A college boxing champion, his physique was more Babe Ruth than squared circle pugilist. I’m sure his college associates made jokes about this heavyweight, yet active young man. William Howard Taft, aside from being our 27th President, he was also our 10th Chief Justice. A position that he had dreamed of all his life, becoming President was due to his obligation to the country, and not a personal desire of his own. In later life, the Chief Justice would comment that he was so happy with his current position, he didn’t remember ever being President.
His Father Alonso had been Secretary of War and Attorney General under President Grant. He would go on to serve as Secretary of War under Theodore Roosevelt. While many would consider his Presidency lackluster, he appointed six Justices to the court. He and Andrew Jackson share the third spot in most appointments behind Washington and Franklin Roosevelt. Taft supported Booker T. Washington, and African American entrepreneurs. A western scout and a Texas Ranger disarmed a would be assassin a few feet away from President Taft. Two states joined the Union during his Presidency, New Mexico and Arizona.
Upon leaving the White House, he dropped eighty pounds. His revived interest in the outdoors led him to explore Africa. The former President carried a cane of petrified wood, a gift from a college professor friend. With both the physical weight, and the weight of the Presidency off his shoulders, he seemed to excel. The one term President became the President of the American Bar Association, truth be told, it was a position he probably liked better.
On June 30, 1921, the day that he had waited for all his life arrived. President Harding nominated him for the position of Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. The vote was sixty to four in favor of the former chief executive. He is the only man in our history to hold both offices, but make no mistake, this was no footnote in history. His was a renaissance in the era of the court, a turning point for the judicial branch. One that it had never seen before, and possibly no one since has impacted it in a more positive fashion.
The building they are housed in, isn’t the house that he built, but it was the one Taft ordered. Before he lobbied for an actual building, they were forced to meet in the old Senate chambers. The court, in many ways, was ran like an afterthought. While it was completed five years after his death, it owed it’s existence to the Chief Justice. He reorganized the disjointed appellate system and brought order to them in a manner that they had never seen. As Chief Justice, he once more returned to the White House, this time to give the Oath Of Office to Presidents Coolidge and Hoover.
Chief Justice Taft loved the rule of law, believing in the upholding of what was good and right with our country. He is one of two Presidents to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, sharing that honor with President Kennedy. Four other Chief Justices are entombed there. His judicial legacy extended beyond his lifetime, as President he appointed both his predecessor, and the man who became his successor. Associate Justice Charles Evan Hughes, whom he had successfully nominated as an Associate Justice, followed him in the position of Chief Justice.
It’s little wonder that the photo of Chief Justice Taft is more noble and relaxed than that of President Taft. He was a man who knew his duty, and committed to it. A man who believed in fighting wholeheartedly, and not battling what he called a “finicky war”. As Americans, we are beneficiaries of both his terms of service. This truly heavyweight champion, proved that no matter how you find the duty thrust upon you, you can achieve the American dream.