William Howard Taft

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William Howard Taft
William Howard Taft 1909.jpg
27th President of the United States
In office
March 4, 1909 – March 4, 1913
Vice President
James S. Sherman (1909–1912)
Preceded by Theodore Roosevelt
Succeeded by Woodrow Wilson
10th Chief Justice of the United States
In office
July 11, 1921 – February 3, 1930
Nominated by Warren G. Harding
Preceded by Edward Douglass White
Succeeded by Charles Evans Hughes
42nd United States Secretary of War
In office
February 1, 1904 – June 30, 1908
President Theodore Roosevelt
Preceded by Elihu Root
Succeeded by Luke Edward Wright
1st Provisional Governor of Cuba
In office
September 29, 1906 – October 13, 1906
Appointed by Theodore Roosevelt
Preceded by Tomás Estrada Palma (President)
Succeeded by Charles Edward Magoon
1st US Governor-General of the Philippines
In office
July 4, 1901 – December 23, 1903
Appointed by William McKinley
Preceded by Arthur MacArthur, Jr.
Succeeded by Luke Edward Wright
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
In office
March 17, 1892 – March 15, 1900
Appointed by Benjamin Harrison
Preceded by Seat established
Succeeded by Henry Franklin Severens
6th Solicitor General of the United States
In office
February 1890 – March 1892
President Benjamin Harrison
Preceded by Orlow W. Chapman
Succeeded by Charles H. Aldrich
Personal details
Born (1857-09-15)September 15, 1857
Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.
Died March 8, 1930(1930-03-08) (aged 72)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Resting place Arlington National Cemetery
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Helen Herron (m. 1886; his death 1930)
Children Robert
Alma mater Yale University
Cincinnati Law School
Religion Unitarian
Signature Cursive signature in ink

William Howard Taft (September 15, 1857 – March 8, 1930) was an American jurist and statesman who served as both the 27th President of the United States (1909–13) and later the tenth Chief Justice of the United States (1921–30). A leader during the Progressive Era, Taft and his conservative allies took control of the Republican Party away from Theodore Roosevelt and the liberals. He is the only person to have presided over both the executive and judicial branches of the United States federal government.

Before becoming President, Taft served as Solicitor General of the United States and as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. In 1900, President William McKinley appointed Taft Governor-General of the Philippines. In 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Taft Secretary of War in an effort to groom Taft, then his close political ally, into his handpicked presidential successor. Taft assumed a prominent role in problem solving, assuming on some occasions the role of acting Secretary of State, while declining repeated offers from Roosevelt to serve on the Supreme Court.

Riding a wave of popular support for fellow Republican Roosevelt, Taft won an easy victory in his 1908 bid for the presidency.[1] In his only term, Taft's domestic agenda emphasized trust-busting, civil service reform, strengthening the Interstate Commerce Commission, improving the performance of the postal service, and passage of the Sixteenth Amendment, creating a federal income tax. Abroad, Taft sought to further the economic development of nations in Latin America and Asia through "Dollar Diplomacy", and showed decisiveness and restraint in response to revolution in Mexico. The task-oriented Taft was oblivious to the political ramifications of his decisions, often alienated his own key constituencies, and was overwhelmingly defeated in his bid for a second term in the presidential election of 1912.

After leaving office, Taft spent his time in academia, arbitration, and the pursuit of world peace through his self-founded League to Enforce Peace. In 1921, President Warren G. Harding appointed Taft Chief Justice of the United States. He emphasized conservative policies and efficient management. Today, Taft is generally listed near the middle in historians' rankings of U.S. presidents.

Early life and education[edit]

Yale College photograph of Taft

William Howard Taft was born September 15, 1857, in Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of Alphonso Taft and his second wife, Louise Torrey.[2] The Taft family was not wealthy, living in a modest home in the suburb of Mount Auburn. Alphonso had failed in a bid for Congress in 1856, and would be unsuccessful in two tries for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 1875 and 1879. He would have more luck in appointed office, serving as a judge, ambassador and as War Secretary and Attorney General under Grant.[3] William Howard Taft's paternal grandfather, Peter Rawson Taft, had been a judge in Vermont; Alphonso emigrated west, eventually to Ohio, and when his first wife, Elisa Phelps, died in 1852, married Louise a year and a half later, on December 26, 1853. Elisa had been from the Taft hometown of Townshend, Vermont, and Alphonso Taft looked east again for his second spouse: Louise Torrey lived in Milbury, Massachusetts, and Alphonso met her on a visit there.[4] William Howard Taft was the eldest of three children, all sons, born to Louise and Alphonso; William had two surviving older half brothers.

William Taft was not seen as brilliant as a child, but was a hard worker; the demanding parents pushed the five boys toward success, tolerating nothing less. He attended Woodward High School in Cincinnati, a public school and highly competitive, where he excelled. His success was not enough to fully satisfy his parents, who felt he had a tendency towards laziness. Like others in his family, he attended Yale College in New Haven, Connecticut. At Yale, which he entered in 1874, the heavyset, jovial Taft was popular, to the disquiet of his father, who thought popularity unlikely to be consistent with achievement. One classmate described him succeeding through hard work rather than being the smartest, but he remembered Taft for sterling integrity.[5] He was a member of the Linonian Society, a literary and debating society; Skull and Bones, the secret society co-founded by his father in 1832; and the Beta chapter of the Psi Upsilon fraternity. He was given the nickname "Big Lub" because of his size,[6] but his college friends knew him by the nickname "Old Bill".[7] While Taft's weight sometimes made him the target of attempts at humor, he usually took them with grace and himself made self-deprecating jokes. Despite his size, he was a good dancer and a better than average athlete who enjoyed golf, tennis and horseback riding.[8] Using his size to advantage, Taft was Yale's intramural heavyweight wrestling champion.[9] In 1878, Taft graduated, ranking second in his class out of 121.[7] According to Taft biographer Jonathan Lurie, Taft's parents "were disappointed, but young Taft probably thought it was just fine".[10]

Alphonso Taft had proclaimed of his son William that law "is his destiny and he should be in it".[10] Obediently, the younger Taft made plans to attend law school. Alphonso had attended Yale Law School, but William chose to attend Cincinnati Law School. At that time when many lawyers had not attended law school, the choice of school did not carry the importance it later would, and William Taft's life still revolved around the city of his birth.[10] He graduated with a Bachelor of Laws in 1880. While in law school, he worked on the The Cincinnati Commercial newspaper,[7] edited by Murat Halstead. Taft was assigned to cover the local courts, and also spent time reading law in his father's office; both activities gave him practical knowledge of the law that was taught in no class. Shortly before graduating from law school, Taft went to the state capital of Columbus to take the bar examination and easily passed.[11]

Rise in government (1880—1908)[edit]

Ohio lawyer and judge[edit]

After admission to the Ohio bar, Taft devoted himself to his job at the Commercial full-time. Halstead was willing to take him on permanently at an increase in salary if he would give up the law, but Taft declined. In October 1880, Taft was appointed assistant prosecutor for Hamilton County (where Cincinnati is located), and took office the following January. Taft later ascribed this first step on a public career that would last most of the rest of his life to having become friends with his predecessor, who then was elected prosecutor and appointed Taft as assistant. Taft served for a year as assistant prosecutor, trying his share of routine cases.[12]

Taft resigned in January 1882 after President Chester A. Arthur appointed him Collector of Internal Revenue for the First District, an area centered on Cincinnati. This was a prestigious job with much opportunity for patronage appointments, and had once been held by William Henry Harrison, later President of the United States. Taft quickly accepted. In a 1908 interview, he ascribed his advancement to the influence of his father (by then appointed minister to Austria) and to the fact that "like any well-trained Ohio man, I always had my plate the right side up when offices were falling".[13] Once in office, he refused to dismiss competent employees who were politically out of favor, and resigned effective in March 1883, writing to Arthur that he wished to begin private practice in Cincinnati.[14]

Forming a partnership with Major Harlan Page Lloyd, an associate of his father's, Taft tried many routine cases in the following years. Only one, a failed defense of a newspaper in a libel action—attracted much notice. In 1884, Taft campaigned for the Republican candidate for president, Maine Senator James G. Blaine, who lost to New York Governor Grover Cleveland. In October, a month before the presidential election, Taft had been made chief supervisor of the local elections held that month. As in most Cincinnati elections of the time, there were large number of frauds, which Taft, despite appointing 60 special deputies, was unable to prevent. There was widespread violence, and Taft testified before an investigation congressional committee that he had no knowledge of any problems until late in the day.[15]

It is not clear when Taft met Helen Herron, but it was no later than 1880, when she mentioned in her diary receiving an invitation to a party from him. By 1884, they were meeting regularly, and in 1885, after an initial rejection, she agreed to marry him. The wedding took place at the Herron home on June 19, 1886. William Taft remained devoted to his wife throughout their almost 44 years of marriage. Nellie Taft pushed her husband much has his parents had, and could be very frank with her criticisms.[16][17] The couple had three children, of which the eldest, Robert, became a U.S. senator.[2]

In 1887, Taft, then aged 29, was appointed to a vacant seat on the Superior Court of Cincinnati by Governor Joseph B. Foraker. Although the two men had clashed repeatedly as attorneys, Foraker had received positive reviews of Taft's courtroom performance from Judge Judson Harmon, who was resigning. The appointment was good for just over a year, after which Taft would have to face the voters to gain a term in his own right, and in April 1888, he won the first of three elections he faced in his lifetime, the other two being for the presidency. Some two dozen of Taft's opinions as a state judge survive, the most significant being Moores & Co. v. Bricklayers' Union No. 1[a] (1889) if only because it was used against him when he ran for president in 1908. The case involved bricklayers who refused to work for any firm that dealt with a company called Parker Brothers, with which they were in dispute. Taft ruled that the union's action amounted to a secondary boycott, which was illegal.[18] In another case, Cincinnati Bell Foundry Co. v. Dodds,[b] a complaint by a company against a former foreman, alleging he had taken trade secrets to a competitor, Taft entered an injunction in favor of the plaintiff. The judge reasoned that as no similar bells had been made by others during the past twenty years, the process was likely secret, and not well known as alleged by Dodds.[19]

Solicitor General[edit]

There was a seat vacant on the U.S. Supreme Court in 1889, and Governor Foraker suggested President Harrison appoint Taft to fill it. Taft was 32; his professional goal was always a seat on that court, he actively sought the seat, while stating it was unlikely he would get it. He wrote to Foraker urging the governor to press his case. The governor told Taft that a President Foraker would appoint Taft to the Supreme Court, but failed of re-election in 1889, damaging his presidential prospects. Such an appointment would not come to Taft from Harrison, who in 1890 instead appointed him Solicitor General of the United States. Taft was the youngest man to that point to be Solicitor General, who is tasked with advising the Attorney General and president, and with arguing important government cases before the Supreme Court. When Taft arrived in Washington in February 1890, the office had been vacant two months, and the work had been piling up. He worked to eliminate the backlog, while simultaneously educating himself on federal law and procedure he had not needed as an Ohio state judge.[20]

Taft also became socially prominent in Washington. New York Senator William M. Evarts, a famous lawyer and former Secretary of State, had been a classmate of Alphonso Taft at Yale.[c] Evarts called to see his friend's son as soon as he took office, and William and Nellie Taft were launched into Washington society. Nellie Taft was ambitious for herself and her husband, and was annoyed when the people he socialized with most were mostly the Supreme Court's justices, rather than the arbiters of Washington society such as Theodore Roosevelt, John Hay, Henry Cabot Lodge and their wives.[21]

