The Life of William Howard Taft
The 27th President of the United States
An effective administrator, but a poor politician, William Howard Taft spent his term as President caught in a battle between Progressives and Conservatives.
The son of a prominent judge, Taft was born in 1857. Following his graduation from Yale, he returned to Cincinnati, where he set up a law practice. He rose through the ranks of the Republican Party thanks to a series of judiciary appointments combined with his own competence. Taft once wrote that he always had his “plate the right way up when the offices were falling”
William Howard Taft’s Early Career
Taft preferred law to politics and became a Federal circuit judge when he was 34. His long term ambition was to become a member of the Supreme Court, however, his wife Helen Herron Taft had other plans in store for him.
Taft’s road to the White House was by way of a series of administrative posts. In 1900 President McKinley sent Taft to the Philippines to serve as Chief Civil Administrator. Taft was sympathetic to the Filipinos and worked to improve the economy and infrastructure. He also gave the people a voice in government.
Under President Roosevelt, Taft served as Secretary of War. In 1907, Roosevelt decided not to pursue another term and made Taft his designated successor. Taft became the Republican Candidate in 1908
Taft hated the campaign, calling it “one of the most uncomfortable four months of my life.” Despite this, he pledged to continue President Roosevelt’s agenda, which was very popular in the west. Meanwhile, his brother, Charles Taft was campaigning on his behalf in the east, working to reassure east coast conservatives. The Democratic candidate, William Jennings Bryan, complained that he was running against two different candidates at the same time.
Both the Progressives and the Republicans were pleased by Taft’s election as the 27th President of the United States. Conservatives in particular were happy to be rid of Roosevelt, who they called the “Mad Messiah.”
From the start of his term, Taft realized that the skills and techniques he brought to the job would be different from those of his predecessor. Additionally, Taft did not seek to expand the powers of the Presidency. He once said that President Roosevelt “ought more often to have admitted the legal way of reaching the same ends.”
Taft also alienated many liberal Republicans by defending the Payne-Aldrich Act which called for unnecessarily high trade tariffs. The situation was compounded when the Canadian government rejected a trade agreement that would have reassured conservatives in the east. Taft also alienated the Progressives when he supported the Secretary of the Interior, who had not continued President Roosevelt’s conservation policies.
In the wake of the Progressives’ attacks against Taft, little attention was drawn to the Congressional amendments for a Federal income tax and the direct election of Unites States Senators. The Progressives’ attacks on Taft also overshadowed the initiation of 80 anti-trust suits by the Taft White House.
In 1912, the Republican Party re-nominated Taft as the party’s presidential candidate. Because of this Theodore Roosevelt broke from the party and joined the Progressives. In doing so, he ensured the election of Woodrow Wilson.
The Death of William Howard Taft
Following the end of his Presidency, Taft taught law at Yale University. In 1921, Taft realized his life-long ambition when he was made Chief Justice of the United States by President Warren G Harding. Taft continued to serve on the Supreme Court until his death in 1930.
William Howard Taft. The White House. US Government. Sept.30/09
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- September 30, 2009 / 6:35 pm
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