William Howard Taft was born on September 15,1857, in Cincinnati, Ohio. His father, a prominent lawyer and highly regarded member of the Republican Party, had served as a judge in Ohio, and as Secretary of War and Attorney General in the cabinet of President Grant. He was later the Minister to Austria and Russia.
After attending local schools, young Taft followed in his father’s footsteps by entering Yale, where he graduated with honors at the age of 21. Two years later, in 1880, he completed his education at the Cincinnati Law School. After being admitted to the bar, Taft entered public life as assistant prosecuting attorney for Ohio’s Hamilton County. In 1882 President Chester Arthur appointed him collector of internal revenue in Ohio’s first district, but Taft resigned within a year to return to private law practice.
In 1885, Taft left his private practice and for the next few years was Judge of the Ohio Supreme Court. In 1890 he gained national recognition when President Harrison appointed him Solicitor General of the United States, and later he became a U.S. Circuit Judge.
In 1900 Taft entered politics on an international level when he accepted the position of the first civil governor of the Philippine Islands, which had been acquired by the United States as a result of the Spanish-American War. He was asked to serve by President McKinley, and thus by the time Taft was just 43 years of age he had served three Presidents.
Taft excelled as governor of the Philippines and gained great respect and popularity among the natives,whom he called “my little brown brothers.” During four years in the islands, Taft established new court systems, schools and sanitation regulations. Under his guidance roads and harbors were built, and the people were given self-government opportunities. The Philippines became a model of enlightened colonial government. Despite the fact that Taft desired a place on the U.S. Supreme Court, he twice turned down an appointment to the Court in order to stay in the Philippines.
In 1904, Taft was summoned to Washington by President Theodore Roosevelt to become Secretary of War. As Roosevelt’s “trouble shooter” Taft supervised the construction of the Panama Canal. In 1908, when Roosevelt declined to run for reelection, Taft was hand-picked to be his successor. Against his personal feelings Taft ran and won over Democrat William Jennings Bryan.
William Howard Taft As President
From the very beginning President Taft was at a disadvantage. Following the aggressive and colorful Roosevelt, the new President,with his slow, cautious, conservative personality, did not fire the imagination of the public or members of his own party. Large and powerful, he stood 6’2” and weighed over 300 pounds. Politically his belief in reduced tariffs divided the Congress. A believer in “dollar diplomacy,” Taft tried to increase America’s prestige abroad with commerce rather than with diplomacy.
Despite his quiet ways, Taft managed to realize many outstanding accomplishments. As a “trust buster” he was highly successful. Under his guidance the 16th Amendment, authorizing a Federal income tax, and the 17th Amendment, providing for the popular election of Senators, became laws of the land.