William H. Taft


William H. Taft was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on September 15, 1857. His father, Alphonso Taft, was a lawyer who later served as secretary of war and as attorney general in President Ulysses S. Grant’s cabinet and then as ambassador to Austria-Hungary and Russia. Alphonso Taft’s wife, the former Louise Torrey, wrote of her son William a few weeks after he was born: “ He is very large of his age and grows fat everyday.” The words were prophetic, for Taft as an adult weighed three hundred pounds or more, the heaviest of any president. William grew up in Cincinnati, which was the political base for the Taft family through several generations. He graduated with distinction from Yale University in 1878. In 1880 he graduated from Cincinnati Law School and was admitted to the bar. His first public office was an assistant prosecuting attorney of Hamilton country from 1881 to 1883. He was briefly the collector of internal revenue for Cincinnati in 1883 to 1887, but already yearned for a judicial post. That goal was realized when he was appointed to an Ohio superior court vacancy in 1887. The next year he was elected to a term of his own, and this was the only office other than the presidency that he ever won by election.


In 1890, President Benjamin Harrison called Taft to Washington to the post of solicitor general. Two years later Harrison named to the U.S. circuit court for the 6th district. Taft’s record as a state and federal judge was honest and competent, and he was receptive to the problems of labor in a nation that was the beginning to emerge from the influence of the laissez faire philosophy.


Taft’s attractive wife, the former Helen Herron of Cincinnati, whom he had married in 1886, was ambitions for her husband and a principal influence in persuading him to leave the law and the bench. But a larger opportunity did not come until the turn of the century.


Taft began to gain national stature in 1900, when President McKinley appointed him head of a commission to terminate U.S. military rule in the Philippine Islands, which had become an American possession after the Spanish-American War. The appointment gave Taft his first opportunity to demonstrate ability as an administrator. In 1901, McKinley named Taft the first civil governor of the Philippines. Taft’s governorship of the islands was a high mark in colonial administration for any nation. Taft had no trace of racial prejudice. He was warmly sympathetic to the problems of the Filipinos. He believed in giving them the widest possible degree of self-government and constantly worked toward that end. Taft was never deceived by the extremists among them. He recognized that the first steps toward the ultimate goal of independence was public education in the islands and the end of ownership of land by Roman Catholic friars. Taft negotiated an agreement with the Vatican in 1903, with American financial assistance; the lands were sold in small parcels to the Filipinos.


“Politics, when I am in it, makes me sick,” Taft wrote to his wife in 1906. The secretary of war initially had no desire to run for president, but on Roosevelt’s demand and with the urging of his wife and brothers, he accepted the Republican nomination in 1908, Taft defeated William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic candidate, by an Electoral vote of 321 to 162 and a popular vote of 7,679,114 to 6,410,665. His inauguration on a storm-tossed March day in 1909 presaged four unhappy years in the White House.


The New President inherited widespread demands for a lower tariff. He accepted the compromise Payne-Aldrich Act; a truly downward revision that satisfied neither big business nor the Progressive Republicans Taft called it the best tariff in history. The President negotiated with Canada an agreement that promised relatively free trade between the two countries.


Taft’s attorney general, George Wicker sham, initiated twice as many antitrust suits against big corporations as had the previous administration, but Roosevelt is remembered as the “trustbuster.”


Taft further alienated the Progressive by declining to side openly with the congressional insurgents opposing the dictatorship rule of the speaker of the House, Joseph G. Cannon.


The Democrats captured control of the House in 1910, and Progressive Republicans looked in Roosevelt