William Howard Taft

27th president of the United States from 1909 to 1913

William Howard Taft (15 September 18578 March 1930) was the 27th president of the United States (1909–1913) and 10th chief justice of the United States (1921–1930). He also served as an associate judge on the Sixth Circuit, Governor-General of the Philippines, Secretary of War to Theodore Roosevelt and Solicitor General. Between 1914 and 1920 he was the Kent Professor of Law at Yale University.


Next to the right of liberty, the right of property is the most important individual right guaranteed by the Constitution and the one which, united with that of personal liberty, has contributed more to the growth of civilization than any other institution established by the human race.
The President so fully represents his part and the whole government is so identified in the minds of the people with his personality that they make him responsible for all the sins of omission and of commission of society at large.
The welfare of the farmer is vital to that of the whole country.
  • I am a Unitarian. I believe in God. I do not believe in the divinity of Christ, and there are many postulates of the orthodox creed to which I cannot subscribe.
    • Letter to Yale University (1899), quoted in Henry F. Pringle, William Howard Taft: The Life and Times, vol. 1, p. 45 (1939).
  • The welfare of the farmer is vital to that of the whole country.
    • The Farmer and the Republican Party, address in Hot Springs, Virginia (5 August 1908) [1].
  • If humor be the safety of our race, then it is due largely to the infusion into the American people of the Irish brain.
    • Irish Humor, address in Hot Springs, Virginia (5 August 1908) [2].
  • We are all imperfect. We can not expect perfect government.
    • Address at a banquet given by the Board of Trade and Chamber of Commerce of Washington, D.C., May 8, 1909.; found in Presidential Addresses and State Papers of William Howard Taft, vol. 1, chapter 7, p. 82 (1910).
  • I have come to the conclusion that the major part of the work of a President is to increase the gate receipts of expositions and fairs and bring tourists to town.
    • Letter of Archibald Butt to Clara F. Butt (1 June 1909); reprinted in The Intimate Letters of Archie Butt (Doubleday, Doran, & Co., 1930).
  • I am in favor of helping the prosperity of all countries because, when we are all prosperous, the trade of each becomes more valuable to the other.
    • Address at the Hotel Fairmont in San Francisco (6 October 1909).
  • One of the marvelous things about him is that he is strong enough to force the men who dislike him the most to stand by him. By far he is the strongest man before the people to-day except Roosevelt. I think his greatest fault is his failure to accord credit to anyone for what he may have done. This is a great weakness in any man. I think it was one of the strongest things about Roosevelt. He never tried to minimize what other people did and often exaggerated it.
    • On Charles Evans Hughes, in November 1909, as quoted in Taft and Roosevelt : The intimate letters of Archie Butt (1930) by Archibald Willingham Butt, p. 224; this has sometimes been paraphrased: "Failure to accord credit to anyone for what he may have done is a great weakness in any man."
  • I love judges, and I love courts. They are my ideals, that typify on earth what we shall meet hereafter in heaven under a just God.
    • Address in Pocatello, Idaho (5 October 1911).
  • The intoxication of power rapidly sobers off in the knowledge of its restrictions and under the prompt reminder of an ever-present and not always considerate press, as well as the kindly suggestions that not infrequently come from Congress.
    • Speech to the Lotus Club (16 November 1912).
  • The diplomacy of the present administration has sought to respond to modern ideas of commercial intercourse. This policy has been characterized as substituting dollars for bullets. It is one that appeals alike to idealistic humanitarian sentiments, to the dictates of sound policy and strategy, and to legitimate commercial aims.
    • "State of the Union" (3 December 1912).
  • Next to the right of liberty, the right of property is the most important individual right guaranteed by the Constitution and the one which, united with that of personal liberty, has contributed more to the growth of civilization than any other institution established by the human race.
    • Popular Government: Its Essence, Its Permanence and Its Perils, chapter 4, p.90 (1913).
  • Socialism proposes no adequate substitute for the motive of enlightened selfishness that to-day is at the basis of all human labor and effort, enterprise and new activity.
    • Popular Government: Its Essence, Its Permanence and Its Perils, chapter 4, p.91 (1913).
  • There is nothing so despicable as a secret society that is based upon religious prejudice and that will attempt to defeat a man because of his religious beliefs. Such a society is like a cockroach — it thrives in the dark. So do those who combine for such an end.
    • Speech to the Young Men's Hebrew Association in New York (20 December 1914).
  • There is only one thing I wast to say about Ohio that has a political tinge, and that is that I think a mistake has been made of recent years in Ohio in failing to continue as our representatives the same people term after term. I do not need to tell a Washington audience, among whom there are certainly some who have been interested in legislation, that length of service in the House and in the Senate is what gives influence.
    • Speech before the Ohio Society, Washington, D.C.; quoted in the Congressional Record (May 23, 1916), vol. 53, p. 8527.
  • Anti-Semitism is a noxious weed that should be cut out. It has no place in America.
    • "Anti-Semitism in the United States", address to the Anti Defamation League in Chicago, Illinois (23 December 1920).
  • It is important, of course, that controversies be settled right, but there are many civil questions which arise between individuals in which it is not so important the controversy be settled one way or another as that it be settled. Of course a settlement of a controversy on a fundamentally wrong principle of law is greatly to be deplored, but there must of necessity be many rules governing the relations between members of the same society that are more important in that their establishment creates a known rule of action than that they proceed on one principle or another. Delay works always for the man with the longest purse.
    • "Adequate Machinery for Judicial Business," Journal of the American Bar Association, vol. 7, p. 454 (September 1921).
  • The truth is that in my present life I don’t remember that I ever was president.
    • Correspondence (1925), quoted in James Chace (2004), 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft & Debs