Although Taft was successful as Solicitor General, winning 15 of the 18 cases he argued before the Supreme Court,[2] he was glad when in March 1891, Congress created a new judgeship for each of the United States Courts of Appeal and Harrison appointed him to the Sixth Circuit, based in Cincinnati. In March 1892, Taft resigned as Solicitor General to resume his judicial career.[22]

Federal judge[edit]

Taft's federal judgeship was a lifetime position, and one from which promotion to the Supreme Court might come. Taft's older half-brother Charles, successful in business, supplemented Taft's government salary, allowing William and Nellie Taft and their family to live in comfort. Taft's duties involved hearing trials in the circuit, which included Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee, and participating with Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan, the circuit justice, and judges of the Sixth Circuit in hearing appeals. Taft spent eight years of his life, from 1892 to 1900, in personal and professional contentment.[23]

Two cases that Taft heard as a federal judge, and that were used by his opponents to depict him as anti-labor during his 1908 presidential campaign, were Toledo, Ann Arbor & North Michigan Railway Co. v. Pennsylvania Co.[d] and In re Phelan,[e] with both cases arising out of the labor unrest that marked the economic Panic of 1893. Engineers had struck the Toledo railroad after being refused a rise in pay. The Brotherhood of Railway Engineers instructed its members on connecting lines not to handle traffic to or from the Toledo; that railway sought an injunction under the Interstate Commerce Act, which prohibited interference with cars moving between lines. Taft granted it, considering it a secondary boycott and cited his own Moores & Co. decision. In re Phelan stemmed from the Pullman strike: after workers at the Pullman Company were required to pay more rent for their company-owned houses in Pullman, Illinois without a corresponding rise in wages, they struck. The American Railway Union, led by Eugene Debs then refused to handle any train carrying Pullman-built cars. Railroad companies obtained an injunction in Chicago against the union, mandating that there be no interference with railroad traffic. Frank Phelan was accused of violating the injunction by campaigning among Ohio railway workers to refuse Pullman-built cars. Taft wrote before the trial that he had no doubt of Phelan's guilt, found him guilty without a jury, and sentenced him to six months in prison.[24] According to historian Louis L. Gould, "while Taft shared the fears about social unrest that dominated the middle classes during the 1890s, he was not as conservative as his critics believed. He supported the right of labor to organize and strike, and he ruled against employers in several negligence cases."[2] Among these was Voight v. Baltimore & Ohio Southwestern Railway Co.[f] William Voight, an express company worker, had signed releases as a condition of employment absolving his company and any railroad he had to travel on of liability for death or injury. Injured in a train crash, he sued and Taft allowed the case to proceed, awarding Voight damages on the ground that a common carrier could not be absolved for negligence causing injury to someone not its employee. This violated the contemporary doctrine of liberty of contract, and Taft was reversed by the Supreme Court.[g] On the other hand, Taft's opinion in United States v. Addyston Pipe and Steel Co.[h] was upheld unanimously by the Supreme Court.[i] His decision was written for a three-judge panel: Taft, who was a future chief justice; Justice Harlan and Horace Lurton, whom Taft would appoint to the Supreme Court as president. Taft's opinion, in which he held that a pipe manufacturers' association had violated the Sherman Antitrust Act,[25] was described by Henry Pringle, his biographer, as having "definitely and specifically revived" that legislation.[26]

Another case cited in Taft's defense in the 1908 campaign was Narramore v. Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati & St. Louis Railway Co. [j] Ohio had recently passed a law requiring safety blocks on railroad guard rails and switches; Narramore was a railroad employee who brought suit after being injured while riding on a railroad car over switches lacking such safety gear. The railroad won a pretrial dismissal in the federal district court, on the ground that Narramore had assumed the risk of such injuries by continuing to work despite knowing that the stretch of track lacked safety blocks. Taft, writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, reversed, finding that the clear intent of the Ohio law was to protect workers, and Narramore should only have been barred from recovery if he had contributed to the accident through his negligence. The panel returned the case to the district court for a jury trial.[27]

Taft was spoken of for the Supreme Court again when vacancies developed under Cleveland, but he received no appointment.[28] In 1896, Taft became dean and Professor of Property at his alma mater, the Cincinnati Law School, a post that required him to prepare and give two hour-long lectures each week.[29] He was devoted to his law school, and deeply committed to the cause of advancing legal education, introducing the case system to the curriculum. He had become widely respected for his published opinions while on the circuit court, and in March of that year was received at the White House by President Cleveland.[30] As a federal judge, Taft could not involve himself with politics, but followed it closely, remaining a Republican supporter. He watched with some disbelief as the campaign of Ohio Governor William McKinley developed in 1894 and 1895, writing "I cannot find anybody in Washington who wants him".[30] By March 1896, Taft realized that as McKinley would likely be nominated, though he feared the candidate would gain the Republican nomination and would then "demonstrate his incapacity. It is a case of 'fooling the people' ".[k] He landed solidly in McKinley's camp after former Nebraska representative William Jennings Bryan in July stampeded the 1896 Democratic National Convention with his Cross of Gold speech. Bryan, in his campaign, strongly supported free silver, a policy that Taft saw as economic radicalism. Taft feared that people would hoard gold in anticipation of a Bryan victory, but he could do nothing in the campaign except worry. McKinley was elected, but when a vacancy on the Supreme Court opened in 1898, the only one that would occur under McKinley, the president named Joseph McKenna.[31]

Philippine years[edit]

In 1900, Taft was called to Washington to meet with President McKinley. Taft hoped a Supreme Court appointment was in the works, but instead McKinley wanted to place Taft on the commission to organize a civilian government in the Philippines. Those islands had been ceded to the United States by Spain following the Spanish–American War and the 1898 Treaty of Paris, and Taft had not approved of taking them. The appointment would require Taft's resignation from the bench, and McKInley assured him that if he fulfilled this task, and a Supreme Court vacancy occurred during McKinley's presidency, Taft would have it. After consulting with his family, Taft decided to go to Manila, on condition he was made head of the commission, with responsibility for success or failure; McKinley agreed.[32]

Many Filipinos had responded to the American takeover with a fierce resistance, seeking independence for the islands, but the United States and military governor General Arthur MacArthur[l] had the upper hand by 1900. MacArthur deemed the commission a nuisance, and their mission a quixotic attempt to impose self-government on a people far from ready for it. The general was forced to co-operate with Taft, as McKinley had given the commission control over the military budget in the Philippines.[33] Taft constantly appealed to both men's superior, Secretary of War Elihu Root, as he and MacArthur clashed over jurisdiction and other matters. The commission had taken executive power in the Philippines on September 1, 1900; on July 4, 1901, Taft became civilian governor,. MacArthur, still the military governor, was at that time relieved by General Adna Chaffee, who was designated only as commander of American forces. Although much of the wind had gone out of the sails of the rebellion with the capture of its leader, Aguinaldo, in January 1901, relations between Taft and the military improved only slightly,[34] as Chaffee's views of the civilians were similar to those of General MacArthur.[35]

Taft sought to make the Filipinos partners in a venture that would lead to their self-government; he saw independence as something far away. Many Americans in the Philippines saw the locals as racial inferiors, but Taft wrote soon before his arrival, "we propose to banish this idea from their minds".[36] Taft did not impose segregation at official events, and treated the Filipinos as social equals".[37] Nellie Taft recalled that "neither politics nor race should influence our hospitality in any way".[38] According to Professor Paul Kramer in his account of the early American rule in the Philippines, "fiesta politics played an important role in the [commission's] inclusionary racial formation", a policy at odds with racial politics on the US mainland.[39] Although Taft's views of the Filipino were sometimes negative—in a letter to Root, he described them as "a vast mass of ignorant, superstitious people, well intentioned, light hearted, temperate, somewhat cruel"—but he did not allow his private views to affect public policy.[40]

McKinley died by assassination in September 1901, and was succeeded by Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt and Taft first became friends around 1890 while Taft was Solicitor General and Roosevelt a member of the Civil Service Commission. Taft had, after McKinley's election, urged the appointment of Roosevelt as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and watched as Roosevelt became a war hero, Governor of New York, and Vice President of the United States. They met again when Taft went to Washington in January 1902 to recuperate after two operations caused by an infection.[41] While there, Taft testified before the Senate Committee on the Philippines. Taft wished to have the small farmer in the Philippines have a stake in the new government through land ownership, but much of the arable farmland was held by Catholic religious orders. Roosevelt had Taft go to Rome to negotiate with Pope Leo XIII. Those orders contributed clergy to the Philippines, but the priests were mostly Spanish and resented by the locals; Taft wanted Americans to minister to the people and train some as clergy. Taft did not succeed in resolving these issues on his visit to Rome, but an agreement was made in 1903 to transfer the land and send the Spanish priests home.[42] Back in Manila, he fell ill again in early 1903. Taft cabled Root that he was recuperating at a mountain resort, and had ridden a horse 25 miles (40 km) to high elevation. Root sent a reply to the rotund Taft, "How is the horse?"[43]

In late 1902, Taft had heard from Roosevelt that a seat on the Supreme Court would soon fall vacant on the resignation of Justice Shiras, and Roosevelt desired that Taft fill it. Although this was Taft's professional goal, he refused as he felt his work as governor was not yet done. Roosevelt tried to insist, but Taft was firm, leaking the information to Filipino who put on a large public demonstration to show they wanted Taft to remain. Roosevelt gave in.[44] The following year, President Roosevelt asked Taft to become Secretary of War. Root desired to return to his law practice, and Roosevelt argued that Taft would remain in charge of the Philippines as War Secretary, and Root was willing to postpone his departure until 1904, allowing Taft time to wrap up his work in Manila. After consulting with his family, Taft agreed to take the cabinet position, and filed for the United States in December 1903.[45]

According to historian Paolo E. Coletta, in the Philippines, "Taft gained executive experience, broadened his knowledge in such areas as finance, sanitation, taxation, currency, educational systems, and tariffs, and learned what real heat was".[46] Although Taft did not promote racist policies while in the islands, Kramer questioned the significance of Taft's actions, as his course of action was based on milestones of self-government of doubtful significance, with the indefinite postponement of actual independence. Lurie, citing Kramer, deemed the legacy of Taft's racial polices there difficult to assess.[38]

Secretary of War (1904–1908)[edit]

William Howard Taft addressing the audience at the Philippine Assembly in the Manila Grand Opera House.

