William Howard Taft
27th President of the United States
March 4, 1909 - March 4, 1913
James S. Sherman (1909 - 1912)
None (1912 - 1913)
William Howard Taft
(September 15, 1857 - March 8, 1930)
William Taft was the only person to have held both offices of President and chief justice of the United States. Taft was elected president in 1908, the chosen successor of Theodore Roosevelt, but was defeated for re-election by Woodrow Wilson in 1912 after Roosevelt split the Republican vote by running as a third-party candidate.
Taft attended Yale and, like his father, was a member of Skull and Bones. After becoming a lawyer, Taft was appointed a judge while still in his twenties. He continued a rapid rise, being named Solicitor General and as a judge of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. In 1901, President William McKinley appointed Taft civilian governor of the Philippines. In 1904, Roosevelt made him Secretary of War, and he became Roosevelt's hand-picked successor. Despite his personal ambition to become chief justice, Taft declined repeated offers of appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States, believing his political work to be more important.
In the White House, he focused on East Asia more than European affairs and repeatedly intervened to prop up or remove Latin American governments. Taft sought reductions to trade tariffs, then a major source of governmental income, but the resulting bill was heavily influenced by special interests. His administration was filled with conflict between the conservative wing of the Republican Party, with which Taft often sympathized, and the progressive wing, toward which Roosevelt moved more and more.
Controversies over conservation and antitrust cases filed by the Taft administration served to further separate the two men. Roosevelt challenged Taft for renomination in 1912. Taft used his control of the party machinery to gain a bare majority of delegates and Roosevelt bolted the party. The split left Taft with little chance of re-election and he took only Utah and Vermont in Wilson's victory.
After leaving office, Taft returned to Yale as a professor, continuing his political activity and working against war through the League to Enforce Peace. In 1921, President Harding appointed Taft as chief justice, an office he had long sought. Chief Justice Taft was a conservative on business issues and under him there were advances in individual rights. In poor health, he resigned in February 1930, and died the following month.
Taft is generally listed near the middle in historians' rankings of U.S. presidents.
September 15, 1857
Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.
March 8, 1930 (aged 72)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Arlington National Cemetery