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  American HistoryUnited States: General History and DescriptionEarly 20th Century, 1901-1960Biography, A-Z
 
Robert A. TaftRobert A. Taft

U.S. Senator

Robert Alphonso Taft was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on September 8, 1889, the son of William Howard Taft (President of the United States and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court) and grandson of Alphonso Taft (Secretary of War and Attorney General under President Ulysses Grant). Raised in an affluent and politically powerful family, Taft received an excellent education, which included three years of study in the Philippines while his father served as Governor and a stint at a school owned and operated by an uncle in Watertown, Connecticut. He graduated from Yale University in 1910 and from the Harvard University School of Law in 1913, and was admitted to the Ohio bar soon after receiving his law degree. He married Martha Bowers in 1914, and eventually had four sons.

Poor eyesight prevented Taft's enlistment into the U.S. Army, so he served his country as assistant counsel for the U.S. Food Administration during World War I and counsel for the American Relief Administration (in Paris) after the war. Returning to the United States in 1919, he established a practice with his younger brother Charles, specializing in corporate clients. In addition to law, he was also active in the planning of the Union Station in Cincinnati and helped his uncle develop the Dixie Terminal Building, an interurban streetcar terminus with professional and business offices and shops.

Taft first entered politics in 1920, when he was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives, where he served from 1921 to 1926, the last year as Speaker. During his tenure in that body, Taft worked for tax reform and opposed the Ku Klux Klan. Elected to the Ohio State Senate in 1930, he lost his bid for re-election to that body in 1932.

In 1938, Taft defeated incumbent U.S. Senator Robert Bulkley, and ultimately served three terms in the U.S. Senate, from 1939 to his death. During his first years in that body, Taft spent much of his energy opposing President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, calling for more reliance on private industry to bring the nation out of the Great Depression rather than government spending. When not speaking out against New Deal programs, Taft was speaking out against U.S. intervention in what became World War II. Although he supported the U.S.'s entry into the war after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, he frequently criticized Roosevelt's war policies, and was one of the few public figures to openly oppose internment of Japanese-Americans.

Resuming his isolationist stance after the war ended, Taft voted against joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but once the United States had entered it felt American commitments to the alliance should be honored. Although he was reluctant to see American ground forces stationed in Europe, he berated the Truman administration for "losing" China and advocated a stronger U.S. effort during the Korean War, endorsing many of the views of General Douglas MacArthur. His reverence for strict construction of the Constitution even led him in 1946 to take the highly unpopular step of denouncing the Nuremberg war crimes trials. He thought that the Nazis deserved punishment but would have favored a military tribunal, rather than the civilian proceeding.

Domestically, Senator Taft continued to oppose most government intervention into private business. He was a co-sponsor of the Taft-Hartley Labor Relations Act of 1947, which placed restrictions on organized labor and, according to its sponsors, sought to balance the bargaining rights of management and labor. He was reluctant to support farm subsidies, but engineered the passage of the 1949 National Housing Act, which funded slum clearance and the construction of 810,000 units of low-income housing over a period of six years.

While serving the Senate, Taft tried three times to win the Republican presidential nomination. His isolationist stance cost him the 1940 nomination, which went to Wendell Wilkie. He supported Ohio Governor John W. Bricker in 1944, but Bricker ended up losing to New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey. Taft ran against Dewey for the nomination in 1948, but lost. The 1952 Republican National Convention began with a close race between Taft and Dwight D. Eisenhower, but ended with Eisenhower securing the nomination.

Robert Taft was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer in April of 1953, and died in New York City on July 31, 1953. He is buried in the Indian Hill Episcopal Church Cemetery, in Cincinnati.

Continuing the "family tradition," Robert A. Taft Jr. served as a U.S. Senator from Ohio from 1971 to 1977. His son, Bob Taft, was elected Governor of Ohio in 1998.


Ohio
William Howard Taft
President Ulysses Grant
World War I
President Franklin Roosevelt
World War II
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Douglas MacArthur
Nuremberg
Wendell Wilkie
Dwight D. Eisenhower

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This page was last updated on April 25, 2015.

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