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William Howard Taft

William Howard Taft
William Howard Taft
Order: 27th President
Term of Office: March 4, 1909March 3, 1913
Predecessor: Theodore Roosevelt
Successor: Woodrow Wilson
Date of Birth September 15, 1857
Place of Birth: Cincinnati, Ohio
Date of Death: March 8, 1930
Place of Death: Washington, D.C.
First Ladies: Helen Herron Taft (wife)
Helen Taft Manning (daughter)
Profession: lawyer
Political Party: Republican
Vice President: James S. Sherman

William Howard Taft I (September 15, 1857March 8, 1930) was the 27th President of the United States (1909-1913), and the 10th Chief Justice of the United States (1921 - 1930).



He was born on September 15, 1857 in Cincinnati, Ohio to Alphonso Taft and Louisa Torrey. A prominent Republican, Taft's father served as secretary of war under President Ulysses S. Grant. Like his father, the younger Taft went to college at Yale University, where he was a member of Skull and Bones, a "secret society" co-founded by his father. After college, he attended Cincinnati Law School . He subsequently began his political career in Ohio shortly after joining the bar in 1880.

In 1892 Taft was appointed associate judge by President Benjamin Harrison for the newly created Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a post which he held until 1900. In 1900, President William McKinley appointed Taft chair of a commission to organize a civilian government in the Philippines which had been ceded to the United States at the close of the Spanish-American War. From 1901 to 1904 Taft served successfully as the first civilian Governor-General of the Philippines. In 1904 Theodore Roosevelt named Taft as Secretary of War.

Taft was also overweight, to the point that he became stuck in the bathtub in the White House several times, prompting the installation of a new bathtub capable of holding all of the men who installed it. At 6 feet, and weighing over 300 pounds, Taft was the largest and heaviest President. There is some evidence that his mother started calling him "my pudgy-wudgy boy" before his fifth birthday. This may have led to his disdain for the word "pudgy." In fact, it was said that an aid blacked out "pudgy" from his morning newspaper.


After serving nearly two full terms, popular Theodore Roosevelt refused to run in the election of 1908. Instead, he promoted Taft as the next Republican president. With Roosevelt's help, Taft handily defeated Democrat William Jennings Bryan. Throughout his presidency, Taft contended with dissent from more liberal members of the Republican party, many of whom continued to follow the lead of former President Roosevelt.

Taft fought for prosecution of trusts, further strengthened the Interstate Commerce Commission, established a postal savings bank and a parcel post system, expanded the civil service and sponsored the enactment of two amendments to the Constitution. The 16th Amendment authorized a federal income tax; the 17th Amendment, ratified in 1913, mandated the direct election of senators by the people, replacing the system whereby they were selected by state legislatures.

Yet balanced against these achievements was Taft's acceptance of a tariff with protective schedules that outraged liberal opinion; his opposition to the entry of the state of Arizona into the Union because of its liberal constitution; and his growing reliance on the conservative wing of his party. By 1910 Taft's party was divided.

Progressive Republicans openly challenged Taft in the Congressional elections of 1910 and in the Republican presidential primaries of 1912. When Taft won the Republican nomination, the Progressives organized a rival party (the United States Progressive Party, a.k.a. "Bull Moose") and selected Theodore Roosevelt to run against Taft in the general election. Roosevelt's Bull Moose candidacy split the Republican vote and helped elect Democrat Woodrow Wilson.

Evidence from eyewitnesses and from Taft himself strongly suggests he had severe obstructive sleep apnea during his Presidential term of office, a consequence of his 300+ pound weight. His legendary tendency to fall asleep in almost any circumstance, an open secret and source of embarassment for his intimates, is now understood to have been the most obvious manifestation of the disease. The effect of sleep apnea on his Presidency has not been systematically evaluated; however, the annual conference of the Narcolepsy in Popular Culture Association will examine Taft's likely disorder during its June 2005 meeting in Salt Lake City. Within a year of leaving the Presidency Taft had lost approximately 60 pounds and his hypersomnolence resolved.


President William Howard Taft 1909–1913
Vice President James S. Sherman 1909–1913
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 1897–1901
Secretary of Commerce and Labor Charles Nagel 1909–1913

Supreme Court Appointments

Taft appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:

States Admitted to the Union

Chief Justice

From 1921 until 1930, Taft served on the Supreme Court as Chief Justice of the United States. He was the only President to do so, and the only former president to swear in future presidents. He gave the oath of office to both Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. He was also the first chief justice not to have any previous court experience. In an effort to make the Court work more efficiently, he advocated passage of the 1925 Judges Act enabling the Supreme Court to give precedence to cases of national importance.

Taft retired as chief justice on February 3, 1930, due to ill health. He died five weeks later on March 8. Three days later, on March 11, he became the first American president to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. His wife, Helen, believed his service as secretary of war qualified him for burial there. It did because he oversaw the armed forces. In fact, anyone who served as president is entitled to burial at Arlington, as commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

A third generation of the Taft family entered the national political stage in 1938. The former president's oldest son, Robert A. Taft I, was elected to the United States Senate. A vociferous critic of the New Deal, Robert Taft was a Republican leader in the Senate from 1939-1953. His other son, Charles Phelps Taft II served as Mayor of Cinncinati, Ohio from 1955 to 1957. Two more generations of the Taft family later entered politics. The President's grandson, Robert Taft Jr., served a term as a Senator from Ohio from 1971-1977; the President's great-grandson, Robert A. Taft II, is the current Governor of Ohio. William Howard Taft III was U.S. ambassador to Ireland. William Howard Taft IV is a high official in the United States Department of State.

William Howard Taft

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|- style="text-align: center;" | width="30%" |Preceded by:
Elihu Root | width="40%" style="text-align: center;" |United States Secretary of War
1904 – 1908 | width="30%" |Succeeded by:
Luke Edward Wright

|- style="text-align: center;" | width="30%" |Preceded by:
Theodore Roosevelt | width="40%" style="text-align: center;" |Republican Party Presidential candidate
1908 (won), 1912 (lost) | width="30%" |Succeeded by:
Charles Evans Hughes

|- style="text-align: center;" | width="30%" |Preceded by:
Theodore Roosevelt | width="40%" style="text-align: center;" |President of the United States
March 4, 1909March 3, 1913 | width="30%" |Succeeded by:
Woodrow Wilson

|- style="text-align: center;" | width="30%" |Preceded by:
Edward Douglass White | width="40%" style="text-align: center;" |Chief Justice of the United States
July 11, 1921February 3, 1930 | width="30%" |Succeeded by:
Charles Evans Hughes

Last updated: 08-07-2005 20:38:33
Last updated: 08-30-2005 18:23:40