Our Chief Magistrate and His Powers (Columbia University Press, 1916)Edit

  • The world is not going to be saved by legislation.
    • Chapter 6.
  • We live in a stage of politics, where legislators seem to regard the passage of laws as much more important than the results of their enforcement.
    • Chapter 6.
  • Presidents may go to the seashore or to the mountains. Cabinet officers may go about the country explaining how fortunate the country is in having such an administration, but the machinery at Washington continues to operate under the army of faithful non-commissioned officers, and the great mass of governmental business is uninterrupted.
  • Substantial progress toward better things can rarely be taken with out developing new evils requiring new remedies.
    • P. 61.
  • The President cannot make clouds to rain and cannot make the corn to grow, he cannot make business good; although when these things occur, political parties do claim some credit for the good things that have happened in this way.


  • Politics, when I am in it, makes me sick.
    • Quoted in Archibald W. Butt (1930), Taft and Roosevelt.
  • I'll be damned if I am not getting tired of this. It seems to be the profession of a President simply to hear other people talk.
    • Quoted in Archibald W. Butt (1930), Taft and Roosevelt.
  • Don't worry over what the newspapers say. I don't. Why should anyone else? I told the truth to the newspaper correspondents - but when you tell the truth to them they are at sea.
    • Quoted in Henry Pringle (1939), The Life and Times of William Howard Taft.
  • The publishers profess to be the agents of heaven in establishing virtue and therefore that they ought to receive some subsidy from the government. I can ask no stronger refutation to this claim … than the utterly unscrupulous methods pursued by them in seeking to influence Congress on this subject.
    • Quoted in Henry Fowles Pringle (1939), The Life and Times of William Howard Taft, referring to a postal rate increase affecting popular magazines.
  • Presidents come and go, but the Supreme Court goes on forever.
    • Quoted in Henry Fowles Pringle (1939), The Life and Times of William Howard Taft.
  • Enthusiasm for a cause sometimes warps judgment.
    • Quoted in David G. Plotkin (1955), Dictionary of American Maxims.
  • Some men are graduated from college cum laude, some are graduated summa cum laude, and some are graduated mirabile dictu.
    • Quoted in David G. Plotkin (1955), Dictionary of American Maxims; the last phrase translates roughly as "Wonderfully, amazingly; remarkable to say; It's a miracle! "
  • No tendency is quite so strong in human nature as the desire to lay down rules of conduct for other people.
    • Quoted in Robert J. Schoenberg (1992), Mr. Capone, apparently referring to the temperance movement.

About William Howard TaftEdit

  • One advantage possessed by Mr. Taft over Mr. Hughes is that Mr. Taft is able to cover more ground—especially when sitting down.
    • The Butte Daily Post, "Editorials" (March 28, 1908), p. 4
  • Taft was cheerful, friendly, a typical hail-fellow-well-met with an infectious chuckle. Always popular, he had many friends but, surprisingly, few intimates. "One of the astonishing things about Taft's four years in the White House," wrote biographer Henry F. Pringle, "was the almost total lack of men, related or otherwise, upon whom he could lean... For the most part he faced his troubles alone." He was not happy as President. The break with his predecessor and former mentor, Theodore Roosevelt, weighed heavily on his mind; he was often irritable, depressed, at least once in tears. He regained his good spirits in retirement and as chief justice.
    • William A. DeGregorio, The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents (1984), p. 393
  • A little before eight-thirty the President and Mrs. Taft and the family would come down to the private dining room for breakfast. As a rule he would eat two oranges, a twelve-ounce beefsteak, several pieces of toast and butter and a vast quantity of coffee, with cream and sugar. In looking through my diaries of this period I find that on November 27th, 1911, I have a note which reads: "The President weighs 332 pounds and tells me with a great laugh that he is going on a diet but that 'things are in a sad state of affairs when a man can't even call his gizzard his own.'"
  • Many years before Harry Truman fired General Douglas MacArthur, there was another prima donna general, the renowned John C. Frémont. For issuing orders authorizing the emancipation of slaves in Missouri without presidential permission, Lincoln fired him on the spot. As for MacArthur, he should have known better: the same thing had also happened to his own father. Back in the early 1900s, General Arthur MacArthur, military governor of the Philippines, made the stupid mistake of not recognizing the superior authority of the civilian governor, William Howard Taft, who later became president. Years later, when MacArthur's turn came to be promoted to Army Chief of Staff, Taft blackballed him.
    • Seymour Morris Jr., American History Revised: 200 Startling Facts That Never Made It into the Textbooks (2010), p. 314-315

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