electoral votes. Roosevelt won 88, and Wilson won 435 in a landslide election.
Taft’s accomplishments after the Presidency
Following his presidential defeat, Taft returns to Yale as a law professor. While there, he also spoke and wrote extensively on the law. He became greatly disappointed when President Wilson appointed Louis Brandeis to the Supreme Court. Taft maintained a cordial relationship with Wilson and felt betrayed.
When Wilson left the Presidency, Taft campaigned extensively for Warren G. Harding, a fellow Ohioan. Privately, he negotiated a “handshake deal” with Harding (initiated by Harding) to make him Chief Justice if the role became open. Harding followed through on his pledge when the then-current Chief Justice died in 1921.
Taft became known as an excellent Chief Justice. He was now “in his element” and succeeded in restructuring the court and much of the Federal justice system. Taft also lobbied for a Supreme Court building of their own. While he successfully lobbied for the court building, it didn’t open until 1935, after he died. And, here’s another of the 10 Best Reasons to treasure Taft! Generally, he is viewed as one of the best Chief Justices. After all, the law was, after his wife, the love of his life!
Classic Rock Recollection
“Here Comes the Judge” by Shorty Long
Hear ye, hear ye
This court is now in session
His Honor, Judge Pigmeat Markham presidin’
Hear ye, hear ye, the court of swing
Songwriters: Bob Astor / Dewey Markham / Dick Alen / Sarah Harvey