William Howard Taft

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Taft, William Howard

Taft, William Howard, 1857–1930, 27th President of the United States (1909–13) and 10th chief justice of the United States (1921–30), b. Cincinnati.

Early Career

After graduating (1878) from Yale, he attended Cincinnati Law School. He received his law degree in 1880. He became a Cincinnati lawyer and soon had political posts as assistant prosecuting attorney for Hamilton co. (1881–83), assistant county solicitor (1885–87), and judge of the superior court of Ohio (1887–90). He became nationally prominent as a figure in Republican politics in 1890, when President Benjamin Harrison chose him as U.S. Solicitor General.

After service as a federal circuit judge (1892–1900) and as dean of the Cincinnati law school (1898–1900), he was appointed (1900) head of the commission sent to organize civil government in the Philippines, and he was named first civil governor of the Philippine Islands; he did much to better relations between Filipinos and Americans. In 1904 his friend President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Taft Secretary of War. Taft became a close adviser to the President and was prominent in Latin American affairs, conducting the delicate negotiations attending U.S. intervention in Cuba in 1906.


Roosevelt chose Taft as his successor, and the Republican party named him as presidential candidate in the election of 1908, in which he defeated William Jennings Bryan. He was expected to continue Roosevelt's policies, and to a large extent he did. Trusts were vigorously prosecuted under the Sherman Antitrust Act; the Interstate Commerce Commission was strengthened by the Mann-Elkins Act (1910); and Taft's Latin American policy, known as “dollar diplomacy,” was to an extent only an enlargement of Roosevelt's Panama policy and the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. The emphasis in all these policies had, however, changed. In Latin America, for instance, the accent was on protection of property and interests of Americans abroad rather than on national interest. Members of the Republican party who favored progressive policies were increasingly restive, and the Insurgents movement grew strong.

The administration made positive achievements in the inauguration of the postal savings bank (1910) and the parcel-post system (1912), and the creation of the Dept. of Labor (1911). Nevertheless, Taft was generally at odds with the progressive elements in his party: he failed to support the Insurgents' attempt to oust the dictatorial speaker of the House of Representatives, Joseph Cannon; he favored the Payne-Aldrich tariff, a high-tariff measure that was denounced by progressive Republicans; and he supported Richard Ballinger against Gifford Pinchot in the Ballinger-Pinchot controversy.

Meanwhile, Taft's relations with Roosevelt deteriorated, and the former President joined the opposition to Taft. In 1912, Roosevelt fought vigorously for the Republican presidential nomination. When he failed and Taft got the nomination, Roosevelt headed the Progressive party and ran in the election as the Progressive (popularly called the Bull Moose) candidate. The Republican vote was split, and the Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson, won.

Later Life

Taft retired from public life and taught law (1912–21) at Yale. He was cochairman (1918–19) of the War Labor Conference in World War I. In 1921, President Harding appointed him chief justice. His chief contribution to the Supreme Court was his administrative efficiency.


Taft's writings include The United States and Peace (1914) and Our Chief Magistrate and His Powers (1916). See Taft and Roosevelt: The Intimate Letters of Archie Butt (1930, repr. 1971); biographies by H. F. Pringle (1939, repr. 1964, 2 vol. 1986), J. I. Anderson (1981), and J. C. Casey (1989); A. T. Mason, William Howard Taft, Chief Justice (1965); P. E. Coletta, The Presidency of William Howard Taft (1973); D. K. Goodwin, The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism (2013).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Taft, William Howard


Born Sept. 15, 1857, in Cincinnati, Ohio; died Mar. 8, 1930, in Washington, D.C. US statesman.

Taft was educated as a lawyer. In 1900 he was appointed president of the Philippine Commission, whose purpose was to establish a US colonial supremacy in the islands, and from 1901 to 1904 he was civil governor of the Philippines. From 1904 to 1908 he was secretary of war, and in 1905 he participated in the drawing up of an agreement between the USA and Japan. In 1906, Taft directed the suppression of a liberation movement in Cuba.

From 1909 to 1913, Taft was the Republican president of the United States. He openly supported monopolies and in 1909 approved a tariff law that, on the whole, maintained the protectionist tariff adopted under President T. Roosevelt. The Taft administration pursued a policy of subordination of the countries of Latin America and did not stop short of the use of armed forces, as seen in the intervention in Nicaragua in 1912. Taft was defeated in the presidential election of 1912. From 1913 to 1921 he was a law professor at Yale University. In October 1921, Taft became chief justice of the US Supreme Court. Taft was against diplomatic recognition of the USSR.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Taft, William Howard

(1857–1930) twenty-seventh U.S. president; born in Cincinnati, Ohio. Having studied at Yale and practiced law in Cincinnati, he gravitated to Republican politics and held several appointments and a judgeship in Ohio. In 1890 he began two years as U.S. solicitor-general under President Benjamin Harrison, then became a federal circuit judge (1892). He left that position in 1900 when President William McKinley sent him to the Philippines, where he became civil governor. In 1904 President Theodore Roosevelt made Taft the secretary of war and his chosen successor. An extremely large man, easy-going and conciliatory, Taft did not really want to be president but he was elected in 1908. He had an uneasy tenure as president; although he pursued antitrust prosecutions like his predecessor, he was perceived to be allied with conservative Republicans. That led to Roosevelt's party-splitting run in 1912, ensuring a victory for the Democrat, Woodrow Wilson. After some years of teaching at Yale Law (1913–21), Taft was named chief justice of the Supreme Court in 1921, a position he enjoyed far more than being president. He served until one month before his death, and although known more for his reform of court operations, he participated in several major decisions.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.