- NAME: William Howard Taft
- OCCUPATION: Academic, Supreme Court Justice, U.S. President
- BIRTH DATE: September 15, 1857
- DEATH DATE: March 08, 1930
- EDUCATION: Yale College, University of Cincinnati College of Law
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Cincinnati, Ohio
- PLACE OF DEATH: Washington, D.C.
- Full Name: William Howard Taft
- AKA: William H. Taft
- Nickname: "Big Lub"
- AKA: William Taft
- Nickname: "Old Bill"
Best Known For
William Howard Taft, the 27th president of the United States, fulfilled a lifelong dream when he was appointed chief justice of the Supreme Court, becoming the only person to have served as both a U.S. chief justice and president.
After promising the American people he would not run for re-election in 1908, Roosevelt kept his word and hand picked his successor, William Howard Taft. Yet Taft began to undo Roosevelt's work, prompting him to run for office again.
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Taft had an easy victory in the November 1908 election, sliding in on the popularity and endorsement of predecessor Theodore Roosevelt. He assumed the office of president on March 4, 1909, but the rest of his single-term presidency was not as easy.
A stickler for the law, Taft was less inclined to push the envelope of presidential power as Roosevelt had done; he was more of a jovial academic than a savvy party politician,
and did not easily curry favor with possible political allies.
Taft created a "policy of harmony" with Congress, which helped him move though much of his legislative agenda, but misunderstandings about his stance on big business, and a murky approach to tariff proposals on goods entering the United States—resulting in the Payne-Aldrich Act—frustrated both supporters and opponents of the policy. It also further fractured the rift within the Republican Party between conservatives and progressives. In the midterm elections, he lost the Republican majority in Congress.
Taft did impose a corporate income tax, however, which raised national revenue more than $13 million. Under the Taft Administration, the terms "shirt sleeve diplomacy," "open door policy" and dollar diplomacy" were created in regard to negotiations with China and Latin America—the latter involving guaranteed loans to stimulate growth, trade and stability. Taft's wife, Nellie, did her part for foreign relations as well, initiating the planting of Japan's gift of thousands of cherry trees that still grace the avenues and banks of the Tidal Basin, changing the face of Washington, D.C. each spring.
On civil rights, Taft's record includes support for Booker T. Washington's initiative to "uplift" African-American citizens, endorsing free immigration as well as a presidential veto on a congressional law imposing a literacy test on unskilled laborers.
Taft left office on March 4, 1913, defeated by Democrat Woodrow Wilson. He had also been challenged by his predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt, who initiated a third party, Bull Moose, because he felt Taft had broken their covenant on progressive principles. Roosevelt came in second.
While in college, Taft earned the nickname "Big Lub" due to his size -- he was almost 6 feet tall and weighed more than 240 pounds at that time -- but he managed it well. Never a drinker during his White House years but indulging in a copious appetite, his size increased to morbid obesity. He was often the butt of jokes for reported incidents of belching and flatulence, as well as suffering from sleep deprivation due to apnea. When a 350-pound Taft became stuck a bathtub while serving as president -- staffers used butter to dislodge him -- Nellie had to order a larger bathtub for the White House.
Less than a year after leaving the presidency, Taft dropped to about 270, which encouraged him to take a trip to Alaska. However, the weight seemed to take a toll on his joints; Taft used a cane made of 250,000-year-old petrified wood -- a gift from geology professor W.S. Foster -- from 1920 onward.
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