Useful Notes: William Howard Taft

It's the smallest picture Google could find.

"We are all imperfect. We can not expect perfect government."
William Howard Taft

William Howard Taft (September 15, 1857 — March 8, 1930) was the American president between 1909 and 1913, following Theodore Roosevelt and preceding Woodrow Wilson. Also served as Governor-General of the Philippines from 1901-1903, and Chief Justice of the United States from 1921-1930. New Mexico and Arizona became states during his Presidency.

One probably apocryphal legend credits him for "the seventh inning stretch". Interestingly, he's also the first president to throw out the ceremonial "First Pitch".

Known for being pretty heavy and once getting stuck in his own bathtub (though that was a myth; Taft had an extra-large tub installed before taking office, and when he traveled, he showered). We also all know that the Oval Office used to be called the Round Office until he walked in. Funny enough, his presidency led to at least 80 pounds' weight loss, and he became more interested in the outdoors afterward. As America: The Book pointed out, he was also the only President to become Chief Justice of the United States, but nobody remembers that. Taft was also responsible for ordering electric power installed at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It was his wife Helen who suggested that Japanese cherry trees be planted throughout the city of Washington, and these remain one of the city's most famous features to this day.

It's worth noting that becoming Chief Justice (or at least serving on the Supreme Court) was his life's dream: he only ran for president because T.R. and his wife wanted him to (ironically, his wife suffered a stroke shortly after his inauguration and was never able to enjoy her office as much as she might have liked). Almost as ironically, it would be T.R. running third party that prevented Taft from getting a second term; said rift between T.R. and Taft drove the Republican Party away from progressivism, which would later be picked up by Teddy's cousin, FDR. Taft was appointed to the court by Warren Harding, and is the only former president to have administered the oath of office to an incoming president (He did it for both Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover). He's usually held to have been a good Chief Justice - indeed, the traits that made his presidency somewhat messy (hesitation, considering all sides of the issue at hand, worrying over every little detail, etc.) were qualities that usually work well for a judge. Moreover, these very traits are probably what led him to write a famous dissenting opinion in Adkins v. Children's Hospital, in which he argued against the very laissez-faire and classically Republican idea of "freedom of contract" as a fundamental constitutional right. (Taft's view of the issue would be adopted in due course, over several cases, primarily issued by justices appointed by FDR).note 

The last President to have a mustache, or indeed, facial hair of any kind, possibly reflecting a rather unfortunate bias against it. Also the first president to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

An Ohioan (from Cincinnati to be exact), his family is still active in Ohio state politics.

Tropes relating to President Taft:

  • Adipose Rex: A story that's probably too good to be true relates that Taft once fell ill while serving as governor of the Phillippines. Secretary of War Elihu Root sent a telegram inquiring about Taft's health. Taft wired that he was feeling much better and had gone out horseback riding. Root wired back "How is the horse?".
  • Badass Mustache: To date, the last president to wear one, or any facial hair at all.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: As a young man, Taft beat the snot out of a Cincinnati journalist for writing a slanderous editorial against Taft's father. And was applauded for it.
  • The Clan: The Taft family remains prominent in Ohio state politics to this very day.
  • Formerly Fat: While people often linger on the fact that Taft weighed over 300 pounds during his presidency, most tend to ignore that he lost 150 of those 300 over the course of five years after leaving office.
  • Heterosexual Life Partner: With Theodore Roosevelt. Both of them were best friends until Taft's presidency, when he began to go back on some of Roosevelt's policies which he'd promised to uphold. The fringe became an outright feud during the election of 1912 when they ran against each other but by the beginning of World War I they were on friendly terms once again and by all accounts they were back to being best buds before Teddy died in 1919.
  • Never Live It Down: To this day, he's mostly remembered as the fat President who got stuck in a bathtub.
    • During his own time, Progressives loathed him for causing a split in the Progressive Movement, and Republicans hated how both him and Teddy running in 1912 split the Republican votes and gave the presidency to the Democrat candidate, Woodrow Wilson.
  • Magnum Opus Dissonance: He was more proud of his time on the Supreme Court than as President.
  • Old Shame: He viewed his presidency as this. Much preferred his time as Chief Justice.
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Sensitive guy to Theodore Roosevelt's manly man.
  • Tough Act to Follow: Most people who voted for him expecting basically a third term for Teddy were disappointed by the not-so-hardass Taft.

Taft in fiction

  • In Arsenic and Old Lace, Theodore Brewster believes that he's Theodore Roosevelt and, after being told his term is up, he mistakes someone else for Taft trying to move in early.
  • In The Simpsons, Montgomery Burns' mother had an affair with him, for which Monty never forgave her. Homer, conversely, was rather impressed, leading him to quip, "Taft, you dog!"
  • In Ozy and Millie, Llewellyn claims to be responsible for the bathtub thing.
  • Taft appears as a villain in an episode of Time Squad. It was a Scooby-Doo parody and Taft haunted the White House to scare Woodrow Wilson and anyone else who might foil his re-election campaign.
  • In Johnny Dangerously during the flashback to Johnny's childhood, which is set in 1910, shows some silent documentary footage of Taft giving a speech while Johnny comments on the quality of life in America at the time.
  • In Family Guy, Peter & friends go to a sex shop where he finds "vintage porn" featuring a flapper girl voting for Taft.
  • Histeria sang about him to the tune of the theme from - you guessed it - Shaft.
    Froggo: Taft was the first president to use cars instead of horses.
    Toast: And the first president to throw out the first pitch at a baseball game.
    Charity: That's worth something, isn't it?
  • In Tales Designed To Thrizzle, he's in show biz with Asp, billed as Asp'n'Taft.
  • He appears in the Timeline-191 series by Harry Turtledove as a Democratic politician (the Democrats being the more right-wing of the parties in the rump USA) and later on so does his son Robert.
  • President Taft's secret pony brigade from Film Cow.
  • In Hale's Emerald Nuzlocke Adventure, Glacia's Walrien briefly turns into Taft, which of course sets up the joke of Teddy the Machoke caving his face in.
  • The book Taft 2012 depicts a Taft who fell asleep on the day of Wilson's inauguration and woke up in the 21st Century. He promptly begins a run for President, adapting his Progressivism and trust-busting to our modern woes.
  • "William Howard Taft" is a catchy ragtime number by the Two Man Gentleman Band that details Taft's prodigious size.
  • Shows up in The Greatest Game Ever Played as a spectator for the titular golf game, in support of American Francis Ouimette against British legends Harry Vardon and Ted Ray.
  • The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries had an episode where the ghost of President Taft was trying to scare the current President away. The Vice-President was the culprit, who explained he chose Taft because he was the largest President ever, which would make him quite a scary ghost and the costume shop was out of Richard Nixon masks.