• William Taft grew up in Ohio, attended Yale University and went to law school at the University of Cincinnati.
• Taft worked his way through the court system first as a lawyer and then as a judge. He served on the Cincinnati Superior Court before being named U.S. solicitor general in Washington, D.C. Taft was appointed to the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and was a law professor and dean at the University of Cincinnati Law School.
• Taft aspired to serve on the United States Supreme Court, but his wife hoped he would become president. This helped him decide to branch out and accept President McKinley’s request that he go to the Philippine Islands, which had become a U.S. protectorate, and set up a government. After he did that (turning down two opportunities to be a Supreme Court justice in the meantime), Taft returned to the United States and served as President Roosevelt’s secretary of war.
How he defined the office
• Taft was elected president on the strength of his predecessor’s endorsement and promise to continue the policies of President Roosevelt. When he did not, the friends became rivals, and Theodore Roosevelt ran for president again against him after Taft’s first term in office. Neither won, as Woodrow Wilson became the next president.
Successes and failures
• President Taft entered office fully intent on continuing President Roosevelt’s policies. He continued to prosecute trusts, most famously the Standard Oil Company and American Tobacco Company.
• Taft oversaw passage of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Amendments to the Constitution, which allowed for the implementation of an income tax and the direct election of senators, respectively.
• Taft broke from Roosevelt’s ideology when he signed a tariff reduction bill that Roosevelt and his supporters didn’t think was low enough, and he dismissed the chief forester of the U.S., which caused turmoil in the Republican Party.
• After leaving office Taft taught at Yale University Law School until 1921. That year President Harding appointed him chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, where he served until 1930 as the only president to also become chief justice.
• “Presidents come and go, but the Supreme Court goes on forever.”
William Howard Taft