William H. Taft
William Howard Taft (September 15, 1857 – March 8, 1930) was an American politician, the 27th President of the United States, the 10th Chief Justice of the United States, a leader of the progressive conservative wing of the Republican Party in the early 20th century, a pioneer in international arbitration and staunch advocate of world peace verging on pacifism, and scion of the leading political family in Ohio.
Taft served as Solicitor General of the United States, a federal judge, Governor-General of the Philippines, and Secretary of War before being nominated for President in the 1908 Republican National Convention with the backing of his predecessor and close friend Theodore Roosevelt.
His presidency was characterized by trust-busting, strengthening the Interstate Commerce Commission, expanding the civil service, establishing a better postal system, and promoting world peace. Roosevelt broke with Taft in 1911, charging Taft was too reactionary. Taft and the conservatives were alarmed at Roosevelt's attacks on the judiciary, and took control of the party machinery. Taft defeated Roosevelt for the Republican nomination in a bruising battle in 1912 that forced Roosevelt out of the GOP and left Taft people in charge for decades. William Howard Taft remains the only U.S. President to finish third in a bid for reelection. During World War I he helped set national labor policy that reduced strikes and generated union support for the national cause. In 1921, he became Chief Justice. As President and Chief Justice he helped make the federal courts, especially the Supreme Court, much more powerful in shaping national policy.
Taft was born on September 15, 1857, in Cincinnati, Ohio, the third of five children. His mother, Louisa Torrey, was a graduate of Mount Holyoke College. His father, Alphonso Taft, came to Cincinnati in 1839 to open a law practice.<ref>http://www.answers.com/topic/alphonso-taft</ref> Alphonso Taft was a prominent Republican and served as Secretary of War under President Ulysses S. Grant.
Taft was brought up in the Unitarian church and remained a faithful Unitarian his entire life. At age 18, he met his future wife, Helen Herron, in Cincinnati; she and Taft courted while he was away at college. William Taft enjoyed spending time with his aunt, Meredith Johnson, who unfortunately needed a wheelchair and crutches.
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 which reflect the family life during Taft's boyhood. The home also includes second floor exhibits highlighting Taft's life center.<ref>http://www.nps.gov/wiho</ref>
In 1874, Taft attended Woodward High School. Like most of his family, he attended Yale College in New Haven, Connecticut. At Yale, he was a member of the Linonian Society, a literary and debate society; Skull and Bones, the secret society co-founded by his father in 1832; and the Beta chapter of the Psi Upsilon fraternity. His college friends knew him by the nickname "Old Bill".<ref>ArlingtonCemetery.Net citing New York Times. "Obituary: Taft Gained Peaks in Unusual Career." March 9, 1930.</ref> In 1878, Taft graduated from Yale, ranking second in his class out of 121.<ref>ArlingtonCemetery.Net citing New York Times. "Obituary: Taft Gained Peaks in Unusual Career." March 9, 1930.</ref> After college, he attended Cincinnati Law School, graduating with a Bachelor of Laws in 1880. While in law school, he worked on the area newspaper The Cincinnati Commercial.<ref>ArlingtonCemetery.Net citing New York Times. "Obituary: Taft Gained Peaks in Unusual Career." March 9, 1930.</ref>
After admission to the Ohio bar, Taft was appointed Assistant Prosecutor of Hamilton County, Ohio, based in Cincinnati. In 1882, he was appointed local Collector of Internal Revenue. People who disagreed with Taft's beliefs and opposed the decisions he made called him a “trust buster”. Taft married his longtime sweetheart, Helen Herron, in Cincinnati in 1886. In 1887, he was appointed as a judge of the Ohio Superior Court. In 1890, President Benjamin Harrison appointed him Solicitor General of the United States. In 1892 Harrison appointed him to the newly created United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, a post which he held until 1900. It was then that he met Theodore Roosevelt for the first time.
In addition to his judgeship, between 1896 and 1900 Taft also served as the first Dean and a Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Cincinnati.<ref>Cincinnati Law School: 2006 William Howard Taft Lecture on Constitutional Law</ref> Eventually, he became the Chief Judge of the Sixth Circuit. One of Taft's most famous opinions was in Addyston Pipe and Steel Company v. United States (1898).
In 1900, President William McKinley appointed Taft as the chairman of a commission to organize a civilian government in the Philippines, which had been ceded to the United States by Spain following the Spanish-American War and the 1898 Treaty of Paris. Although Taft initially had been opposed to the annexation of the islands and told McKinley that his real ambition was to become a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, he reluctantly accepted the appointment when McKinley suggested that he would be "the better judge for this experience."
From 1901 to 1903, Taft served as the first civilian Governor-General of the Philippines, a position in which he was very popular among both Americans and Filipinos. For example, in 1902 Taft visited Rome to negotiate with Pope Leo XIII for the purchase of lands in the Philippines owned by the Roman Catholic Church. Taft then induced Congress to appropriate $7,239,000 to purchase the lands, which he sold to Filipinos on easy terms. In 1903, President Roosevelt offered Taft the seat on the Supreme Court to which he had for so long aspired, but he reluctantly declined when native Filipino groups begged him to remain in Manila as Governor-General.
