William Howard Taft (1857–1930) had served as a federal judge and the appointed governor of the Philippines before Theodore Roosevelt named him secretary of war. But his talents as administrator served him poorly as a president, and he was perceived, wrongly, as a tool of entrenched interests. As president, Taft had substantial Progressive accomplishments. He filed twice as many anti-trust suits as Roosevelt, expanded Roosevelt’s program of conserving public lands, created a Children’s Bureau within the Labor Department, and pushed through Congress the Mann-Elkins Act of 1910, which strengthened the federal government’s power to regulate the railroads. He also submitted a proposal for a tax on corporate income and called for a constitutional amendment to permit an income tax. The amendment was ratified in 1913, during the waning days of days of his administration. But Taft also fired Roosevelt’s trusted lieutenant Gifford Pinchot, who had attacked his conservation policies; and he supported the reelection of Joe Cannon, the Republican old guard Speaker of the House, in return for conservative support on other issues. He tried to lower tariffs on foreign trade, only to have his proposal gutted by Congress. Said Roosevelt of his successor, “Taft, who is such an admirable fellow, has shown himself such an utterly commonplace leader, good-natured, feebly well-meaning, but with plenty of small motive; and totally unable to grasp or put into execution any great policy.”

Disenchanted with Taft and missing the glory of the presidency, Roosevelt challenged his successor for the 1912 presidential nomination. “We stand at Armageddon,” said Roosevelt in 1912, “and we battle for the Lord.” Roosevelt’s attacks deeply embittered Taft. “Even a cornered rat will fight,” he reportedly said to a journalist. Roosevelt won most of the primaries but lost a rules fight at the Republican convention and only won a third of the delegates. Charging Taft with “hijacking” the nomination, Roosevelt launched a third party. As the Progressive Party candidate, Roosevelt received 27 percent of the vote, still a record for a third-party presidential candidate. Taft only won 23 percent of the popular vote, partly due to his failure to publicize his progressive achievements, losing the presidency to Woodrow Wilson.

After the presidency, he taught law at Yale and, in 1921, he was appointed Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court.

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