Future President William Howard Taft descending from the speaker's platform on Taft Day in Cincinnati, Ohio, 1908. Taft was the twenty-seventh President, serving from 1909-1913.
William Howard Taft was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on September 15, 1857. His father was Alphonso Taft, who had been President Ulysses S. Grant's secretary of war and then attorney general. His mother was Louisa Maria Torrey Taft. He attended Woodward High School, a local private school, before enrolling at Yale University in 1874. After graduation, Taft returned to Cincinnati, where he studied law at the University of Cincinnati Law School. Taft was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1880. Six years later, Taft married Helen 'Nellie' Herron on June 19, 1886.
Taft first entered politics in 1881, when he became the assistant prosecutor of Hamilton County. He continued to practice law in Cincinnati until 1887, when he was appointed as a judge on the Cincinnati Superior Court. Three years later, Taft became solicitor general of the United States and moved to Washington, DC. In 1892, Taft was appointed as a judge on the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Ohio was part of the Sixth Circuit. At the same time, he taught law and served as dean of the University of Cincinnati Law School.
Taft had gained the attention of the national Republican Party by this time. In 1900, President William McKinley appointed Taft to be the Governor General of the Philippines. The United States had gained control of the Philippines as a result of the Spanish-American War. It was Taft's role as Governor General to establish a new civilian government in the Philippines. It was a very difficult position, as some of the Filipinos were revolting against American control. The United States had gained a negative reputation in the region as a result of brutal attempts to put down the rebellion. Taft set out to create a peaceful environment for change on the islands, creating a constitution that was modeled after the United States Constitution and developing other aspects of civilian life.
President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Taft to be his secretary of war in 1904, a position that he held until the end of his term. He traveled around the world, overseeing United States foreign policy objectives during this era.
When Roosevelt decided not to run for reelection in 1908, he chose Taft as his most likely successor. Taft became the Republican Party's nominee and successfully won the presidency, running against Democrat William Jennings Bryan. Taft received 51.6 percent of the popular vote and 321 out of 483 electoral college votes.
Taft had promised to continue Roosevelt's Progressive reform policies if he won the presidency. During his administration, the United States ratified the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which allowed for the creation of a graduated income tax, and the Seventeenth Amendment, which established direct election of senators. He continued to pursue businesses with monopolistic tendencies, but Roosevelt believed that Taft did not have a strong commitment to other reforms. In the Election of 1912, Roosevelt challenged Taft for the Republican presidential nomination. Ultimately, Taft still won the nomination, but Roosevelt split the Republicans when he declared his own candidacy on the Progressive Party ticket. This split allowed Democrat Woodrow Wilson to win the election. Even Taft's home state of Ohio voted for Wilson in the election.
Taft's presidential administration had an important influence on the expansion of United States trade abroad during this era. Taft referred to his foreign policy as 'dollar diplomacy.' The United States would seek to sell its products overseas, especially to Latin America and Asia. This policy led to military intervention to protect American economic interests and, at times, created anti-American sentiment abroad.
After completing his term as president, Taft took a position teaching at the Yale University Law School. President Warren G. Harding appointed Taft as chief justice of the United States Supreme Court in 1921, a position that he held until his death on March 8, 1930. Taft is the only person in American history to serve as head of both the executive and judicial branches of the national government.