Secretary of War, 1904-1908
In 1904, Roosevelt appointed Taft as Secretary of War. Roosevelt made the basic policy decisions regarding military affairs, using Taft as a well-traveled spokesman who campaigned for Roosevelt's re-election in 1904. Taft met with the Emperor of Japan, who alerted him of the probability of war with Russia. In 1906, Roosevelt sent troops to restore order in Cuba during the revolt led by General Enrique Loynaz del Castillo, and Taft temporarily became the Civil Governor of Cuba, personally negotiating with General Castillo for a peaceful end to the revolt. In 1907, Secretary Taft helped supervise the beginning of construction on the Panama Canal. Taft repeatedly had told Roosevelt he wanted to be Chief Justice, not President (and not an associate justice), but there was no vacancy and Roosevelt had other plans. He gave Taft more responsibilities in addition to the Philippines and the Panama Canal. For a while, Taft was Acting Secretary of State. When Roosevelt was away, Taft in effect was the Acting President.
- See also: U.S. presidential election, 1908
After serving for nearly two full terms, the popular Theodore Roosevelt refused to run in the election of 1908. Roosevelt certified Taft as a genuine "progressive", in 1908, pushing through the nomination of his Secretary of War for the presidency. At the age 51 Taft easily defeated three-time candidate William Jennings Bryan. Taft considered himself a "progressive" because of his deep belief in "The Law" as the scientific device that should be used by judges to solve society's problems. Taft proved a less adroit politician than Roosevelt and seemed to lack the energy and personal magnetism of his mentor, not to mention the publicity devices, the dedicated supporters, and the broad base of public support that made Roosevelt so formidable. When Roosevelt realized that lowering the tariff would risk severe tensions inside the Republican Party, pitting producers (manufacturers and farmers) against department stores and consumers, he stopped talking about the issue. Taft ignored the risks and tackled the tariff boldly, on the one hand encouraging reformers to fight for lower rates, then cutting deals with conservative leaders that kept overall rates high. The resulting Payne-Aldrich tariff of 1909 was too high for most reformers, but instead of blaming this on Senator Nelson Aldrich and big business, Taft took credit, calling it the best bill to come from the Republican Party. Again, he had managed to alienate all sides.
Unlike Roosevelt, Taft never attacked business or businessmen in his rhetoric. However, he was attentive to the law, so he launched 90 antitrust suits, including one against the country's largest corporation, U.S. Steel, for an acquisition which Roosevelt personally had approved. As a result, Taft lost the support of antitrust reformers (who disliked his conservative rhetoric), of big business (which disliked his actions), and of Roosevelt, who felt humiliated by his protégé. Progressives within the Republican party began agitating against Taft. Senator Robert LaFollette of Wisconsin created the National Progressive Republican League to replace Taft at the national level; his campaign crashed after a disastrous speech. Most of LaFollette's supporters went over to Roosevelt, leaving LaFollette embittered and alone. More trouble came when Taft fired Gifford Pinchot, a leading conservationist and close ally of Roosevelt. Pinchot alleged that Taft's Secretary of Interior Richard Ballinger was in league with big timber interests. Conservationists sided with Pinchot, and Taft alienated yet another vocal constituency.
Taft fought for the prosecution of trusts (eventually issuing 80 lawsuits),<ref>http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/presidents/wt27.html</ref> further strengthened the Interstate Commerce Commission, established a postal savings bank and a parcel post system, and expanded the civil service. He supported the 16th Amendment, which allowed for a federal income tax, and the 17th Amendment, mandating the direct election of senators by the people, replacing the previous system whereby they were selected by state legislatures.
Taft actively pursued what he termed "dollar diplomacy" to further the economic development of less-developed nations of Latin America and Asia through American investment in their infrastructures. Throughout the early part of his presidency, Taft had difficulties with Nicaragua. When the United States shifted its interests to Panama for the purpose of building a canal, Nicaraguan President José Santos Zelaya negotiated with Germany and Japan in an unsuccessful effort to have a canal constructed in his state. The Zelaya administration had growing friction with the United States government, which started giving aid to his Conservative opponents in Nicaragua. In 1907, U.S. warships seized several of Nicaragua's seaports. In early December, United States Marines landed on Nicaragua's Caribbean Sea coast. On December 17, 1909, Zelaya resigned and left for exile in Mexico. The U.S.-sponsored conservative regime of Adolfo Díaz was installed in his place. Military invasions increased with Marine landings in 1910 and 1912. The Marines stayed in Nicaragua through 1925.