When Taft took office as Secretary of War in January 1904, he was not called upon to spend much of his time administering the Army, which the president was content to do himself—Roosevelt wanted him as a troubleshooter in difficult situations, as a legal adviser, and to be able to give campaign speeches as Roosevelt sought election in his own right. No president had ever succeeded by the death of his predecessor and then won a full term, but with the death of Ohio Senator Mark Hanna in February 1904, there was no serious challenger to Roosevelt on the Republican side. Taft strongly defended Roosevelt's record in campaign speeches, and wrote of the president's successful but strenuous efforts to gain election, "I would not run for president if you guaranteed the office. It is awful to be afraid of one's shadow."[47][48]

The cabinet that Taft joined was headed by John Hay as Secretary of State. Hay was aging and was often ill, leaving Taft to act in Hay's place in addition to his own duties. Hay's death in July 1905 restored Root to the cabinet as his replacement. Newspapers considered both Taft and Root possible successors to Roosevelt, as well as rivals for his endorsement. The president wrote to Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge in 1905 that Taft, as of then, was more electable, but that anything could happen in three years. Other candidates who Roosevelt could support included Charles Evans Hughes, who was elected Governor of New York in 1906.[47][49] By 1905, Taft was coming to terms with the likelihood he would be the next Republican nominee for president, though he did not plan to actively campaign for it. When Justice Henry B. Brown resigned in 1905, Taft would not accept the seat although Roosevelt offered it, a position Taft held to when another seat opened in 1906.[50]

With the Chief Justiceship the only office he would take in preference to continued political service and a presidential run, Taft kept a close eye on the health and retirement prospects of the incumbent, Melville Fuller. Justice Brown had told Taft that Brown would like to see Taft Chief Justice, but Fuller was unlikely to resign. He might, however, succumb to age. Taft deemed Fuller likely to live many years. When Mrs. Fuller died, Taft spent flowers, and privately speculated on the effect the bereavement might have on Fuller's tenure. Roosevelt had indicated he was likely to appoint Taft if the opportunity came to fill the court's center seat, but some considered Attorney General Philander Knox a better candidate. In any event, Fuller remained Chief Justice throughout Roosevelt's presidency. Pringle deemed Taft's attitude to Fuller "a little ghoulish".[51]

Through the 1903 Panamanian Revolution and the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty, the United States had secured rights to build a canal in the isthmus of Panama. Legislation authorizing construction did not specify which government department would be responsible, and Roosevelt designated the Department of War. Taft journeyed to Panama in 1904, viewing the canal site and meeting with Panamanian officials such as President Manuel Amador to find ways to stabilize the country politically and financially. Taft privately believed a sea-level canal the better option, but when Roosevelt decided a canal with locks would be superior, supported the president. The Isthmian Canal Commission had trouble keeping a chief engineer, and when John D. Stevens in February 1907 submitted his recommendation, Taft recommended an Army engineer, George W. Goethals, whom he had met in Panama in 1904. Under Goethals, the project moved ahead smoothly.[52]

Another colony lost by Spain in the war was Cuba, but as freedom for Cuba had been a major purpose of the war, it was not annexed by the US, but was, after a period of occupation, given independence in 1902. Election fraud and corruption followed, as did factional conflict. In September 1906, President Tomás Estrada Palma asked for US intervention, and stated that he would resign. Taft traveled to Cuba, where on September 29, 1906, he initiated the Second Occupation of Cuba when he established the Provisional Government of Cuba under the terms of the Cuban–American Treaty of Relations of 1903, declaring himself Provisional Governor of Cuba, a post he held for two weeks before being succeeded by Charles Edward Magoon. In his time in Cuba, Taft worked to persuade Cubans that the US intended stability, not occupation.[53]

I, the undersigned, Yu Wo of 15B Wellington Street [Hong Kong] agree to make a sedan chair ... to carry the American giant, the Honorable William Howard Taft ... it would obviously discredit this nation [China] if the chair should disintegrate ... It shall be reinforced at all weak points ... The shafts shall be of double diameter. The body itself shall be of eventful width ...The [American] consul general may have the use of the chair October 11 and 12, 1907, after which the chair belongs to me, with the understanding that if ex-President Cleveland, also reputed to be of heroic size, tours the world, the consul general shall direct his steps to my door.

Contract for the construction of a sedan chair for Taft at Hong Kong, 1907[54]

Taft remained involved in Philippine affairs. During Roosevelt's election campaign in 1904, he urged that Philippine agricultural products be admitted to the U.S. without duty. This caused growers of US sugar and tobacco to complain to Roosevelt, who remonstrated with his Secretary of War, who expressed unwillingness to change his position, and threatened to resign.[55] Roosevelt dropped the matter.[56] Taft intervened more directly in the government in Manila by dismissing the new governor, Luke Wright, who had been Taft's deputy, and had erected social barriers between Americans and Filipinos.[57] Taft returned to the islands in 1905, leading a delegation of congressmen, and again in 1907, to open the first Philippine Assembly.[58]

On both of his Philippine visits as Secretary of War, Taft went to Japan, and met with officials there.[59] The meeting in July 1905 come a month before the conference which would end the Russo-Japanese War with the Treaty of Portsmouth. Taft met with Japanese Prime Minister Katsura Tarō. After that meeting, the two signed a memorandum now called the Taft–Katsura Agreement. This was not a formal treaty, but an agreed statement setting forth both nations' views. Japan indicated it had no desire to invade the Philippines, and the US that it did not object to Japanese control of Korea.[60] Roosevelt fully ratified his Secretary of War's actions and words.[61] The 1907 visit came amid violence against Japanese in California and questions about whether Japan was violating the Gentlemen's Agreement by which Japan agreed to restrict emigration of laborers. Roosevelt feared the Japanese were going to occupy the Philippines, and the US would be hard put to defend them at such a distance. Taft arrived in Japan in late September 1907, finding the Japanese did not seek the Philippines, and wanted the US to keep them. The government in Tokyo was unwilling to accept any treaty which discriminated against Japanese immigration to the US, as opposed to European. To address American concerns about the emigration of laborers, Foreign Minister Tadasu Hayashi agreed to issue fewer passports to them.[62]

Presidential election of 1908[edit]

One of a series of candid photographs known as the Evolution of a Smile, taken just after a formal portrait session, while Taft learns by telephone from Roosevelt that he has been nominated by the Republican Party for the office of President.

Gaining the nomination[edit]

Electoral votes by state, 1908.
1909 inauguration

Roosevelt had served almost three and a half years of McKinley's term. On the night of his election in his own right in 1904, on the lawn of the White House, Roosevelt publicly declared he would not run for re-election in 1908, a pledge he quickly regretted. But he felt bound by his word. Taft was the logical successor, but he was initially reluctant to run. As a member of Roosevelt's cabinet, he had declared that his future ambition was to serve on the Supreme Court, not in the White House. Taft's efforts in stumping for the party in the 1906 midterm elections added to his popularity among Republicans, but made him aware of his deficiencies as an campaigner. Nellie Taft commented during this time, "never did he cease to regard a Supreme Court appointment as more desirable than the presidency."[63]

Until mid-1907, both Taft and Roosevelt were ambivalent about the secretary running for president. Taft's brothers urged him to seek the White House, as did his wife, while his aging mother warned, "the malice of politics would make you miserable. They do not want you as their leader but cannot find anyone more available [electable].[64] Taft conceded he ws likely the most electable Republican,[65] thus he agreed that were he to be nominated for president, he would put his personal convictions aside and run a vigorous campaign.[66] By 1907, Roosevelt was sending letters full of campaigning advice to his Secretary of War and heir apparent.[67]

Roosevelt had become unpopular among some Republicans, especially from the East, and Taft was urged to show distance from the president by resigning from the candidate. He refused, feeling that if closeness to Roosevelt was enough to defeat him, then he was content to be defeated.[68] Taft, and his aides and financiers like his brother Charles, sought to secure the loyalties of federal employees, who would be many of the convention delegates. On pain of loss of their jobs, political appointees were required to support Taft or remain silent.[69]

One opponent for the nomination was former governor Foraker, who was by then a US senator, and who sought either re-election (his term ended in 1909) or else to run for president. Foraker was a bitter opponent of Roosevelt, and when his surrogates approached Taft seeking support for Foraker's re-election in exchange for backing Taft for president. Taft refused to deal, deeming Foraker dishonorable.[70] Foraker had attacked Roosevelt for dismissing many African American soldiers following the Brownsville affair of 1906; Taft had carried out Roosevelt's instructions to discharge the soldiers, and had backed the president, arguing that the alleged role of the soldiers in rioting and refusing to inform on guilty parties justified the punishment.[m] Roosevelt's action, and Taft's involvement, risked alienating the African American voter, and Foraker attacked Taft on the issue. Taft, as president, in 1909 recommended the Army convene courts of inquiry which would examine the soldiers' cases.[71]

A number of Republican politicians, such as Treasury Secretary George Cortelyou tested the waters for a run, but by early 1908, only New York Governor Charles Evans Hughes was a serious rival. When Hughes made a major policy speech, Roosevelt the same day sent a special message to Congress warning against corporate corruption. The resulting coverage of the presidential message relegated Hughes to the back pages.[72]

Charles Taft was a major backer of his brother's campaign;[2] Assistant Postmaster General Frank H. Hitchcock resigned from his office in February 1908 to lead Taft's campaign. At that time, most delegates to the Republican National Convention were decided by state conventions. The South had major power in the Republican Party through its delegates, though it rarely had electoral success, and southern delegates (often African American) could be bought. Pringle noted, "it is a safe assumption, however, that [William] Taft was permitted to know as little as possible about the harvesting of southern delegates.[73] On March 20, 1908, Hitchcock claimed 552 delegates nationwide out of 980, with at least 128 from the South (out of 194 from that region).[73]

In April, Taft made a speaking tour, traveling as far west as Omaha before being recalled to go to Panama and straighten out another contested election. By the time he returned to the War Department on May 17, Hitchcock had secured 563 pledged delegates[n] with his nearest rival, Pennsylvania Senator Philander Knox with 63 and Hughes with only 54. On Memorial Day, May 30, Taft made a speech at Grant's Tomb in New York City, addressing mostly Civil War veterans. Taft received angry words from the spectators when he mentioned that Grant's drinking in the 1850s had caused him to resign from the Army rather than face court martial, as they considered it a slur upon their hero. At the 1908 Republican National Convention in Chicago in June, there was no serious opposition to Taft, and he rolled to a first-ballot victory. Taft did not have things all his way: it was with reluctance that he accepted watered down plank in the party platform against the use of injunctions by federal judges to break strikes. And Taft had hoped his running mate would be a midwestern progressive like Iowa Senator Jonathan Dolliver, but instead the convention nominated James S. Sherman of New York, a conservative. Taft resigned as Secretary of War on June 30 to devote his full-time to the campaign.[74][75]

General election campaign[edit]

Taft's opponent in the general election was Bryan, the Democratic nominee for the third time in four presidential elections. As many of Roosevelt's reforms stemmed from proposals by Bryan, the Democrat argued that he was the heir to Roosevelt's mantle and that Taft was not. Corporate contributions to federal political campaigns had been outlawed by the 1907 Tillman Act, and Bryan proposed that contributions by officers and directors of corporations be similarly banned, or at least disclosed when made. Taft was only willing to see the contributions disclosed after the election, and tried to insure that officers and directors of corporations litigating with the government were not among his contributors. Bryan urged a system of bank guarantees, so that depositors could be repaid if there was a bank failures, but Taft opposed this, offering a postal savings system instead.[76]

Taft for the most part backed Roosevelt's policies. The candidate argued that labor had a right to organize, but not to boycott. Moneyed interests, that is, capital, must also obey the law. Railroads should remain in the private sector, and their maximum rates set by the Interstate Commerce Commission, subject to judicial review. The recent recession, the Panic of 1907, had been caused by stock speculation and other abuses, according to Taft, and some reform to the currency (the US was on the gold standard was needed to allow flexibility in the government's response. Specific legislation on trusts was needed to supplement the Sherman Antitrust Act. The constitution should be amended to allow for an income tax, thus overruling decisions of the Supreme Court striking such a tax down. Roosevelt's use of executive power had been controversial; Taft proposed to continue the policies, but place them on more solid legal underpinnings through the passage of legislation.[77]

It did not take long after the convention for Taft's different style from Roosevelt to emerge. Senator Foraker, seeking Taft's support in his re-election bid, spoke in support of Taft with the candidate present.[78] Taft felt that Foraker's support among African Americans and Civil War veterans might be helpful. It was not until William Randolph Hearst disclosed letters from Standard Oil Company vice president John D. Archbold to Foraker that Taft disassociated himself from the senator. A former client of Foraker (a lawyer), Standard Oil was very unpopular, and Hearst alleged Foraker had taken fees to use his influence to kill Ohio state legislation. Roosevelt was angered that Taft did not publicly condemn Foraker.[78][79] Taft also upset some progressives by choosing Hitchcock as Chairman of the Republican National Committee, placing him in charge of the presidential campaign. Hitchcock was quick to bring in men closely allied with big business.[80]

Roosevelt, frustrated by his own relative inaction, showered Taft with advice, fearing that the electorate would not appreciate Taft's qualities, and that Bryan would win. Roosevelt's supporters spread rumors that the president was in effect running Taft's campaign. This annoyed Nellie Taft, who never trusted the Roosevelts.[81] The issue of prohibition of alcohol entered the campaign when in mid-September, Carrie Nation called on Taft and demanded to know his views. Taft and Roosevelt had agreed the party platform would take no position on the matter, and Nation left indignant, to allege that Taft was irreligious and against temperance. Roosevelt advised Taft to avoid addressing the issue further, which he did.[82]

In the end, Taft won by a comfortable electoral margin. Taft defeated Bryan by 159 electoral votes; however, he garnered just 51% of the popular vote.[83] Nellie Taft said regarding the campaign, "There was nothing to criticize, except his not knowing or caring about the way the game of politics is played."[84] Longtime White House usher Ike Hoover recalled that Taft came often to see Roosevelt during the campaign, but rarely visited between the election and Inauguration Day, March 4, 1909.[85]

Presidency, 1909 – 1913[edit]

BEP engraved portrait of Taft as President.
BEP engraved portrait of Taft as President.

