William H. Taft Biography
William H. Taft led a successful life as judge and president. As the only man to ever sit on the Supreme Court and serve as President, Taft left his mark as a fair, honest man.
William Howard Taft was born September 15, 1857, in Cincinnati, Ohio. His mother, Louisa Maria Torrey Taft, was a homemaker and his father, Alphonso Taft, a highly regarded judge.
With big shoes to fill, Taft worked hard and made his mark as a scholar, spending long hours studying. He received his early education from local public schools. With a love of law, Taft studied at Yale, graduating second in his class in 1878. Taft was admitted to the Ohio bar shortly after and attended Cincinnati Law School, where he graduated in 1880. He passed the bar that same year at the age of 23.
Taft's first job was as a court reporter for the Cincinnati Commercial Gazette. Though many thought the job belittling, Taft treated it as if it were the most revered task in the world, winning friends and supporters along the way. Within the same year, he was appointed prosecutor of Hamilton County, Ohio, and Cincinnati's collector of internal revenue. He would later resign from the latter in order to have a private law office.
Taft married in 1886, taking Helen Herron (whom he called "Nellie") as his bride. The couple would have three children.
Eager to pursue a career in law, Taft was excited to be asked to fill the unfinished term of Judge Joseph Foraker on the Ohio Supreme Court in 1887. Taft was just 30 years old. The following year, he was elected to a full term on his own.
Taft was a skillful judge, never shy about declaring his ambition to become a justice of the Supreme Court. His wife, however, yearned for Taft to become president and continuously guided him in that direction throughout the years. By late 1903, Taft was already serving as Roosevelt's secretary of war in Washington and opting out of the field of law.
During the 1904 election, Roosevelt pegged Taft to become his successor. As a result, the Republican Party endorsed him on the first ballot. With his political mind frame so closely associated with Roosevelt's, Taft was elected president in 1908 with a large margin of victory.
Stepping into the shoes of the colorful and popular Roosevelt was not an easy task, especially for a judicial personality. Taft was, by his own admission, a poor public speaker. Lacking the drama that Roosevelt presented, Taft was often criticized by the media. Despite the public's attack on his character, Taft made important contributions to the reform program while in office, actively prosecuting monopolies and trusts in favor of small businessmen. Nearly twice the average of antitrust cases were brought to the courts during President Taft's four-year term. In 1910, Taft signed the Mann-Elkins Act, which placed telephone, telegraph, radio, and cable services under the control of the Interstate Commerce Commission.
Congress passed the 16th Amendment during Taft's administration, giving the U.S. government the right to collect income taxes. Unpopular as the idea was, Taft continued to garner public approval.
In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt made it known that he intended to receive the Republican nomination for president. Taft and Roosevelt were arch rivals by this time, and Taft was determined to undermine Roosevelt's plan of action. While Taft did prevent the seating of many former Roosevelt delegates at the national convention, he was largely unsuccessful in his bid for re-election, losing the seat to Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson.
Taft left the White House and began to teach law at Yale University in 1887. During his 8-year tenure, he lectured around the U.S. and published a large number of books.
The election long over, Roosevelt and Taft made amends and began working together for the Republican ticket in 1916. President Wilson appointed Taft co-chairman of the National War Labor Board in 1918. Taft worked during World War I to mediate labor disputes during the war and won quite a following as a result. In 1921, Taft finally reached his goal and was appointed chief justice of the United States Supreme Court.
Taft retired from the court and a lifetime of public service in February of 1930. Gravely ill, he spent his last days at his home in Washington, D.C. He was the first president to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.