William Taft was born in Cincinnati, to a upper-middle class family (his father was Attorney General under Ulysses Grant), attended Yale(finishing second in his class), then the Cincinnati Law School.
He was appointed to the Superior Court of Cincinnati, and subsequently was reelected five times to that position. Later appointed the US Solicitor General. Next became a federal judge.
He became the governor of the Philippines, then Secretary of War under Roosevelt. In 1908 he was elected President, benefiting greatly from the endorsement of Roosevelt, whose progressive policies were popular with the public.
Taft’s presidency was a mixed-bag. On the one hand, he was a man a great integrity. He tried to do what was he believed was right, often in disregard of the political consequences. To a large degree, that was also his downfall.
Taft had some successes, among them the revision of tariffs, shoring up the legal status of Roosevelt’s conservation initiatives, new railroad regulations, postal banks, parcel posts, two new states, two new amendments, establishment of the Department of Labor, and six new Supreme Court justices who served well.
On the other hand, Taft was not politically adroit. He managed to antagonize both the progressives and the conservatives at various times, and ended up losing the 1912 election by a very large margin.
Roosevelt also played a large role in his problems. First, Roosevelt helped him get elected by vigorously claiming that he would champion Roosevelt’s progressive policies. However, deep-down Taft was a conservative. He simply did not always agree with Roosevelt, and as a man of integrity instead of expediency, he often took actions that infuriated the progressives. Roosevelt ended-up running against Taft in 1912 for the Republican nomination, and although he lost, he managed to make the general election for Taft nigh-on impossible.
Taft was appointed to the Supreme Court later in life, the job he always wanted.
I’m not a big fan of this book. It’s part of the Presidential Series, but unlike most of the others, is not written for a reader looking for just a quick summary. This book goes into much greater detail than I was looking for and contains little biographical information.
Fun facts… The cherry trees on the Mall were planted during Taft’s time. Taft loved to play golf. Didn’t read. Liked to dance. Was very fat. Got stuck in the White House bathtub.