Inauguration and appointments[edit]

William Howard Taft was sworn in as president on March 4, 1909. Due to a winter storm that coated Washington with ice, Taft was sworn in inside the Senate Chamber rather than the usual outdoor inauguration. The new president stated in his inaugural address that he had been honored to have been "one of the advisers of my distinguished predecessor" and to have had a part "in the reforms he has initiated. I should be untrue to myself, to my promises, and to the declarations of the party platform on which I was elected if I did not make the maintenance and enforcement of those reforms a most important feature of my administration".[86] He pledged to make those reforms long-lasting, while seeing to it that honest businessmen did not suffer uncertainty through changes of administration policy. He spoke of the need for reduction of the 1897 Dingley tariff, for antitrust reform, and for continued attention to advance the Philippines toward full self-government.[87] Roosevelt left office with regret that his tenure in the position he enjoyed so much was over, and to keep out of Taft's way arranged for a year-long hunting trip to Africa.[88]

Soon after the Republican convention, Taft and Roosevelt had discussed which cabinet officers would stay on. Taft kept only Agriculture Secretary James Wilson and Postmaster General George von Lengerke Meyer (who was shifted to the Navy Department). The most ill-feeling was because Taft did not keep his successor as War Secretary, his former subordinate in the Philippines, Luke Wright. Roosevelt in 1916 alleged that Taft had promised to retain Wright, but had been talked out of it by his brothers. Others appointed to the Taft cabinet included Philander Knox, the new Secretary of State, and Franklin MacVeagh as Treasury Secretary. None of the holdover cabinet officers were lawyers, but all of Taft's new appointees were.[89][90]

Foreign policy[edit]

Organization and principles[edit]

Taft made it a top priority to reorganize the State Department, noting, "it is organized on the basis of the needs of the government in 1800 instead of 1900."[91] The Department was for the first time organized into geographical divisions, including desks the Far East, Latin America and Western Europe. This reorganization was engineered in large part by Secretary of State Knox's First Assistant Secretary, Francis M. Huntington Wilson,[92] Wilson had long been an advocate of reform, urging promotion on merit, rotation of officials between Washington and the field, and better facilities and resources at legation buildings. Wilson also set up the Department's first in-service training program, and appointees spent a month in Washington before going to their posts.[93] Taft and Knox had a strong relationship, and the president listened to Knox's counsel on matters foreign and domestic. According to Coletta, however, Knox was not a good diplomat, and had poor relations with the Senate, press, and many foreign leaders, especially those from Latin America.[94]

There was broad agreement among Taft, Knox, and Wilson on major foreign policy goals. The US would not interfere in European affairs. The US had the power to enforce the Monroe Doctrine in the Americas, and if necessary would use force. The defense of the Panama Canal, which was under construction throughout Taft's term (it opened in 1914), guided US policy in the Caribbean and in Central America. Previous administration had tried to defend American business interests abroad, but Taft would go a step further and use the web of American diplomats and consuls abroad to promote trade. Such ties, Taft hoped, would promote world peace.[94] Taft believed that international arbitration between adversarial nations could be used to avoid armed conflict. This was a logical extension of his faith in the rule of law. Taft promoted arbitration treaties with Britain and France, but the Senate was not willing to give up its constitutional prerogative to approve treaties to arbitrators.[95]

Tariffs and reciprocity[edit]

At the time of Taft's presidency, protectionism through the use of tariffs was a fundamental position of the Republican Party.[96] The Dingley Tariff (1897) had been enacted to protect American industry from foreign competition. McKinley, a protectionist, had been pleased with its passage, but by the time of his death in 1901 had realized that tariffs had a negative effect on foreign trade, and had sought downward revisions. Roosevelt, realizing the topic's potential to divide the Republican Party, had taken no significant action on tariffs during his seven and a half years in office. The 1908 party platform had supported unspecified revisions to the Dingley act, and Taft interpreted this to mean reductions. Taft called a special session of Congress to convene on March 15, 1909.[97]

The Republicans had a majority in both houses, but many progressive party members hoped to oust Speaker Joseph Cannon, a member of the Old Guard who ruled the House with an iron hand. Taft, in private letters, made clear his uneasiness with Cannon and his dictatorial ways. Roosevelt urged Taft to work with the Speaker as he had done. By the time the special session opened, Taft was certain Cannon could not be beaten for re-election as Speaker, and made it clear he would not support the progressive insurgents. Coletta noted that this was a fight Taft could have avoided, and it caused progressives to wonder how the president could continue Roosevelt's reforms while backing the Old Guard.[98] The insurgents failed to defeat Cannon.[99]

According to his biographer, Donald Anderson, Taft made no attempt to use the bully pulpit of the presidency to gain public support for his tariff views.[100] Although Taft wanted tariffs reduced, he was not acquainted with the intricacies of how reductions would affect industry. Taft did insist that most imports from the Philippines be free of duty, and according to Anderson, showed effective leadership on a subject he was knowledgeable on and really cared about.[101] New York Congressman Sereno E. Payne, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, held hearings in late 1908, and sponsored the tariff bill introduced in the special session. On balance, the House bill reduced tariffs slightly, but when it passed the House in April 1909 and reached the Senate, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Rhode Island Senator Nelson W. Aldrich, attached many amendments raising tariffs. This outraged progressives such as Wisconsin's Robert M. La Follette, who urged Taft to say that the bill was not in accord with the party platform. Taft demurred, having been advised by congressional leaders that he should not get involved with the bill until a conference committee met.[102]

When opponents of the bill introduced an amendment for an income tax to the tariff bill, Taft opposed it on the ground that the Supreme Court would likely strike it down again. Instead, they proposed a constitutional amendment, which passed both houses in early July, was sent to the states, and became the Sixteenth Amendment. In the conference committee, Taft won some victories, such as limiting the tax on lumber. The conference report passed both houses, and Taft signed it on August 6, 1909. The Payne-Aldrich tariff was immediately controversial, and the fight badly dented the unity of the Republican Party, giving new life to the defeated Democrats. According to Coletta, "Taft had lost the initiative, and the wounds inflicted in the acrid tariff debate never healed".[103]

In Taft's annual message sent to Congress in December 1910, he urged a reciprocity treaty for Canada. Britain at that time still handled Canada's foreign relations, and Taft found the British and Canadian governments willing to enter into such a treaty. Many in Canada opposed such an arrangement, fearing the US would dump the treaty when convenient as it had the 1854 Elgin-Marcy Treaty in 1866, and American farm and fisheries interests were also opposed. After January 1911 talks with Canadian officials, Taft had the agreement, which was not a treaty, introduced into the lame-duck Republican House of Representatives. Republican members were almost equally divided on the issue, but Taft reached out to the prospective Democratic Speaker, Champ Clark of Missouri, and secured his support, so that the bill passed the House on Democratic votes. The bill died on March 3 when the Senate failed to act on it before adjournment, and Taft called the new Congress into special session for April 1. The House of Representatives passed the bill on April 11; the Senate did so on July 22 and Taft signed it on July 26. The Canadian Parliament, led by Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier, had deadlocked over the reciprocity issue and fresh elections had been called for September. Taft departed on a two-month cross-country speaking tour, with most addresses dealing with tariffs. Canadians turned Laurier out of office in the September 1911 election, with Robert Borden, an opponent of reciprocity. No cross-border agreement was concluded, and the debate deepened divisions in the Republican Party.[104][105]

In the 1911 Congressional session Taft's most potentially notable achievement was approval of a reciprocity agreement with Canada which proposed to drastically lower trade barriers. The passage was accomplished with the cooperation of some Democrats, and at a considerable cost of Republican unity.[106] The President confessed to Roosevelt "I think it may break the Republican party for a while." Taft also responded to criticism from party leaders, saying, "I do not give a tinker's dam whether it injures my political prospects or not."[107] Despite the potential benefits of the agreement to the country, which Roosevelt as well understood and anticipated, all was for naught when the Canadian legislature refused to approve it.[108]

Latin America[edit]

President William Howard Taft

Taft and his Secretary of State, Philander Knox, instituted a policy of Dollar Diplomacy towards the Americas, believing American investment would benefit all involved, while keeping European influence away from areas subject to the Monroe Doctrine. Although exports rose sharply during Taft's administration, the policy was unpopular among Latin American states that did not wish to become financial protectorates of the United States, as well as in the US Senate, many of whose members believed the US should not interfere abroad.[109]

When Taft entered office, Mexico was increasingly restless under the grip of longtime dictator Porfirio Díaz. The Diaz government had made substantial concessions to attract American investments. Taft made a rare presidential foreign trip to show his support, but many Mexicans backed Francisco Madero, an opponent of Diaz.[110] There were a number of incidents in which rebels crossed the US border to obtain horses and weapons; Taft sought to prevent this by ordering the Army to the border areas for maneuvers. Taft told his military aide, Archibald Butt, that "I am going to sit on the lid and it will take a great deal to pry me off".[111] Taft's policy was to let the Mexicans settle things without US intervention. Diaz resigned in 1911 and went into exile, but Madero was unable to unify the nation, and in February 1913 was replaced by General Victoriano Huerta, who had Madero killed. Knox was willing to recognize the Huerta government, but when Britain indicated it would not recognize Huerta because of Madero's killing, Taft ordered Knox to follow suit. The limited time remaining in the Taft administration did not allow for more than the establishment of backchannel communication,[112] but Taft was glad not to have to deal further with the worsening crisis south of the border.[113]

Nicaragua's president, José Zelaya, wanted to revoke commercial concessions granted to American companies,[o]and State Department officials believed he wanted to conquer Salvadoran territory. Thus, when a revolt broke out against him in late 1909, led by Juan Estrada, American diplomats favored it, though Washington maintained neutrality.[114] The revolution was financed and set off by American interests. Nicaragua was in debt to foreign powers, and the US was unwilling that an alternate canal route fall into the hands of Europeans. When two Americans with the rebel forces were executed, Knox sent Navy ships to both of Nicaragua's coasts, and withdrew recognition of the Zelaya government. Zelaya's elected successor, José Madriz could not put down the rebellion as US forces interfered, and in August 1910, the Estrada forces took Managua, the capital. Following the path Roosevelt had blazed in the Dominican Republic, the US had Nicaragua accept a loan, and sent officials to ensure it was repaid from government revenues, but the US Senate repeatedly refused to ratify treaties with Nicaragua. The country remained unstable, and after another coup in 1911 and more disturbances in 1912, Taft sent troops to stabilize the country; though most were quickly withdrawn, some remained as late as 1933.[115][116]

