William Howard Taft
Taft, William Howard [President; Chief Justice of the Supreme Court] (15 September 1857 - 8 March 1930)
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the third of five children, Taft was educated at Yale College (graduated 1878, having ranked second in his class out of 121) and Cincinnati Law School (received his LL. B., 1880). He married Helen Herron Taft
Taft, the 27th United States President, also served as the 10th Chief Justice from 1921 to 1930. He defeated William Jennings Bryan in 1908 and became Theodore Roosevelt’s successor.
Taft, who once served as President of the Unitarian association and, according to his papers in the Library of Congress, once remarked, "I do not believe in the divinity of Christ," also wrote:
- If a man can be a Christian only when he believes in the literal truth of the creed as it is recited in the orthodox evangelical churches, then we Unitarians are not Christians. A Unitarian believes that Jesus founded a new religion and a new religious philosophy on the love of God for man, and of men for one another, and for God, and taught it by his life and practice, with such Heaven-given sincerity, sweetness, simplicity, and all-compelling force that it lived after him in the souls of men, and became the basis for a civilization struggling toward the highest ideals. Unitarians, however, do not find the evidence of the truth of many traditions which have attached themselves to the life and history of Jesus to be strong enough to overcome the presumption against supernatural intervention in the order of nature. They feel the life of Jesus as a man to be more helpful to them as a religious inspiration, than if he is to be regarded as God in human form.
Had he made the letter public, he likely would have hurt his chances in politics. When offered the presidency of Yale University, he had declined, saying all previous presidents had been Congregationalists and “I do not believe in the divinity of Christ, and there are many other of the postulates of the orthodox creed to which I cannot subscribe.”
Known as a scion of the leading political family of Tafts in Ohio, he was a leader of the progressive conservative wing of the Republican Party. His presidency was known for its trust-busting, strengthening the Interstate Commerce Commission, expanding the civil service, establishing a better postal system, and promoting world peace. Taft defeated Franklin Delano Roosevelt for the Republican nomination in a 1912 battle that forced Roosevelt out of the GOP and left Taft's people in charge for decades.
During World War I he helped set national labor policy that reduced strikes and generated union support for the national cause. In 1921, he became Chief Justice. As President and Chief Justice he helped make the federal courts, especially the Supreme Court, much more powerful in shaping national policy. He is the only former president to serve on the Supreme Court.
Although doubters have stated the 332-pound Taft changed his mind, he is quoted in Henry F. Pringle’s The Life and Times of William Howard Taft (1939) as saying, “I am a Unitarian. I believe in God.”
Taft and his wife are buried at Arlington National Cemetery, the first of only two Presidents to be buried at Arlington. His death was caused by cerebro-arteriosclerosisis. His wife, who died on 22 May 1943, was the first first-lady to be buried in Arlington.
- Liberty Under Law, Yale University Press, 1922.
- "Popular Government, Yale University Press, 1913.
- "Present Day Problems", The Anti-Trust Act and the Supreme Court, Harper and Row, 1914.
- "The Collected Works of William Howard Taft. Edited by David H. Burton. Ohio University Press, 2001–
- "The President and His Powers". Columbia University Press, 1924.