William Howard Taft Biography: 27th President of the United States

William Howard Taft, 27th President of the United States
William Howard Taft, 27th President of the United States. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

William Howard Taft (Sept. 15, 1857 - March 8, 1930) served as America's 27th president between March 4, 1909, and March 4, 1913. His time in office was known for his use of Dollar Diplomacy to help American business interests overseas. He also has the distinction of being the only president to later serve on the US Supreme Court

William Howard Taft's Childhood and Education

Taft was born on Sept. 15, 1857, in Cincinnati, Ohio. His father was a lawyer and when Taft was born helped found the Republican Party in Cincinnati. Taft attended a public school in Cincinnati. He then went to Woodward High School before attending Yale University in 1874. He graduated second in his class. He attended the University of Cincinnati Law School (1878-80). He was admitted to the bar in 1880.

Family Ties

Taft was born to Alphonso Taft and Louisa Maria Torrey. His father was a lawyer and public official who had served as President Ulysses S. Grant's Secretary of War. Taft had two half-brothers, two brothers, and one sister. 

On June 19, 1886, Taft married Helen "Nellie" Herron. She was the daughter of an important judge in Cincinnati. Together they had two sons, Robert Alphonso and Charles Phelps, and one daughter, Helen Herron Taft Manning.

William Howard Taft's Career Before the Presidency

Taft became the assistant prosecutor in Hamilton County Ohio upon graduation. He served in that capacity until 1882 and then practiced law in Cincinnati. He became a judge in 1887, U.S. solicitor general in 1890, and judge of the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court in 1892. He taught law from 1896-1900. He was Commissioner and then Governor-General of the Philippines (1900-1904). He then was Secretary of War under President Theodore Roosevelt (1904-08).

Becoming the President

In 1908, Taft was supported by Roosevelt to run for president. He became the Republican nominee with James Sherman as his Vice President. He was opposed by William Jennings Bryan. The campaign was about personality more than issues. Taft won with 52 percent of the popular vote.

Events and Accomplishments of William Howard Taft’s Presidency

In 1909, the Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act passed. This changed the tariff rates from 46 to 41%. It upset both the Democrats and the progressive Republicans who felt that it was just a token change.

One of Taft's key policies was known as Dollar Diplomacy. This was the idea that America would use the military and diplomacy to help promote U.S. business interests overseas. For example, in 1912 Taft sent marines to Nicaragua to help stop a rebellion against the government because it was friendly to American business interests.

Following Roosevelt into office, Taft continued to enforce antitrust laws. He was key in bringing down the Standard Oil Company in 1911. Also during Taft's term in office, the sixteenth amendment was passed that allowed the U.S. to collect income taxes.

Post-Presidential Period

Taft was defeated for reelection when Roosevelt stepped in and formed a rival party called the Bull Moose Party allowing Democrat Woodrow Wilson to win. He became a law professor at Yale (1913-21). In 1921, Taft got his long-desired wish to become Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court where he served until one month before his death. He died on March 8, 1930, at home.

Historical Significance

Taft was important for continuing Roosevelt's antitrust actions. Further, his Dollar Diplomacy increased the actions that America would take to help protect its business interests. During his time in office, the last two contiguous states were added to the union bringing the total up to 48 states.