Roosevelt had intervened in the Dominican Republic, but by 1912, the country was again unstable following the assassination of Ramon Caceres. Taft arranged for the removal of the new president, Elalio Victoria, amnesty for his opponents, and a loan from First National City Bank to place the new government on a stable footing. Taft's intervention differed from Roosevelt as there was no intergovernmental agreement that might need Senate ratification, and there was much less controversy because of that.[117] This second US intervention was not able to solve the financial problems of the Dominican government, which survived on loans from New York banks for the remainder of Taft's term in office.[118] The US reached an agreement to provide loans to enable Argentina to acquire battleships; some naval construction and design secrets were sacrificed to effect the arrangement.[119]

Treaties among Panama, Columbia, and the United States to resolve disputes arising from the Panamanian Revolution of 1903 had been signed by the lame-duck Roosevelt administration in early 1909, and were approved by the Senate and also ratified by Panama. Columbia, however, declined to ratify the treaties, and after the 1912 elections, Knox offered $10 million to the Columbians (later raised to $25 million). The Colombians felt the amount inadequate, and requested arbitration; the matter was not settled under the Taft administration.[120]

Far East[edit]

Due to his years in the Philippines, Taft was keenly interested as president with Far Eastern affairs.[121] Taft considered relations with Europe relatively unimportant, but because of the potential for trade and investment, the post of minister to China the most important in the Foreign Service. Knox did not view China nearly as important, declining a suggestion that he go to Peking to view the facts on the ground. Taft replaced Roosevelt's minister there, William W. Rockhill, whom he deemed uninterested in the China trade, with William J. Calhoun, a former member of the Interstate Commerce Commission whom McKinley and Roosevelt had sent on several foreign missions. Although the other Western diplomatic representatives in Peking deemed Calhoun an effective diplomat, Knox did not listen to him on policy, and there were often conflicts.[122] Taft and Knox tried to extend John Hay's Open Door Policy to Manchuria; this was not successful due in large part to the President's reliance on the inexperienced Knox, who failed to properly assess the objections of Japan and Russia.[123]

In 1898, an American company had gained a concession for a railroad between Hankow and Szechuan, but the Chinese revoked the agreement in 1904 after the company (which was indemnified for the revocation) breached the agreement by selling a majority stake outside the United States. The Chinese imperial government got the money for the indemnity from the British Hong Kong government, on condition British subjects would be favored if foreign capital was needed to build the railroad line, and in 1909, a British-led consortium began negotiations.[124] This came to Knox's attention in May of that year, and he demanded that US banks be allowed to participate. The plans of the British consortium (which also included French and German banks) were far advanced, and both China and the European powers felt the US was too late. Taft appealed personally to the Prince Regent, Prince Chun, and was successful in gaining US participation, though agreements were not signed until May 1911.[125] However, the Chinese decree authorizing the agreement also required the nationalization of local railroad companies in the affected provinces. Inadequate compensation was paid to the shareholders, and these grievances were among those which touched off the Chinese Revolution of 1911.[126][127]

When in December 1911, the revolt's leader chose Sun Yat Sen as provisional president of what became the Republic of China, overthrowing the Manchu Dynasty, Taft was reluctant to recognize the new government, although American public opinion was in favor of it. The US House of Representatives in February 1912 passed a resolution supporting a Chinese republic, but Taft and Knox felt recognition should come as a concerted action by Western powers. Taft in his final annual message to Congress in December 1912 indicated that he was moving towards recognition once the republic was fully established, but by then he had been defeated for re-election and the republic was not recognized under Taft.[128]

Taft continued the policy against immigration from China and Japan as under Roosevelt. A revised treaty of friendship and navigation entered into by the US and Japan in 1911 granted broad reciprocal rights to Japanese in America and Americans in Japan, but were premised on the continuation of the Gentlemen's Agreement. There was objection on the West Coast when the treaty was submitted to the Senate, but Taft informed politicians that there was no change in immigration policy. Close to the end of Taft's term, California passed legislation barring aliens ineligible for citizenship (as Asians then were) from land ownership, but there was no time to address this before the end of Taft's term.[129]

According to Walter V. Scholes and Marie V. Scholes in their book on Taft's foreign policy, the clumsiness of the Knox State Department in its Asian policy "alienated Japan and Russia and created among all the Powers a deep suspicion of American motives".[130] American exports to China dropped from $58 million in 1905 to $15.5 million in 1910; according to Coletta this was "because [the US] had not successfully blended diplomacy with economic policy".[131]


Taft was opposed to the traditional practice of rewarding wealthy supporters with key ambassadorial posts, preferring that diplomats not live in a lavish lifestyle and selecting men who, as Taft put it, would recognize an American when they saw one. High on his list for dismissal was the ambassador to France, Henry White, whom Taft knew and disliked from his visits to Europe. White, a career diplomat, was dismissed beginning at the start of 1910, causing other career State Department employees to fear that their jobs might be lost to politics. Taft also wanted to replace the Roosevelt-appointed ambassador in London, Whitelaw Reid, but Reid, owner of the New-York Tribune, had backed Taft during the campaign, and both William and Nellie Taft enjoyed his gossipy reports from Britain. Reid remained in place until his 1912 death.[132]

Taft was a supporter of settling international disputes by arbitration, and he negotiated treaties with Great Britain and with France, providing that differences be arbitrated. These were signed in August 1911. Neither Taft nor Knox (a former senator) consulted with members of the Senate during the negotiating process. By then many Republicans were opposed to Taft and the president felt that lobbying too hard for the treaties might cause their defeat. He made some speeches supporting the treaties in October, but the Senate added amendments Taft could not accept, killing the agreements.[133]

Although no general arbitration treaty was entered into, Taft's administration settled several disputes with Great Britain by peaceful means, often involving arbitration. These included a settlement of the boundary between Maine and New Brunswick, a long-running dispute over seal hunting in the Bering Sea that also involved Japan, and a similar disagreement regarding fishing off Newfoundland. The sealing convention remained in force until abrogated by Japan in 1940.[134] In the 1911 Congressional session Taft's most potentially notable achievement was approval of a reciprocity agreement with Canada which proposed to drastically lower trade barriers. The passage was accomplished with the cooperation of some Democrats, and at a considerable cost of Republican unity.[135] The President confessed to Roosevelt "I think it may break the Republican party for a while." Taft also responded to criticism from party leaders, saying, "I do not give a tinker's dam whether it injures my political prospects or not."[136] Despite the potential benefits of the agreement to the country, which Roosevelt as well understood and anticipated, all was for naught when the Canadian legislature refused to approve it.[137]

Taft did not enjoy the easy relationship with the press that Roosevelt had, choosing not to offer himself for interviews or photo opportunities as often as the previous president had done.[138] When a reporter informed him he was no Teddy Roosevelt, Taft replied that his main goal was to "try to accomplish just as much without any noise".[138] Taft even made executive decisions (see below) demonstrating his indifference with the press. Indeed, Taft's administration marked a change in style from the political charisma of Roosevelt to the passion of Taft for the rule of law.[139] Taft, in fashioning his cabinet, showed also that he was not unwilling to depart to some degree from Roosevelt's progressivism; he named an anti-progressive, Philander Chase Knox Secretary of State, who had primary influence over other appointments.[140]

Taft considered himself a progressive, in part from his belief in an expansive use of the rule of law, as the prevailing device that should be actively used by judges and others in authority to solve not only societal but international problems. Taft's devotion to the law also made him extremely adherent to precedent, however, and less politically adroit than Roosevelt; it is said by historians that he lacked the flexibility, creativity, and personal magnetism of his mentor – as well as the publicity devices and broad base of public support that had made Roosevelt so formidable.[141][142]

The divergent views of the two men over the powers of the executive is well articulated in their respective memoirs. In summary, Roosevelt for his part believed 'the President has not just a right but a duty to do anything demanded by the needs of the nation, unless such action is forbidden by the Constitution or federal law." Taft's general opinion on the other hand was that "the President can exercise no power which cannot fairly be traced to some specific grant of power in the Constitution or act of Congress."[143]

Domestic policies and politics[edit]

Official White House portrait of Taft by Anders Zorn


Taft continued and expanded Roosevelt's efforts to break up business combinations through lawsuits brought under the Sherman Antitrust Act, bringing 70 cases in four years (Roosevelt had brought 40 in seven years). Suits brought against the Standard Oil Company and the American Tobacco Company, initiated under Roosevelt, were decided in favor of the government by the Supreme Court in 1911.[144] In June 1911, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives began hearings into United States Steel (US Steel). That company had been expanded under Roosevelt, who had supported its acquisition of the Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company as a means of preventing the deepening of the Panic of 1907, a decision the former president defended when testifying at the hearings. Taft, as Secretary of War, had praised the acquisitions.[145] Historian Louis L. Gould suggested that Roosevelt was likely deceived into believing that US Steel did not want to purchase the Tennessee company, but it was in fact a bargain. For Roosevelt, questioning the matter went to his personal honesty.[146]

In October 1911, Taft's Justice Department brought suit against US Steel, demanding that over a hundred of its subsidiaries be granted corporate independence, and naming as defendants many prominent business executives and financiers. The pleadings in the case had not been reviewed by Taft, and alleged that Roosevelt "had fostered monopoly, and had been duped by clever industrialists".[145] Roosevelt was offended by the references to him and his administration in the pleadings, and felt that Taft could not evade responsibility by saying he did not know of them, as the president is responsible for what happens in his administration.[147]

Taft sent a special message to Congress on the need for a revamped antitrust statute when it convened its regular session in December 1911, but it took no action. Another antitrust case which had political repercussions for Taft was that brought against the International Harvester Company, the large manufacturer of farm equipment, in early 1912. As Roosevelt's administration had investigated International Harvester, but had taken no action (a decision Taft had supported), the suit became caught up in Roosevelt's challenge for the Republican presidential nomination. Supporters of Taft alleged that Roosevelt had acted improperly; the former president blasted his successor for waiting three and a half years, and until he was under challenge, to reverse a decision Taft had supported.[148]

Ballinger-Pinchot affair[edit]

Roosevelt was an ardent conservationist, using his expansive view of presidential power to withdraw millions of acres of public lands from the public domain and form national forests and other preserves. He was assisted in this by like-minded appointees, including Interior Secretary James R. Garfield[p] and Chief Forester Gifford Pinchot. Taft fully agreed with the need for conservation, but felt it should be accomplished by legislation rather than executive order. He did not retain Garfield, an Ohioan, as secretary, choosing instead a westerner, former Seattle mayor Richard A. Ballinger. Roosevelt was surprised at the replacement, believing that Taft had promised to keep Garfield, and this change was one of the events that caused Roosevelt to realize that Taft would elect different policies.[149]

Executive orders by Roosevelt had made Pinchot a key decision maker in conservation policy even outside of the Agriculture Department (in which the Forestry Service is located). Soon after taking office, responding to complaints from settlers, Ballinger reversed some land withdrawals, and had the Geological Survey determine which parts of the public lands might be used for dams. At Taft's request, these were set aside by Congress between 1910 and 1912, but many progressives were unhappy at the seeming repudiation of Roosevelt's policies.[150]

