William Howard Taft
Burial Location Visited President Grave #
Arlington, Virginia June 11, 2004 7th Visited

Here I salute William Howard
Taft, the only person to serve as
both U.S. president and chief
justice of the Supreme Court.
He and First Lady Nellie Taft
rest in the ground in front of
an ornate shaft of Stony Creek
granite in Arlington National
Cemetery. The nearly fifteen-
foot monument was carved by
sculptor James Earl Fraser.

My family was unaware that Taft was buried
at Arlington when we initially visited in
2003. In June 2004, after my father and
I drove down to Washington, D.C., to see
Ronald Reagan lie in state in the Capitol,
we returned to correct the oversight.
President John F. Kennedy is interred
two sections away from his predecessor.

Fast Facts *

- First Lady: Helen Louise Herron Taft
- Spouse: Helen Louise Herron Taft (m. 1886-1930)

- Political Party: Republican Party

- Term: 1909-1913
- Vice President: James Schoolcraft Sherman (1909-1912)

- Born: September 15, 1857

- Died: March 8, 1930

- Age:

- Cause of Death: Heart Disease

 Cemetery: Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia
- GPS Coordinates: 38°53'01.3"N 77°04'09.7"W

* Background on William Howard Taft * *

* Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1856, William Howard Taft grew up under the guidance of his father, attorney and jurist Alphonso Taft. The elder Taft also worked in two presidential administrations as a cabinet secretary and minister, but he had no inclination to run for a political post himself. Alphonso's disinterest in politics was shared by his son, who before 1908 ran in just one election -- for a five-year term with the Superior Court of Cincinnati. Captivated by the law, Bill Taft accepted President Benjamin Harrison's offer to become U.S. solicitor general, although at the time he felt "entirely unfamiliar with the rules of practice" in federal court. In that capacity, he argued twenty-seven cases before the Supreme Court -- with most of the opinions written in his favor. During the McKinley administration later in the 1890s, Taft reluctantly accepted the president's appointment to serve on a Philippines Committee. He expressed similar trepidation when he was elected the territory's first governor general, but he also declined to leave the post when presented with multiple opportunities to do so. In 1903, two years after Taft's friend Theodore Roosevelt was elevated to the presidency, TR sent him a telegram with an offer to fill an open spot on the high court's bench. Taft expressed his gratitude, but lamented that he could not abandon the Philippines amid a cholera outbreak. Roosevelt let Taft remain temporarily, but later hounded him to return stateside and serve as his secretary of war -- a request Taft felt obligated to honor despite his minimal knowledge of "army matters." Taft's reluctance to disappoint others by rejecting offers was a recurrent theme throughout his career, and his acquiescence eventually led him to the White House.

* Pressure from his inner circle, including his wife, Nellie, convinced Taft to decline a second offer to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court. Roosevelt knew his friend's true aspirations were to be chief justice, but came to feel Taft could do more good with continued service in the Executive Branch -- as its head. TR attempted to coax the secretary of war to run to succeed him as president in the 1908 election, but was met with a lukewarm response. In October 1907, TR met with Mrs. Taft and informed her he might support another candidate if her husband could not be more enthusiastic. Eager to see Bill in the White House, Nellie Taft convinced him to throw his hat in the ring. As Roosevelt's handpicked successor, he received the Republican nomination and won the November 1908 bid against perennial Democratic candidate William Jennings Bryan. TR initially believed his progressive policies and aggressive methods of implementing them would continue under Taft's administration. Yet Taft, who considered himself a "progressive conservative," did not feel the ends justified TR's style of means -- a disagreement that eventually created a major rift between the pair. Taft and his secretary of the interior, Richard Ballinger, concluded that TR and his cabinet had improperly used executive orders to protect millions of acres of private lands, and Ballinger reversed the actions. Taft also diverged from Roosevelt in their handling of industry. TR used the Sherman Anti-Trust Act to battle only the trusts he believed were so powerful they negatively impacted the public welfare. Taft invoked the law to attack any large trust or monopoly regardless of its strength. Taft was also unable to implement many of the progressive policies Roosevelt wanted because he insisted on going through Congress, which was under conservative control -- and Taft's weakness as a public speaker hindered his ability to sway its members. Eventually, Roosevelt grew weary enough with Taft that he rescinded his 1904 promise to not run for president again. Yet party conservatives were unwilling to give control back to the increasingly liberal Roosevelt, and the Republicans made the incumbent Taft their 1912 nominee. Undeterred, TR formed the Progressive Party and ran as a third party candidate. Roosevelt received more popular and electoral votes than Taft, but both were beaten out by Democrat Woodrow Wilson.

* One-termer Taft left the White House in 1913 and relocated to Connecticut, where he taught constitutional law at his alma mater -- Yale University. That and his service as a member of the War Labor Board during World War I occupied him for much of the next eight years, until another Republican -- Warren G. Harding -- became president. After the death of Chief Justice Edward Douglass White in May 1921, Harding nominated Taft to fill the vacancy. Approved by the Senate later the same day, Taft finally obtained his long-desired post. Whereas Taft viewed the powers of the president through a narrow constitutional interpretation, he did not see the chief justice position in the same way. Bringing his administrative skills to the job, he successfully lobbied for an annual conference between the chief and the circuit senior judges to discuss plans for procedural uniformity and case expediency throughout the judicial system. Taft also sought to reduce the quantity of cases brought before the Supreme Court and worked with a committee comprised of three associate justices to create legislation to that effect. The Judiciary Act of 1925 trimmed the number of lower court appeals that advanced to the Supreme Court without a writ, but preserved the high court's final jurisdiction over constitutional questions. Chief Justice Taft wielded significant influence over judicial appointments, particularly during Harding's two years as president. In terms of court rulings, Taft wrote 255 opinions during his eight-plus years on the bench, making him one of the most prolific justice's in SCOTUS history. Toward the end of his tenure as chief justice, he labored to secure financial support for another of his pet projects: the relocation of the high court from twelve crowded rooms in the Capitol to its own building close by. Taft persuaded the House Public Buildings Committee to request funds for a new structure, and $9,740,000 was allocated by Congress and signed into law by President Herbert Hoover in December 1929. By that time Taft's health was failing, and he resigned from the bench on February 3, 1930. His death on March 8th coincided with the unexpected passing of Associate Justice Edward Terry Sanford. Five days later, Taft, dressed in his judicial robe, became the first president and first Supreme Court justice laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

Sources Consulted                                                                                                                                                     

Burton, David H. Taft, Roosevelt, and the Limits of Friendship. Teaneck, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press,

Deion, Kurt. "Blind Spot for a Friend: Theodore Roosevelt’s Flawed Assessment of William Howard Taft." HIST600, University of Massachusetts Boston, 2018.

Goodwin, Doris Kearns. The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2013.

Lamb, Brian, and the C-SPAN Staff. Who's Buried in Grant's Tomb?: A Tour of Presidential Gravesites. New York: PublicAffairs, 2000. Reprinted. New York: PublicAffairs, 2003.

Lurie, Jonathan.
William Howard Taft: The Travails of a Progressive Conservative. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Morris, Jeffrey B. "What Heaven Must Be Like: William Howard Taft as Chief Justice, 1921-30." Yearbook 1983. Washington, D.C.: Supreme Court Historical Society, 1983. 80-101.

"US Presidents Freemasons." Grand Lodge of Virginia. Accessed July 4, 2019. https://grandlodgeofvirginia.org/us-presidents-freemasons/.

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