One of Taft's main goals while President was to further the idea of world peace. Given his judicial sensibilities, he believed that international arbitration was the best means to effectuate the end of war on Earth. As such, he championed several reciprocity and arbitration treaties. In 1910, he convinced congressional Democrats to support a reciprocity treaty with Canada, but the Liberal Canadian government that negotiated the treaty was turned out of office in 1911 and the treaty collapsed. In 1910 and 1911, however, he secured the ratification of arbitration treaties that he had successfully negotiated with the United Kingdom and France and thereafter was known as one of the foremost advocates of world peace and arbitration.
To solve one impasse during the 1909 tariff debate, Taft proposed income taxes for corporations and business. His new tax on corporate net income was 1% on net profits over $5,000. Legally, it was designated an excise on the privilege of doing business and not a tax on incomes as such. In 1911, the Supreme Court, in Flint v. Stone Tracy Company, approved it. Receipts grew from $21 million in the fiscal year 1910 to $34.8 million in 1912. An income tax on individuals, (unlike the tax on corporations) required a constitutional amendment. One was passed with little controversy in July, 1909, unanimously in the Senate and by a vote of 318 to 14 in the House. It quickly was ratified by the states, and in February, 1913, it became a part of the Constitution as the Sixteenth Amendment, as Taft was leaving office.
Despite his obvious achievements, progressives decried Taft's acceptance of the Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act, which lowered the tariff on the farm products of the western states, whose citizens desired lower rates on Eastern factory products. Taft opposed to the entry of the state of Arizona into the Union because of its judicial features. Progressives grumbled that he worked too closely with conservative Senator Nelson W. Aldrich and Speaker of the House Joseph G. Cannon. By 1910, Taft's party was deeply divided between progressives and conservatives.
On his return from Europe, Roosevelt broke with Taft in one of the most dramatic political feuds of the 20th century. To the surprise of observers who thought Roosevelt had unstoppable momentum, Taft outmaneuvered Roosevelt and LaFollette, seized control of the GOP, and forced both out of the party. The main issue in 1911-12 was independence of the judiciary, which Roosevelt denounced. Most lawyers in the GOP supported Taft, including many of Roosevelt's key supporters like Elihu Root, Henry Stimson, and Roosevelt's own son-in-law, Nicholas Longworth. In lining up delegates for the 1912 nomination, Taft outmaneuvered Roosevelt, who had started much too late, and kept control of the Republican party. 1912 was the first year that some delegates were determined through primary elections. Primary elections were seen as a way to take power away from party bosses and put it in the hands of the people. Out of the 14 Republican primaries held, Roosevelt won 9, and Taft only won 3. Robert Lafollete won the other 2. Nevertheless, Taft had the delegates and won the nomination at the republican nominating convention in Chicago. Instead, Roosevelt was forced to create the Progressive Party (or "Bull Moose") ticket, splitting the Republican vote in the 1912 election. Woodrow Wilson, the Democrat, was elected, although many historians argue that Wilson would have won anyway, because the Republican factions would not support each other. Taft won a mere eight electoral votes, making it the single worst defeat for a President seeking re-election. He achieved his main goal, however, keeping permanent control of the party and making the courts sacrosanct.
Administration and Cabinet
|President||William Howard Taft||1909–1913|
|Vice President||James S. Sherman||1909–1912|
|Secretary of State||Philander C. Knox||1909–1913|
|Secretary of the 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|
Supreme Court Appointments
During his presidency, Taft appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:
- Horace Harmon Lurton - 1910
- Lurton had served on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit with Taft, and Taft's attorney general said that at 66 he was too old to become a Supreme Court justice, but Taft had always admired Lurton. According to the Complete Book of U.S. Presidents (2001 edition), Taft later said that "the chief pleasure of my administration" was the appointment of Lurton.
- Charles Evans Hughes - 1910
- Even though Hughes resigned in 1916 to run in the presidential election that year, he became Taft's successor as Chief Justice.
- Edward Douglass White - Chief Justice - 1910
- Already on the Court as an associate justice since 1894, White was the first Chief Justice to be elevated from an associate justiceship. Taft succeeded White as Chief Justice in 1921.
Notably, Taft's six appointments to the Court rank (in number) third only to those of George Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt; as well, his appointment of five new justices ties the number appointed by Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln. Four of Taft's appointees were relatively young at ages 48, 51, 53 and 54.
The appointments of Edward Douglass White and Charles Evans Hughes also are notable because Taft essentially appointed both his predecessor and successor Chief Justices, respectively. Hughes initially was appointed an Associate Justice, but later resigned to run for the Republican Party's presidential candidate in the 1916 election, which he would lose. President Herbert Hoover renominated Hughes to the Supreme Court as Chief Justice following Taft's retirement.
States admitted to the Union
Upon leaving the White House in 1913, Taft was appointed Kent Professor of Constitutional Law at Yale Law School. The same year, he 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. 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.
When World War I did break out in Europe in 1914, however, Taft founded the League to Enforce Peace. He was co-chair