Edited by Francis Graham Lee
William Howard Taft’s presidency (1909-1913), succeeding Theodore Roosevelt’s, was mired in bitter partisan fighting, and Taft sometimes blundered politically. However, this son of Cincinnati assumed his true calling when President Warren G. Harding appointed him to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1921. Taft remains the only person to have served both as president of the United States and as chief justice of the Supreme Court.
The Collected Works of William Howard Taft, Volume VIII, consists of “Liberty under Law” and selected Supreme Court opinions, among the most instructive accomplishments of Taft’s ten years at the helm of the court. The writings reveal the sober judgments of a federalist who viewed state regulation with suspicion, championed national government, and saw an independent and powerful judiciary as the bulwark protecting the “vested rights” that the framers of the U.S. Constitution sought to guarantee.
Whatever his failings as a politician, Taft was an intellectual powerhouse who knew how to use the law as a lever to encourage society to move toward more stable and productive ends. Although Taft is considered an average president at best, historians and political scientists rank him among fifteen “near greats” who have served on the high court. His ability and his love for the law shine through in Volume VIII, the concluding volume of The Collected Works of William Howard Taft. As Taft reportedly said to President Harding upon his appointment as chief justice, “I love judges and I love courts. They are my ideals on earth of what we shall meet afterward in heaven under a just God.”
Francis Graham Lee is chair of the political science department at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia. He is the author of several books, including Neither Conservative nor Liberal and Wall of Controversy.
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