He was the only U.S. president to also serve as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. His name was William Howard Taft, and he was born Sept. 15, 1857.
Taft had previously been appointed by President McKinley as the first governor of the Philippines, 1901-04, after the Spanish-American War. President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Taft as secretary of war in 1904 and provisional governor of Cuba in 1906.
The largest president, weighing over 300 lbs, a bathtub was installed for him in the White House big enough to hold four men.
In his inaugural address as the 27th U.S. president, William Howard Taft stated, March 4, 1909: “I invoke the considerate sympathy and support of my fellow citizens and the aid of the Almighty God in the discharge of my responsible duties.”
President Taft stated in a national day of thanksgiving proclamation, Nov. 15, 1909: “The people of the United States are wont to meet in their usual places of worship on a day of thanksgiving appointed by the Civil Magistrate to return thanks to God for the great mercies and benefits which they have enjoyed. During the past year we have been highly blessed. … It is altogether fitting that we should humbly and gratefully acknowledge the Divine Source of these blessings. … I hereby appoint … a day of general thanksgiving, and I call upon the people on that day, laying aside their usual vocations, to repair to their churches and unite in appropriate services of praise and thanks to Almighty God.”
President William Howard Taft proclaimed, Nov. 5, 1910: “These blessings have not descended upon us in restricted measure, but overflow and abound. They are the blessings and bounty of God. … In accordance with the wise custom of the civil magistrate since the first settlements in this land and with the rule established from the foundation of this Government … do appoint … a day of National Thanksgiving and Prayer, enjoining the people upon that day to meet in their churches for the praise of Almighty God and to return heartfelt thanks to Him for all His goodness and loving-kindness.”
Taft stated, as recorded in Donald F. Anderson’s “William Howard Taft: A Conservative’s Conception of the Presidency” (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1973) was: “The President can exercise NO power which cannot fairly be traced to some specific grant of power in the Constitution or act of Congress.”
In 1912, Taft created the United States Chamber of Commerce to counterbalance the labor movement. President Taft met with Booker T. Washington and encouraged his program for uplifting of the black Americans through education and entrepreneurship.
On Thanksgiving, Nov. 7, 1912, President Taft proclaimed: “A God-fearing nation, like ours, owes it to its inborn and sincere sense of moral duty to testify its devout gratitude to the All-Giver for the countless benefits its has enjoyed. For many years it has been customary at the close of the year for the national Executive to call upon his fellow countrymen to offer praise and thanks to God for the manifold blessings vouchsafed to them. … I, William Howard Taft, President of the United States of America, in pursuance of long-established usage and in response to the wish of the American people, invite my countrymen … to join … in appropriate ascription of praise and thanks to God for the good gifts that have been our portion, and in humble prayer that His great mercies toward us may endure.”
In the spirit of Theodore Roosevelt’s Panama Canal project, Taft encouraged “Dollar Diplomacy” for U.S. businesses to invest in Latin America, Africa and East Asia. In his annual message, Dec. 6, 1912, William Howard Taft stated: “We would go as far as any nation in the world to avoid war, but we are a world power, our responsibilities in the Pacific and the Atlantic, our defense of the Panama Canal, together with our enormous world trade and our Missionary outposts on the frontiers of civilization, require us to recognize our position as one of the foremost in the family of nations, and to clothe ourselves with sufficient naval power to give force to our reasonable demands, and to give weight to our influence in those directions of progress that a powerful Christian nation should advocate.”
In 1913, Taft became a professor at Yale Law School and president of the American Bar Association. In 1921, he was appointed Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court where he gave the oath of office to subsequent Presidents Calvin Coolidge (1925) and Herbert Hoover (1929).
Taft was the first justice to employ full-time law clerks. Taft took the decentralized federal court system and united it under the control of the chief justice for the first time, creating what increasingly became viewed as an independent third branch of government.
In 1929, Taft promoted the idea of moving the Supreme Court out of the basement of the Capitol to its own building across the street, which was completed in 1935.
At a missionary conference, William Howard Taft stated Aug. 5, 1908: “Until I went to the Orient, until there was thrust upon me the responsibilities with reference to the extension of civilization in those far distant lands, I did not realize the immense importance of foreign mission. The truth is we have got to wake up in this country. We are not all there is in the world. … No man can study the movement of modern civilization from an impartial standpoint and not realize that Christianity, and the spread of Christianity, are the only basis for hope of modern civilization in the growth of popular self-government. The spirit of Christianity is pure democracy; it is the equality of man before God. The equality of man before the law, which is, as I understand it, the most Godlike manifestation that man has been able to make. …”
William Howard Taft continued: “I am here to speak of … the advancement of modern civilization, and…how dependent we are on the spread of Christianity for any hope we may have of uplifting the people whom Providence has thrust upon us for our guidance. I suppose I ought not to go into a discussion here of our business in the Philippines, but I never can take up that subject without pointing the moral … conviction that our nation is … charged with the obligation to help the unfortunate peoples of other countries that are thrust upon us by faith onto their feet to become a self governing people. … What there is in the Constitution of the United States is a breathing spirit that we are a nation with all the responsibilities that any nation ever had and … it becomes the Christian duty of a nation to assist another nation.”
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