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Thursday, May 21, 2009

President William Taft, A Man of Extremes

President William Taft, A Man of Extremes

Never in U.S. history has there been a man so reluctant to assume the nation’s highest position as President William Taft. Hand picked for the role by his predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt, and consistently urged forward by his ambitious wife, Helen “Nellie” Taft, Taft served one term as president, 1909-1913.

An 1878 graduate of Yale and 1880 grade of Cincinnati Law School, Taft is the only man in U.S. history to serve both as president and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

The heaviest man yet to live in the White House at more than 300 pounds, Taft made more appointments to the Supreme Court (six) than any other one-term president, and is better remembered as a Chief Justice skilled in administrative matters than as the nation’s 27th president.

Additional dates, facts, and events involving the life of William Howard Taft include:

* Alphonso Taft, William’s father, a distinguished judge who served as Secretary of War and Attorney General for President Ulysses S. Grant

* Born September 15, 1857, in Cincinnati

* Eventual wife, Helen Herron, born June 2, 1861, in Cincinnati of “politically connected” parents

* 1878 Intelligent, educated, and ambitious, Helen Herron is a White House guest of then President Rutherford B. Hayes

* 1886 William Taft and Helen Herron marry

* 1892 Taft appointed U.S. Circuit Judge

* 1900 President William McKinley appoints Taft chair of commission to establish civil government in the Philippines; serves three years as Governor-General of the Philippines

* 1904 President Theodore Roosevelt appoints Taft Secretary of War

* 1908 Picked by Roosevelt to succeed him, Taft wins U.S. presidential race against William Jennings Bryan

* 1912 Unhappy with Taft’s administration, Roosevelt again runs for presidency as Progressive candidate, essentially splitting Republican vote with Taft, allowing Woodrow Wilson to win election

* 1913-1921 Presides in Kent Chair of Constitutional Law, at Yale Law School

* 1914 Helen Taft initial First Lady to publish an autobiography, Recollections of Full Years

* 1921 President Warren Harding appoints Taft Chief Justice of Supreme Court; confirmed on same day without matter being referred to committee

* March 8, 1930 Dies one month after stepping down as Chief Justice

* May 22, 1943 Helen Taft passes away

Although amiable and conscientious, Taft lacked the political drive of predecessor Theodore Roosevelt and, during his presidency, experienced a major shift away from liberalism to conservatism that alienated many liberal Republicans and led to the formation of the Progressive, or Bull Moose Party.

As Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Taft discouraged dissents from his associates and only wrote four dissents from the 249 opinions he wrote on behalf of the Court during his nine-year tenure.

One of the gems of the career of President William Taft came, as Chief Justice, when he successfully lobbied Congress to enact the Judiciary Act of 1925 that still today gives justices nearly complete discretion to decide which cases need to be resolved, and in what context.

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