- Taft, William Howard
- (1857–1930)An American politician who served as chief civil administrator in the Philippines (1901–1904), secretary of war (1904–1908), twenty-seventh President of the United States (1909–1913), and Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1921–1930). William Howard Taft was born in 1857 in Cincinnati, Ohio. His education was geared toward law and political life, following in his father’s footsteps and graduating from Yale University. He later obtained his law degree from the University of Cincinnati and subsequently entered private practice.Taft’s main ambition was to one day be appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and it was in pursuit of this that he began his political career. In 1900, President McKinley asked Taft to serve as president of the commission to oversee the newly won Philippines. Between 1900 and 1903, Taft was devoted to his work as governor in the Philippines, so much so that he turned down two offers to serve on the Supreme Court from McKinley’s successor, Theodore Roosevelt, so that he could finish what he had started.After returning to the United States, Taft became Roosevelt’s secretary of war and quickly gained the president’s full confidence. Roosevelt had sworn not to serve another term and backed Taft’s ascension to the presidency in the belief that Taft would continue his reform programs. Taft shied away from domestic progressivism yet sought to follow through on Roosevelt’s foreign policy. The centerpiece of his approach became known as “Dollar Diplomacy” and involved enhancing American international influence through the use of economic power with the cultivation of trade and the promotion of loans from private banks in support of overseas projects involving American interests. Taft used his dollar diplomacy to protect American interests in the Panama Canal region, buying off Latin American debts to European powers and refinancing Haiti’s debt, setting the stage for future plans there. This policy also extended to Asia, where Taft convinced banks to help finance railroad construction in China in both cooperation and competition with Britain, France, and Germany.Although Taft was successful in extending American influence internationally, he caused suspicion and resentment among the European powers involved in China, and his dollar diplomacy did not survive the revolution that erupted in China in 1912. His aversion to progressivism lost him support not only from his own party, but also from the American public. He handily lost his second election, an outcome he was not particularly saddened by. His lifetime dream nonetheless was realized in 1921 when President Warren G. Harding appointed him to the U.S. Supreme Court.See also <
>; < >.FURTHER READING:Coletta, Paolo E. The Presidency of William Howard Taft. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1973;Minger, Ralph Eldin. William Taft and United States Foreign Policy: The Apprenticeship Years, 1900–1908. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975;Rosenberg, Emily S. Financial Missionaries to the World: The Politics and Culture of Dollar Diplomacy, 1900–1930. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004.ARTHUR HOLST
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.