Some of the lands withdrawn by Roosevelt were in Alaska, and were thought to be rich in coal. In 1902, Clarence Cunningham, an Idaho entrepreneur, had found coal deposits in Alaska; he and several associates staked claims there totaling 5,280 acres (2,140 ha), and paid the government for the land. A 1904 act forbade combining claims to accumulate in excess of 640 acres (260 ha), and the Interior Department investigated whether Cunningham and his associates had violated this law. This dragged on for the remainder of the Roosevelt administration, including during the year (1907–1908) when Ballinger served as head of the General Land Office.[151] A special agent for the Land Office, Louis Glavis, investigated the Cunningham claims, and when Secretary Ballinger in 1909 approved them, Glavis broke governmental protocol by going outside the Interior Department to seek help from Pinchot. Gloves alleged that he had convincing evidence of Ballinger's misconduct while Land Office commissioner. Both sides appealed to Taft, and Pinchot made speeches calculated to force the president to take sides.[152]

In September 1909, Glavis made his allegations public in a magazine article, disclosing that Ballinger had acted as an attorney for Cunningham between his two periods of government service. This violated conflict of interest rules forbidding a former government official from advocacy on a matter he had been responsible for.[153] On September 13, 1909 Taft dismissed Glavis from government service, relying on a report from Attorney General George W. Wickersham dated two days previously.[154] Taft was satisfied that Ballinger had not made a profit on the representation, but did not publicly defend the Interior Secretary, trying to defuse the interdepartmental squabble quietly. Pinchot was determined to dramatize the issue by forcing his own dismissal, which Taft was reluctant to do, fearing that it might cause a break with Roosevelt (still overseas). Taft asked Root (by then a senator) to look into the matter, and Root urged the firing of Pinchot.[153]

Taft had ordered government officials not to comment on the fracas.[155] In January 1910, Pinchot forced the issue by sending a letter to Iowa Senator Dolliver alleging that but for the actions of the Forestry Service, Taft would have approved a fraudulent claim on public lands. According to Pringle, this "was an utterly improper appeal from an executive subordinate to the legislative branch of the government and an unhappy president prepared to separate Pinchot from public office".[156] Pinchot was dismissed, much to his delight, and sailed for Europe to lay his case before Roosevelt.[157] A congressional investigation followed, which cleared Ballinger by majority vote, but the administration was embarrassed when Glavis' attorney, Louis D. Brandeis, proved that the Wickersham report had to have been backdated, which Taft belatedly admitted. The Ballinger-Pinchot affair caused progressives and Roosevelt loyalists to feel that Taft had turned his back on Roosevelt's agenda.[158]

Political matters[edit]

Keller argues that "Taft in his way was a Progressive president, surpassing TR in antitrust suits and subscribing to an administrative more than political model of the presidency."[159] Taft, however, increasingly came to blows with the Progressive faction of the GOP, which looked to Roosevelt or to Senator Robert M. La Follette Sr. of Wisconsin for leadership. Taft thus increasingly depended on the conservative faction of his party.

When President Roosevelt realized that lowering the tariff would divide the Republican Party, he assumed a low profile on that issue. Taft ignored the political dynamite and kept the tariff rates on his agenda (he had raised expectations of lower rates in the campaign); he passively encouraged congressional reformers to draft bills including lower rates, while broadcasting a willingness to compromise with conservative leaders in the Congress, who wanted to keep tariff rates high. Taft described this approach as his "policy of harmony" with the Congress.[160] The President displayed a more aggressive role early in the drafting of tariff legislation as it regarded the Philippines. He also assumed a similar role in pushing for a corporate income tax. On other matters, he was content to wait until legislation reached its final stage in a joint House–Senate conference committee. Once there, however, he jumped in with both feet, calling each and every member of the committee for a one-on-one meeting at the White House.[160] The resulting tariff rates in the Payne–Aldrich Tariff Act of 1909 were too high for the progressives, based in part on Taft's campaign promises; but instead of blaming the act's shortcomings on Senator Nelson W. Aldrich and big business, Taft claimed the responsibility, calling it the best bill to come from the Republican Party. Again, due to his results-oriented style, politically he had managed to alienate all sides.[161] The Bureau of Trade Relations later concluded the act overall was moderately successful in lowering rates.[162] Congress refused however to fund the Tariff Board which the President included in the Payne–Aldrich Bill, which would have removed the setting of rates from direct continual Congressional manipulation.[163]

Taft was less likely to speak critically of big business than Roosevelt. Nevertheless, his rule-of-law orientation resulted in the filing of 90 antitrust suits during his administration, compared to 54 such suits by Roosevelt's two-term Justice Department. Taft's efforts included one suit against the country's largest corporation, U.S. Steel, for the acquisition of a Tennessee company during Roosevelt's tenure.[164] The lawsuit even named Roosevelt personally without Taft's knowledge. This was responsible for a complete break with Roosevelt.[165] Progressives within the Republican Party began to actively oppose Taft. Senator La Follette created the National Progressive Republican League to replace Taft on the national level; although, his campaign crashed after a disastrous speech. Most of LaFollette's supporters went over to Roosevelt. The business community and the conservative wing of the party were also alienated from Taft and contributions to the GOP dried up.[166]

Taft's administration got a political boost after 25 western railroads announced an intent to raise rates by 20%, and Taft responded, first with a threat to enforce the Sherman Antitrust Act against them; he then negotiated a settlement whereby they agreed to submit delayed rate requests to a new Interstate Commerce Commission having authority over rate requests.[167]

In late 1911, President Taft called for a "central organization in touch with associations and chambers of commerce throughout the country." Just four months later, on April 22, 1912, Taft created the United States Chamber of Commerce as a counterbalance to the rise of the labor movement at the time.[168]

Taft, ever reluctant to dismiss cabinet members, nevertheless used the resignations of Ballinger and War Secretary Dickinson to modify the complexion of the cabinet by appointing more progressive Republicans. Walter L. Fisher, from the National Conservation League and an ally of Pinchot, replaced Ballinger. Henry L. Stimson, another progressive, replaced Dickinson.[169] Taft's overriding concern in making most appointments, however, was ability and experience, not party or faction alignment. This was particularly the case with respect to judiciary appointments, specifically in the south, where Taft felt the courts were the weakest.[170] Taft's high standards, which reduced the influence of Senatorial courtesy in the selection process, resulted in the placement of over one hundred well qualified federal judges.[citation needed] Nevertheless, in the process Taft passed up yet another opportunity to embolden himself politically through the use of patronage.[171]

In the area of federal spending, Taft initiated reforms which would revolutionize the Executive's role in the federal government's budget process. Previously, each executive department presented to the Treasury Dept. its own expense estimates, which were then forwarded to the Congress. Taft ordered each department to begin submitting its requests to the cabinet for review. The first such round of requests and cabinet reviews resulted in a reduction of $92 million, representing the first actual presidential budget in modern history.[172] Taft then requested, and received, approval and funding to create the Commission on Economy and Efficiency to study the budgeting process. The study recommended the President be required early in the Congressional session to present the legislature with a comprehensive budget. This recommendation ultimately became law with passage of the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921.[173]

Taft's "policy of harmony" with Congress facilitated passage of most of his legislative program. Nevertheless, in the 1910 midterm elections, the Democrats assumed control of the House for the first time in 16 years. At the same time, in the Senate, while the Republicans retained their majority, they lost 8 seats.[174]

African Americans and immigrants[edit]

Taft announced in his inaugural address his intention of refusing to appoint African Americans to offices where this would cause race friction. This differed from Roosevelt, who would not remove or replace black officeholders with whom local whites would not deal. Termed his "Southern Policy", this stance effectively invited white protests wherever blacks were to be, or had already been appointed. Taft followed through, removing most black office holders in the South and made few appointments in the North,[175] Taft was, however, the first president to hire African Americans security guards at the White House.[176] mostly in Washington, DC. At the time Taft was inaugurated, Booker T. Washington felt that most blacks should be trained for industrial work, with only a few seeking higher education; W.E.B. DuBois took a more militant stand for equality. Taft tended towards Washington's approach. According to Coletta, Taft let the African-American "be 'kept in his place', ... He thus failed to see or follow the humanitarian mission historically associated with the Republican party, with the result that Negroes both North and South began to drift toward the Democratic party."[177]

A supporter of free immigration, Taft vetoed a law passed by Congress and supported by labor unions that would have restricted unskilled laborers by imposing a literacy test.[178]

Judicial appointments[edit]

Taft promoted Associate Justice Edward D. White to be Chief Justice.

The death of Justice Rufus Peckham in October 1909 gave Taft his first opportunity to make an appointment to the Supreme Court. Taft turned immediately to his old friend on the Sixth Circuit, Horace H. Lurton of Georgia. Attorney General Wickersham objected, reming Taft that he had promised lawyers during the 1908 campaign that he would nominate strong candidates to the Supreme Court, and Lurton, a former Confederate soldier and a Democrat, was aged 65. Taft appointed Lurton, still the oldest man ever to be appointed to the Supreme Court, anyway, on December 13, 1909 and the Senate confirmed him by voice vote a week later. Lurie suggested that Taft, already beset by the tariff and conservation controversies, wanted to do something which gave him pleasure, and that the president thought Lurton deserved it.[179]

Justice David Brewer's death on March 28, 1910 gave Taft a second opportunity to name a justice. This time he chose New York Governor Charles Evans Hughes. Taft told Hughes that should the chief justiceship fall vacant during his term, Hughes would be his likely choice for the center seat. The Senate quickly confirmed Hughes, who remained in Albany as governor with the court not scheduled to meet again until October. This was the situation when Chief Justice Fuller died on July 4, 1910. Taft took five months to replace Fuller, and when he did, it was with Justice Edward D. White, who became the first associate justice to be promoted to chief justice.[q] Taft wanted Senator Root, but Root was aged 65, and Taft had no desire to revisit the age controversy. Word came from mutual friends that Roosevelt favored White, and Taft, who still had hopes of being chief justice, may have been more willing to appoint an older man than he (White) than a younger one (Hughes), who might outlive him, as indeed Hughes did. To fill White's seat as associate justice, Taft appointed a Louisiana Democrat, Joseph R. Lamar, whom he had met while playing golf, and learned Lamar had a good reputation as a judge. By the time Taft nominated White and Lamar in December 1910, he had yet another seat to fill due to William Moody's retirement due to illness. Taft named Willis Van Devanter of Wyoming, a federal appeals judge.[180]

With the death of Justice Harlan in October 1911, Taft filled a sixth seat on the Supreme Court. After Secretary Knox declined}} appointment, Taft named Chief Justice of New Jersey Mahlon Pitney, the last man appointed to the Supreme Court who did not attend law school.{{sfn|Lurie|p=127–128

Besides his Supreme Court appointments, Taft appointed 13 judges to the United States Courts of Appeals, and 38 judges to the United States district courts. Taft also appointed judges to various specialty courts, including the first five appointees each to the United States Commerce Court and the United States Court of Customs Appeals. The Commerce Court was abolished in 1913; Taft was thus the only President to appoint judges to that body.

