1. William Howard Taft was born in 1857, in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was the son of a successful lawyer, who was also an important member of the Republican Party. He was a good student, and when he was 17, joined Yale College. He then proceeded to study law at Cincinnati Law School, and got his degree in 1880.
2. Taft was appointed assistant prosecuting attorney in 1881, and collector of internal revenue. He resigned in 1883, and started his own law firm. Taft was quite content to just practise law, but due to his father’s political ambitions, he accepted the appointments he was offered as assistant county solicitor, judge at Cincinnati Superior Court and solicitor-general of USA. In 1892, President Harrison appointed him judge of the Court of Appeals. He held this office for eight years.
3. In 1900, President McKinley appointed Taft chairman of the Second Philippine Commission, formed to govern the Philippine Islands. A year later, he became the first civil governor, and made a name for himself by establishing new systems in land records, sanitary regulations and the courts of law. He was popular with the local people and did his best to improve their economic status. He even refused an appointment to the Supreme Court, because he did not want to leave his work halfway. When he finally left to become Secretary of War under President Theodore Roosevelt in1904, he stipulated that he should continue to supervise administrative affairs in the Philippines.
4. Taft’s wife, Helen Herron Taft, was an intelligent woman whose ambitions for her husband’s political career had a great effect on his decisions. When President Roosevelt wanted Taft to run for President in the next election, Taft objected, as he wanted to wait for another chance as Supreme Court judge. His wife, however, insisted that he avail of the opportunity, and his brothers also agreed with her. With Roosevelt’s backing he easily won, and became the 27th President of USA in 1909. James S. Sherman was his Vice-President.
5. Taft was a better administrator than president. His tendency to look at all sides of an issue rendered him ineffective in decision making. He lacked strong leadership qualities, and though he tried to stick to Roosevelt’s progressive policies, he was largely unsuccessful.
6. He started off with anti- trust suits, initiating as many as 800 of them. But he lacked conviction, and soon showed his more conservative leanings. Progressive Republicans counted on him to veto the Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act regarding the lowering of tariffs. But they were disappointed when he did not, and so, they turned against him. In another key incident, he backed Secretary of the Interior Richard Ballinger when Chief Forester Pinchot charged Ballinger with abandoning Roosevelt’s conservation policies. He fired Pinchot, who was Roosevelt’s trusted friend, thereby incurring the latter’s displeasure. Roosevelt felt let down by Taft, and split from the party, forming the Progressive Party, also called the Bull Moose Party. As a result of this divide, the next election was won by Democrat Woodrow Wilson.
7. After leaving the White House, Taft became a professor at Yale University. He became the president of the American Bar Association, and when World War I started, he was appointed joint chairman of the National War Labor Board by President Wilson.
8. In 1921, he realised his long cherished dream when he was appointed chief justice of USA. He set out to improve the efficiency of the Supreme Court. He was responsible for the passage of the Judges Act, 1925, which enabled the court to function more effectively. His opinion in Myers vs United States is considered as his most important contribution to constitutional law. He opined that the President had the authority to remove federal officials.
9. Taft was forced by ill-health to retire in 1930, and died soon after. His wife had passed away much earlier, in 1909. He was survived by his two sons and a daughter, all of whom had distinguished careers. His son Robert was a famous US senator.
10. William Howard Taft was the only person to have served as both President and Chief Justice of USA. He was also the first President to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. With him began the tradition of the President throwing the first ball of the season in the major league baseball games. He was more comfortable as judge or administrator than as President. When he became Chief Justice, he wrote, “ The truth is that in my present life I don’t remember that I ever was President.”