1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Taft, William Howard
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Taft, William Howard
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TAFT, WILLIAM HOWARD (1857- ), 27th President of the United States (see 26.354), antagonized a considerable branch of his own party in 1911 by his endeavour, which proved unsuccessful, to secure a reciprocity agreement with Canada. Meanwhile wide public interest had been awakened in the conservation of national resources and the President's attitude was attacked by the conservationists. In 1909 Gifford Pinchot, chief forester, charged Richard A. Ballinger, Secretary of the Interior, with being opposed to conservation. A Congressional committee, after investigation, exonerated the Secretary, but he later resigned. The attack upon Ballinger was denounced by the President, who continued to be criticized in connexion with the sale of public lands, and who dismissed Pinchot from office. The President lost ground also as a result of a breach of friendship between himself and Theodore Roosevelt, who supported Pinchot. In 1912 the President signed the Panama Tolls bill, exempting American coastwise shipping from tolls; he affirmed that it did not violate the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty, and believed also that the United States had the right to fortify the canal. At the same time he expressed a readiness to arbitrate the question with Great Britain, who had protested. Cleavage within his party was crystallized at the Republican National Convention in 1912. In the pre-convention campaign Roosevelt came forward as leader of the progressive wing against Taft as leader of the conservative or “stand-pat” wing, and the mutual recriminations were bitter. At the convention, however, the conservatives controlled the party machine, and the committee on credentials by arbitrary decisions excluded most of Roosevelt's contesting delegates. Taft was renominated on the first ballot, receiving 561 votes, 21 more than the required majority. Roosevelt denounced the action of the convention and later was nominated by the newly formed National Progressive party. In the ensuing election Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic nominee, won an overwhelming victory, securing 435 electoral votes to 88 for Roosevelt and 8 for Taft. President Taft carried only two states, Utah and Vermont, and those only by small pluralities. The general feeling throughout the country was that President Taft had shown a deplorable lack of administrative firmness, his good nature having caused him to vacillate. On retiring from the presidency in 1913 he became Kent professor of law at Yale, but devoted much time to lecture engagements. In 1913 he was elected president of the American Bar Association, and in 1914 first president of the American Institute of Jurisprudence, organized to improve law and its administration. After the outbreak of the World War in 1914 he supported President Wilson's strong stand for neutrality. In 1915 he approved the Army League's campaign for preparedness. He was an active promoter of the League to Enforce Peace, but after America's entrance into the war he argued that victory was necessary for attaining lasting peace. In 1918 he was appointed by the President a member of the National War Labor Board for arbitrating labour disputes during the war. In 1919 he endorscd the Peace Treaty of Versailles, regarding its most important part to be the Covenant of the League of Nations. He spoke throughout the country in behalf of the League. After the Senate's rejection of the Peace Treaty he urged reservations if these would secure ratification. In July 1920 he was appointed to represent the Grand Trunk railway on the board of arbitration for determining the sum to be paid by the Dominion of Canada when the road was to be made a part of the national system. He supported Warren G. Harding, the Republican candidate for president in 1920. On June 30 1921 he was appointed by President Harding Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to succeed Edward Douglas White, deceased.
He was the author of Popular Government: its Essence, its Performance, and its Perils (1913); The Anti-Trust Act and the Supreme Court (1914); The United, States and Peace (1914); Ethics in Service (1915, Yale lectures); Our Chief Magistrate and his Powers (1916, Columbia lectures) and The Presidency: its Duties, its Powers, its Opportunities and its Limitations (1916, lectures at the university of Virginia).