1912 presidential campaign and election[edit]

Moving apart from Roosevelt[edit]

Taft and Roosevelt – political enemies in 1912

Taft faced a situation unique in American history, as never before had a former president been a serious contender to dislodge his chosen successor. During Roosevelt's fifteen months beyond the Atlantic, from March 1909 to June 1910, neither man wrote much to the other, and Lurie suggested that each expected the other to make the first move to re-establish their relationship on a new footing. No such move occurred during Roosevelt's time in Africa and Europe. Upon Roosevelt's triumphant return in June 1910, Taft invited him to stay at the White House. The former president declined, and in private letters to friends expressed dissatisfaction in Taft's performance. Nevertheless, he wrote that he expected Taft to be renominated by the Republicans in 1912, and did not speak of himself as a candidate.[181]

Taft and Roosevelt met twice in 1910; the meetings, though outwardly cordial, did not display their former closeness. Roosevelt involved himself in New York politics, while Taft with donations and influence tried to secure the election of the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Ohio, former lieutenant governor Warren G. Harding. Roosevelt had moved his positions considerably to the left since leaving office. The Republicans suffered losses nationwide in the 1910 midterm elections as the Democrats took control of the House of Representatives and slashed the Republican majority in the Senate. In New Jersey, Democrat Woodrow Wilson was elected governor, and Harding lost his race in Ohio.[182]

The results of the 1910 elections made it clear to the President that Roosevelt had departed his camp, and that he might even contend for the party nomination in 1912.[183] On his return from Europe, Roosevelt openly broke with Taft in one of the notable political feuds of the 20th century. To the surprise of observers who thought Roosevelt had unstoppable momentum, Taft determined he would not simply step aside for the popular ex-President, despite the diminished support he had in the party. Taft acknowledged this, saying, "the longer I am President, the less of a party man I seem to become."[184] Roosevelt declared his candidacy for the Republican nomination in February 1912; Taft soon decided that he would focus on canvassing for delegates and not attempt at the outset to take on the more able campaigner one on one.[185] As Roosevelt became more radical in his progressivism, Taft was hardened in his resolve to achieve re-nomination, as he was convinced that the Progressives threatened the very foundation of the government.[186] Taft ultimately outmaneuvered Roosevelt and Senator Robert M. La Follette Sr. in delegate count, regained control of the GOP convention; and defeated Roosevelt for the nomination.[187]

Roosevelt and his group of disgruntled party delegates and members bolted from the party to create the Progressive Party (or "Bull Moose") ticket, splitting the Republican vote in the 1912 election.[187] Taft thought that, despite probable defeat, the party had been preserved as "the defender of conservative government and conservative institutions." He also felt that the expected defeat would remind the party of the need for self-discipline in the face of populist rancor.[188] Woodrow Wilson, the Democrat, was elected with 41% of the popular vote; Roosevelt got 27%, and Taft garnered 23%. Taft won a mere eight electoral votes, in Utah and Vermont, making it the worst defeat in American history of an incumbent President seeking reelection.[189]

The defeated President had long ago acknowledged his weakness as a campaigner and as well his failure to do the necessary political housekeeping when decisions were made. He also refused to recognize the need to publicize his policies and decisions, saying "After I have made a definite statement, I have to let it go at that until the time for action arises."[190] Taft's indifference towards the press even extended to legislation, where he failed to recognize the press' need for reduced tariffs on print paper and wood pulp.[191] He further alienated the press when recommending that a deficit in the post office be reduced by eliminating the lower second class rates afforded to magazines and newspapers.[192] Taft commented as follows on the state of his party after the election, "...it behooves the Republicans to gather again to the party standard and pledge anew their faith in their party's principles and to organize again to defend the constitutional government handed down to us by our fathers. Without compromising our principles, we must convince and win back former Republicans, and we must reinforce our ranks with Constitution-loving Democrats." [193]

In spite of his failure to be re-elected, Taft achieved what he felt were his main goals as President: keeping permanent control of the party and keeping the courts sacrosanct until they were next threatened. While the strife during the election of 1912 devastated the once very close friendship between Taft and Theodore Roosevelt, the two eventually did reconcile not long before Roosevelt's death in 1919.[194]

Administration and cabinet[edit]

The Taft Cabinet
Office Name Term
President William Howard Taft 1909–1913
Vice President James S. Sherman 1909–1912
none 1912–1913
Secretary of State Philander C. Knox 1909–1913
Secretary of Treasury Franklin MacVeagh 1909–1913
Secretary of War Jacob M. Dickinson 1909–1911
Henry L. Stimson 1911–1913
Attorney General George W. Wickersham 1909–1913
Postmaster General Frank H. Hitchcock 1909–1913
Secretary of the Navy George von L. Meyer 1909–1913
Secretary of the Interior Richard A. Ballinger 1909–1911
Walter L. Fisher 1911–1913
Secretary of Agriculture James Wilson 1909–1913
Secretary of Commerce & Labor Charles Nagel 1909–1913
President William H. Taft's first cabinet, 1910
President William H. Taft's second cabinet, 1912
(photographed by Harris & Ewing photo studio)

States admitted to the Union[edit]

  • New Mexico: January 6, 1912
  • Arizona: February 14, 1912. Taft insisted that the recall provision for judges be removed from the state constitution before he would approve it. After it was removed, Taft signed the statehood bill, and state residents promptly put the provision back in.[195][196]

Return to Yale[edit]

Upon leaving the White House in 1913, Taft was appointed the Chancellor Kent Professor of Law and Legal History at Yale Law School.[197] While at Yale, Taft was initiated as an honorary member of the Acacia Fraternity. At the same time, Taft was elected president of the American Bar Association. He spent much of his time writing newspaper articles and books, most notably his series on American legal philosophy. He was a vigorous opponent of prohibition in the United States, predicting the undesirable situation that the Eighteenth Amendment would create.[198] He also continued to advocate world peace through international arbitration, urging nations to enter into arbitration treaties with each other and promoting the idea of a League of Nations even before the First World War began. Taft was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1914.[199] Additionally, he lectured on Legal Ethics at Boston University from 1918 to 1921.[200]

When World War I did break out in Europe in 1914, however, Taft founded the League to Enforce Peace. He was a co-chairman of the powerful National War Labor Board between 1917 and 1918.

Taft also supported the war effort by joining the Connecticut Home Guard, an organization formed to perform many of the in-state duties of the National Guard while the National Guard was deployed overseas.[201][202]

Although he continually advocated peace, he strongly favored conscription once the United States entered the War, pleading publicly that the United States not fight a "finicky" war. He feared the war would be long, but was for fighting it out to a finish, given what he viewed as "Germany's brutality."

Chief Justice, 1921–1930[edit]

Chief Justice Taft, ca. 1921


Check signed by Taft on this first day as Chief Justice of the United States.

On June 30, 1921, following the death of Chief Justice Edward Douglass White (whom Taft himself had nominated), President Warren G. Harding nominated Taft to take his place. For a man who had once remarked, "there is nothing I would have loved more than being chief justice of the United States" the nomination to oversee the highest court in the land was like a dream come true.[203] There was little opposition to the nomination, and the Senate approved him 60-4 in a secret session on the day of his nomination, but the roll call of the vote has never been made public.[204] Taft received his commission immediately and readily took up the position, taking the oath of office on July 11, and serving until 1930. As such, he became the only President to serve as Chief Justice, and thus the only former President to swear in subsequent Presidents, giving the oath of office to both Calvin Coolidge (in 1925) and Herbert Hoover (in 1929).

Taft enjoyed his years on the court and was respected by his peers. Justice Felix Frankfurter once remarked to Justice Louis Brandeis that it was "difficult for me to understand why a man who is so good a Chief Justice...could have been so bad as President."[203] Taft remains the only person to have led both the Executive and Judicial branches of the United States government. He considered his time as Chief Justice to be the highest point of his career; allegedly, he once remarked "I do not remember that I was ever President!"[205]

Chief Justice Taft with President Warren G. Harding and former Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln, May, 1922


In 1922, Taft traveled to England to study the procedural structure of the English courts and to learn how they dropped such a large number of cases quickly. During the trip, King George V and Queen Mary received Taft and his wife as state visitors.

With what he had learned in England, Taft decided to advocate the introduction and passage of the Judiciary Act of 1925, which shifts the Supreme Court's appellate jurisdiction to be largely discretionary upon review of litigants' petitioning to be granted an appeal (see also writ of certiorari). This allowed the Supreme Court to give preference to what they believed to be cases of national importance and allowed the Court to work more efficiently.

Besides giving the Supreme Court more control over its docket, supporting new legislation, and organizing the Judicial Conference, Taft gave the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice general supervisory power over the scattered and disorganized federal courts.

The legislation also brought the courts of the District of Columbia and of the Territories (and soon, the Commonwealths of the Philippines and Puerto Rico) into the federal court system. This united the courts for the first time as an independent third branch of government under the administrative supervision of the Chief Justice. Taft was also the first Justice to employ two full-time law clerks to assist him.

In 1929, Taft successfully argued in favor of the construction of a separate and spacious Supreme Court building, reasoning that the Supreme Court needed to distance itself from the Congress as a separate branch of the federal government. Until then, the Court had heard cases in the Old Senate Chamber of the Capitol; the Justices had no private chambers there, and their conferences were held in a room in the Capitol's basement. The building was completed in 1935, five years after Taft's death, and remains the seat of the Supreme Court to this day.


While Chief Justice, Taft wrote the opinion for the Court in 256 cases out of the Court's ever-growing caseload. His philosophy of constitutional interpretation was essentially historical contextualism. Some of his more notable opinions include:

The U.S. Supreme Court in 1925. Taft is seated in the bottom row, middle.

Medical conditions and weight[edit]

Taft is often remembered as being the most obese president.[207] He was 5 feet 11 inches (1.80 m) tall; his weight peaked at 335–340 pounds (152–154 kg) toward the end of his Presidency.[208] The truth of the story of Taft getting stuck in a White House bathtub is unclear. However, he once did overflow a bathtub.[209][210]

Evidence from eyewitnesses, and from Taft himself, strongly suggests that during his presidency he had severe obstructive sleep apnea.[208] His chief symptom was somnolence. While President, he fell asleep during conversations, and at the dinner table, and even while standing. He was also strikingly hypertensive, with a systolic blood pressure over 200.[211]

Within a year of leaving the presidency, Taft lost approximately 80 pounds (36 kg). His somnolence problem resolved and, less obviously, his systolic blood pressure dropped 40–50 mmHg (from 210 mmHg).[212]

Soon after his weight loss, he had a revival of interest in the outdoors; this led him to explore Alaska.[213] Beginning in 1920, Taft used a cane; this was a gift from Professor of Geology W. S. Foster, and was made of 250,000-year-old petrified wood.[214]

After several heart attacks in 1924, Taft was slowing down. He wrote in 1925 that his memory was becoming poorer and in 1928, "my mind does not work as well as it did, and I scatter."[215] When he administered the Oath of Office to President Hoover on March 4, 1929, he recited part of the oath incorrectly, later writing in a personal letter, "... my memory is not always accurate and one sometimes becomes a little uncertain.", misquoting again in that letter, but differently.[216]

Death and legacy[edit]

Taft's headstone at Arlington National Cemetery

Taft began experiencing hallucinations as 1930 began. On February 3, he stepped down from the Supreme Court. Charles Evans Hughes, whom he had appointed as an Associate Justice while President, succeeded him as Chief Justice. An official statement by his doctors announced that he had suffered from heart disease and atherosclerosis for years, but that he had no other serious ailments.

Five weeks following his retirement, some of which was spent in a state of semi-consciousness, Taft died on March 8, 1930, from cardiovascular disease, and the same date as Associate Justice Edward Terry Sanford's unexpected death. As it was customary for members of the court to attend the funeral of deceased members, this posed a "logistical nightmare", necessitating traveling immediately from Knoxville, Tennessee, for Sanford's funeral to Washington for Taft's funeral.[217][218] The house at which Taft died is now the diplomatic mission of the Syrian Arab Republic to the United States.[219]

Three days following his death, on March 11, he became the first president and first Chief Justice to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.[217][220] James Earle Fraser sculpted his grave marker out of Stony Creek granite.[220] Taft is one of two presidents buried at Arlington National Cemetery (the other is John F. Kennedy), and is one of four Chief Justices buried there (Earl Warren, Warren E. Burger, and William Rehnquist are the others). As a former president, Taft was the only Chief Justice to have had a state funeral.

