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Wreath laying marks life of President Taft
September 9, 1997
Courtesy of The Pentagam

Military District of Washington Commander Major General Robert F. Foley and Arlington National Cemetery Superintendent John C. Metzler were on hand Monday to lay a wreath at the gravesite of President William Howard Taft. Monday marked the 140th anniversary of the birth of Taft, who was the 27th president of the United States from 1909 to 1913.

A lifelong Republican from Ohio, Taft had his roots in law and came to Washington, D.C., as solicitor-general under President Benjamin Harrison in 1890, leaving behind a seat in the Cincinnati Superior Court. That judgeship was the only office except the presidency that Taft won by popular vote.

Shortly after Taft became solicitor-general, President Harrison appointed him a judge of the newly established Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. His eight-year tenure on the bench was highlighted by decisions in the fields of labor relations and antitrust laws. His labor decisions supported the right of laborers to organize and strike, while curbing boycott activities that involved businesses doing business with the employer of the striking laborers.

In 1900, Taft was named chairman of a civil commission to govern the newly acquired Philippines. His career in the Philippines was an example of good colonial government. Taft was instrumental in establishing new systems of land records, courts, vital and social statistics and sanitary regulations. He worked hard toward the establishment of a limited self-government.

During his time on the island, Taft turned down a chance for appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, even though he desired to be a justice, because he felt he had not finished his work in the Philippines.

In 1904, Taft returned to Washington, D.C., to assume the post of secretary of war. His department oversaw the construction of the Panama Canal and set up the government in the Canal Zone. Taft also negotiated the end of the Russo-Japanese War.

Taft's administration was marred by a divided party. Battles erupted over tariff issues and control of trusts. After his term, he returned to his alma mater, Yale University, to teach law, took joint-chairmanship of the national War Labor Board during World War I, then, in 1921, accepted President Calvin Coolidge's nomination to become chief justice of the United States.

Taft died March 8, 1930 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.