William Taft (1857-1930) was the 27th president of the United States. He was the only president to also serve as chief justice. Born on September 15, 1857, Taft was raised in a political family. His father, Alphonso, was a Republican attorney who served as secretary of war and attorney general under President Ulysses S. Grant.
Becoming president was not really a goal, but he always had his “plate the right side up when offices were falling,” Taft said of himself. After graduating from Yale, he went to Cincinnati to study and practice law but was derailed when President William McKinley sent him to the Philippines as a chief civil administrator in 1900. This is where his career really took off.
Taft was very sympathetic towards the Filipinos. Since 1898, the U.S. military had been governing the people and the tactics were not very gentle. Taft built roads and schools and helped improve the economy. He also created a Constitution which included a Bill of Rights much like that of the United States.
President Theodore Roosevelt offered Taft a Supreme Court appointment – twice – but he turned it down because he wanted to stay in the Philippines. In 1904, he accepted the position of Roosevelt’s secretary of war, with the understanding he could still supervise the Philippines. For the next four years, Taft spent a lot of time traveling and even oversaw the construction of the Panama Canal as well as serving as a governor of Cuba.
Roosevelt had promised he would not run for office for a third term and started seeing Taft as his successor. Taft was not a fan of campaigning and said it was “one of the most uncomfortable four months of my life,” but he succeeded, partially by promising to follow the Roosevelt progressive plan.
However, Taft’s presidency didn’t go that smoothly and he ended up making Roosevelt so angry, the former president helped to start a new progressive party. Taft did not believe in his predecessor’s idea that more government is better and that presidents should have greater powers. He said Roosevelt “ought more often to have admitted the legal way of reaching the same ends.”
In 1912, Republicans renominated Taft, but Roosevelt left the party to lead the new Progressives. This led to the Democrat, Woodrow Wilson, winning the presidency. Taft was not too upset when he didn’t get re-elected. He turned to his greatest love and served as professor of law at Yale until becoming a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, a position he held until 1930 when he died. His final position was his greatest honor. Taft wrote, “I don’t remember that I was ever President.”