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Rediscovering Americans - William Howard Taft

William Howard Taft was an essential part of American politics during the early 20th century, however, he is often overlooked for bigger personalities like Theodore Roosevelt (his predecessor) and Woodrow Wilson (his successor). Taft is usually only remembered for being the heaviest president and the false anecdote that he got stuck in the White House bathtub. He had many other contributions that left a lasting impact on a country that was soon becoming a formidable world power.


William Howard Taft was born on September 15, 1857 in Cincinnati, Ohio. His father was a notable judge and later served as U.S. Attorney General and Secretary of War. Taft attended Yale for his undergraduate degree, graduating second in his class, and then attended Cincinnati Law School where he graduated with a Bachelor of Laws.


Taft held several positions in his early law career including Collector of Internal Revenue’s for Ohio’s First District, State Judge for the Superior Court of Cincinnati, Solicitor General of the U.S., and Federal Judge for the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Taft hoped to use these positions to ultimately earn a spot on the Supreme Court. That being said, Presidents McKinley and T. Roosevelt had him serve elsewhere. First he served as director of the Philippine Commission and later as Secretary of War.


After President T. Roosevelt announced that he would not run for another term in 1908, Taft earned the Republican nomination. He ran alongside New York Congressman James S. Sherman. He defeated Democrat William Jennings Bryan by a margin of 321 electoral votes to 162. During his presidency, Taft worked on investing in Latin American countries to help push out the influence of other European countries, appointed six Supreme Court Justices, and focused on busting trusts.


Taft ran for reelection in 1912, however, Roosevelt wanted to run again, this time on a more progressive platform. When Taft won the nomination, Roosevelt formed his own party, the Bull Moose party, and split the vote, giving Democrat Woodrow Wilson a landslide victory. After the presidency, Taft returned to Yale where he served as Kent Professor of Law and Legal History.


In 1921 Taft finally got his wish, earning the nomination to the Supreme Court from President Warren G. Harding. He served as Chief Justice of the Court until 1930. Taft became the only former president to serve on the Supreme Court, and the fourth to hold office (John Quincy Adams served in the House of Representatives, John Tyler was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives, and Andrew Johnson was in the Senate). Taft retired from the Court, in large part because his health was failing, however, he waited to retire until he was assured that Charles Evan Hughes would succeed him as Chief Justice. Taft died on March 8, 1930.


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