In 1938, a third generation of the Taft family entered the national political stage with the election of the former President's oldest son Robert A. Taft I to the Senate, where he became a leader of the conservative Republicans. President Taft's other son, Charles Phelps Taft II, served as the mayor of Cincinnati from 1955 to 1957.

President Taft's enduring legacy includes many things named after him. The William Howard Taft National Historic Site is the Taft boyhood home. The house in which he was born has been restored to its original appearance. It includes four period rooms reflecting family life during Taft's boyhood, and second-floor exhibits highlighting Taft's life.[221] Others include the courthouse of the Ohio Court of Appeals for the First District in Cincinnati; streets in Cincinnati, Arlington, Virginia; and Taft Avenue in Manila, Philippines; the Taft Bridge in Washington, D.C.; a law school in Santa Ana, California;[222] and high schools in San Antonio, Texas; Woodland Hills, California; Chicago, Illinois; and The Bronx. Taft, Eastern Samar, a town in the Philippines was named after him. After a fire burned much of the town of Moron, California, in the 1920s, it was renamed Taft, California, in his honor.

George Burroughs Torrey painted a portrait of him. Taft is the last President to have sported facial hair while in office.[223]


Collection of video clips of the president
Speech: "The Farmer and the Republican Party", Kansas City, Missouri, 1908

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 1889 Ohio Misc. Lexis 119, 10 Ohio Dec. reprint 181
  2. ^ 1887 Ohio Misc. Lexis 181, 10 Ohio Dec. reprint 48
  3. ^ Alphonso Taft died in 1891 in California, retired because of illness contracted during his diplomatic postings. See Pringle, vol. 1, p. 119.
  4. ^ 54 F. 730 (6th Cir. 1893)
  5. ^ 62 F. 802 (6th Cir. 1894)
  6. ^ 79 F. 561 (6th Cir. 1897)
  7. ^ Baltimore & Ohio Southwestern Railway Co., 176 U.S. 498 (1900). Only Justice Harlan dissented from the opinion for the Court written by Justice George Shiras. See Lurie, pp. 33–34.
  8. ^ 85 F. 271 (6th Cir. 1898).
  9. ^ 175 U.S. 211 (1899).
  10. ^ 96 F. 298 (6th Cir. 1899)
  11. ^ Likely a reference to the Lincoln quote, "You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time."
  12. ^ His son, Douglas MacArthur, would also become a general.
  13. ^ The discharges were in 1972 reversed as an injustice to the soldiers, and the one surviving former soldier who had not returned to the Army was given compensation. See [[#CITEREF|]], pp. xvi–xviii, 209–210.
  14. ^ In other words, required by party rules to vote for Taft on at least the first ballot.
  15. ^ In one of which Secretary Knox was said to be a major stockholder. See Coletta 1973, p. 188.
  16. ^ Son of the late president
  17. ^ The others being Harlan Fiske Stone and William Rehnquist.


  1. ^ Arnold, Peri. "William Henry Taft: Campaigns and Elections". American President: An Online Reference Resource. University of Virginia. Retrieved December 8, 2010. His victory was overwhelming. He carried all but three states outside the Democratic Solid South and won 321 electoral votes to Bryan's 162. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Gould, Louis L. (February 2000). "Taft, William Howard". American National Biography Online. ISBN 0-679-80358-0. Retrieved December 8, 2015. (subscription required (help)). 
  3. ^ Lurie, pp. 4–5.
  4. ^ Pringle vol 1, pp. 7–13.
  5. ^ Lurie, pp. 4–7.
  6. ^ Michael Burgan (2003). William Howard Taft. Capstone. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-7565-0273-7. 
  7. ^ a b c "Obituary: Taft Gained Peaks in Unusual Career". New York Times. March 9, 1930. 
  8. ^ Secor, Philip (2008). Presidential Profiles: From George Washington to G. W. Bush. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse. pp. 294–295. ISBN 978-0-595-53511-8. 
  9. ^ "National Wrestling Hall Of Fame". 
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  13. ^ Pringle vol 1 57–58.
  14. ^ Lurie, pp. 10–11.
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  16. ^ Lurie, pp. 13–15.
  17. ^ Pringle vol 1, pp. 80–81.
  18. ^ Pringle vol 1, pp. 95–105.
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  20. ^ Pringle vol 1, pp. 106–111.
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  65. ^ Anderson 1973, p. 40.
  66. ^ DeGregorio, William (1993). The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents. New York: Wings Books. p. 398.
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  • Anderson, Donald F. (1973). William Howard Taft: A Conservative's Conception of the Presidency. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. ISBN 9780801407864. 
  • Burton, David H. (2003). Taft, Wilson, and World Order. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson Press. ISBN 0-8386-3969-0. 
  • Burton, David H. (2004). William Howard Taft, Confident Peacemaker. Philadelphia: Saint Joseph's University Press. ISBN 0-916101-51-7. 
  • Coletta, Paolo Enrico (1989). William Howard Taft: A Bibliography. Westport, CT: Meckler Corporation. 
  • Coletta, Paolo Enrico (1973). The Presidency of William Howard Taft. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas. 
  • Gould, Lewis L. (2014). Chief Executive to Chief Justice:Taft Betwixt the White House and Supreme Court. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas. ISBN 978-0-7006-2001-2. 
  • Lurie, Jonathan (2011). William Howard Taft: Progressive Conservative. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521514217. 
  • Minger, Ralph Eldin (August 1961). "Taft's Missions to Japan: A Study in Personal Diplomacy". Pacific Historical Review 30 (3): 279–294. JSTOR 3636924. 
  • Pringle, Henry F. (1939). The Life and Times of William Howard Taft: A Biography 1 (2008 reprint ed.). Newtown, CT: American Political Biography Press. ISBN 978-0945707202. 
  • Pringle, Henry F. (1939). The Life and Times of William Howard Taft: A Biography 2 (2008 reprint ed.). Newtown, CT: American Political Biography Press. ISBN 978-0945707196. 
  • Scholes, Walter V; Scholes, Marie V. (1970). The Foreign Policies of the Taft Administration. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press. ISBN 0-8262-0094-X. 
  • Weaver, John D. (1997). The Senator and the Sharecropper's Son: Exoneration of the Brownsville Soldiers. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press. ISBN 978-0-89096-748-5. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Abraham, Henry J. (1992). Justices and Presidents: A Political History of Appointments to the Supreme Court (3rd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-506557-3. 
  • Anderson, Judith Icke (1981). William Howard Taft: An Intimate History. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 9780393014624. 
  • Anthony, Carl Sferrazza (2005). Nellie Taft: The Unconventional First Lady of the Ragtime Era. New York: William Morrow. ISBN 9780060513825. 
  • Bromley, Michael L. (2003). William Howard Taft and the First Motoring Presidency. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company. ISBN 9780786414758. 
  • Burns, Adam D. "Adapting to Empire: William H. Taft, Theodore Roosevelt, and the Philippines, 1900-08," Comparative American Studies 11 (Dec. 2013), 418-33.
  • Burns, Adam D. "Retentionist in Chief: William Howard Taft and the Question of Philippine Independence, 1912-1916." Philippine Studies: Historical and Ethnographic Viewpoints 61#2 (2013): 163-192. online
  • Burton, David Henry. William Howard Taft: Confident Peacemaker (St. Joseph's University Press, 2004).
  • Burton, David H. "The Learned Presidency: Roosevelt, Taft, Wilson." Presidential Studies Quarterly 15#3 (1985): 486-497.
  • Burton, David H. (1998). Taft, Holmes, and the 1920s Court: An Appraisal. Madison, New Jersey: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. ISBN 9780838637685. 
  • Burton, David H. (2005). Taft, Roosevelt, and the Limits of Friendship. Madison, New Jersey: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. ISBN 9780838640425. 
  • Chace, James (2004). 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft and Debs – The Election that Changed the Country. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9780743203944. 
  • Conner, Valerie (1983). The National War Labor Board. 
  • Cushman, Clare (2001). The Supreme Court Justices: Illustrated Biographies, 1789–1995 (2nd ed.). (Supreme Court Historical Society, Congressional Quarterly Books). ISBN 978-1-56802-126-3. 
  • Escalante, Rene R. The Bearer of Pax Americana: The Philippine Career of William H. Taft, 1900-1903 (New Day Publishers, 2007).
  • Frank, John P.; Leon Friedman; Fred L. Israel, editors (1995). The Justices of the United States Supreme Court: Their Lives and Major Opinions. Chelsea House Publishers. ISBN 978-0-7910-1377-9. 
  • Gould, Lewis L. (2010). The William Howard Taft Presidency. 
  • Hall, Kermit L., ed. (1992). The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-505835-2. 
  • Hammond, John Hays (1935). The Autobiography of John Hays Hammond. New York: Farrar & Rinehart. ISBN 978-0-405-05913-1. 
  • Harris, Charles H. III; Sadler, Louis R. (2009). The Secret War in El Paso: Mexican Revolutionary Intrigue, 1906-1920. Albuquerque, New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 978-0-8263-4652-0. 
  • Hechler, Kenneth S. (1940). Insurgency: Personalities and Politics of the Taft Era. 
  • Hicks, Frederick (1945). William Howard Taft, Yale Professor of Law & New Haven Citizen. New Haven: Yale University Press. 
  • Korzi, Michael J. (2003). Our chief magistrate and his powers: a reconsideration of William Howard Taft's "Whig" theory of presidential leadership. 
  • Manners, William (1969). TR and Will: A Friendship that Split the Republican Party. 
  • Martin, Fenton S.; Goehlert, Robert U. (1990). The U.S. Supreme Court: A Bibliography. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Books. ISBN 0-87187-554-3. 
  • Martin, Fenton S.; Goehlert, Robert U. (1990). The U.S. Supreme Court: A Bibliography. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Books. ISBN 0-87187-554-3. 
  • Minger, Ralph E. (1975). William Howard Taft and United States Diplomacy: The Apprenticeship Years. 1900–1908. 
  • Mossman, Billy C.; Stark, M. W. (1971). "Chapter II, Former President William Howard Taft State Funeral 8–11 March 1930". The last salute : civil and military funerals, 1921-1969. Washington, DC. 
  • Morrisey, Will. The Dilemma of Progressivism: How Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson Reshaped the American Regime of Self-government (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009).
  • Solvick, Stanley D. (December 1, 1963). "William Howard Taft and the Payne-Aldrich Tariff". Mississippi Valley Historical Review 50 (3): 424–442. doi:10.2307/1902605. ISSN 0161-391X. JSTOR 1902605. 
  • Sternberg, Jonathan (2008). "Deciding Not to Decide: The Judiciary Act of 1925 and the Discretionary Court". Journal of Supreme Court History 33 (1): 1–16. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5818.2008.00176.x. 
  • Urofsky, Melvin I. (1994). The Supreme Court Justices: A Biographical Dictionary. New York: Garland Publishing. p. 590. ISBN 978-0-8153-1176-8. 
  • van Wyk, Peter (2003). Burnham: King of Scouts. Victoria, B.C., Canada: Trafford Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4120-0901-0. 
  • Warren, Charles (1928). The Supreme Court in United States History 1. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company. 
  • Wilensky, Norman N. (1965). Conservatives in the Progressive Era: The Taft Republicans of 1912. 

Primary sources[edit]

External links[edit]