William Howard Taft (September 15, 1857 – March 8, 1930) was the 27th President of the United States (1909 to 1913), following Theodore Roosevelt and preceding Woodrow Wilson. He was the ninth President from the Republican Party. He also served as Governor-General of the Philippines◊ from 1901 to 1903 and Chief Justice of the United States from 1921 to 1930. New Mexico and Arizona became states in the last year of his presidency.
One probably apocryphal legend credits him for introducing the "seventh-inning stretch" to baseball. Interestingly, he was also the first president to throw out the ceremonial "first pitch" on Opening Day.
Known for being pretty heavy and allegedly 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. Taft had a sense of humor about his weight, though, often joking about it himself.note More troubling to his contemporaries was Taft's tendency to fall asleep at public events. Funnily enough, he lost at least 80 pounds during his presidency and he became more interested in the outdoors afterward.
Taft's presidency is generally considered So Okay, It's Average by historians. Although generally more conservative than Theodore Roosevelt, Taft largely continued his predecessor's economic and foreign policies, initiating a variety of antitrust actions against corporations (namely US Steel, something even Roosevelt had been reluctant to pursue), instituting import tariffs against foreign powers like the United Kingdom and attempting to peacefully expand US influence in Asia and Latin America. He supported liberalizing immigration standards, especially for immigrants from Japan and China, although congressional and state opposition limited his ability to achieve reforms in this area.note He appointed an amazing six judges to the Supreme Court (only George Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt could claim more, with seven each) while in office.
Nonetheless, Taft's administration wasn't free of controversy. He has often been criticized for his response to The Mexican Revolution, where he backed Porifiro Díaz's regime against the rebels led by Francisco Madero due to heavy American investment in that country, though he stopped short of direct intervention.note Taft also became the first Republican president to campaign heavily for White support in the South, receiving criticism from African-American leaders for appointing segregationist judges and civil servants during his administration while rolling back the number of Black appointees. And Taft's conservative approach to conservation caused one of the enduring controversies of his administration; a dispute with Chief Forester Gifford Pinchot over the status of public lands in Alaska resulted in Taft firing him. Roosevelt cited this as the last straw in his break with his former protégé and ultimately led Roosevelt to challenge Taft's reelection.
As America: The Book pointed out, Taft 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, D.C., 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, as his wife suffered a stroke shortly after his inauguration, she 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 Democratic cousin, FDR.note Both men regretted the split, and Roosevelt and Taft publicly reconciled shortly before TR's death.
In 1921, President Warren G. Harding appointed Taft to the Court, where he became 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, 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
He was 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.
Taft came from Ohio (Cincinnati, to be exact), and his family is still active in Ohio state politics. (They also founded the now-defunct Taft Broadcasting, which owned, in addition to television and radio stations, Hanna-Barbera, Ruby-Spears, and other various entertainment ventures; Dudley Taft lost control of the company in 1987, and it was subsequently renamed to Great American Broadcasting and later Citicasters. It ultimately was absorbed into what's now iHeartMedia.
In a bout of Self-Deprecation, Taft once said in regard to his presidency, "The truth is that in my present life I don’t remember that I ever was President."
With his health in decline, Taft resigned from the Supreme Court in 1930, but not before being assured that Charles Evans Hughes would be his successor. Taft died shortly thereafter.
Taft in fiction
- In Tales Designed to Thrizzle, he's in show biz with Asp, billed as Asp'n'Taft.
- In the first arc of Deadpool's Marvel Now volume, Dead Presidents, Taft is naturally one of the presidents who appears. He is constantly in his bathtub.
- 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.
- 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.
- Receives a mention in Inside Out; when deciding what to do with the memories of learning the US Presidents, Riley's memory workers eventually decide to remember Washington, Lincoln, and "the fat one" and dispose of the rest.
- In Big Jake, Taft is President at the time the McCandles raid takes place, being referred to as "300 pounds of pure Republican".
- 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, so does his son Robert.
- 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.
- The encyclopedia parody The Onion Book of Known Knowledge gives a completely matter-of-fact description of Taft's life and career, then ends with this "Most notable, however, is the fact that this entry was completed without making mention of how enormously fucking fat President William Howard Taft was."
- "William Howard Taft" is a catchy ragtime number by the Two Man Gentleman Band that details Taft's prodigious size.
- 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.
- President Taft's secret pony brigade from FilmCow.
- In Ozy and Millie, Llewellyn claims to be responsible for the bathtub thing.
- 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.
- 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 another episode, Milhouse draws mustaches at portraits of former presidents but doesn't know what to do with Taft's portrait.
- 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.
- Family Guy
- In one episode, Peter and friends go to a sex shop where he finds "vintage porn" featuring a flapper girl voting for Taft.
- Another episode has Brian announce that he's working on a 70's-style funk musical about Taft; cut to Brian wearing a Fat Suit and fake mustache while singing a parody of the Shaft theme song.
- 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?
- The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries had an episode where the ghost of President Taft was trying to scare the current President away. The culprit, the Vice President, 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.