Robert Taft

Robert Taft
Robert A. Taft
United States Senator
from Ohio
In office
January 3, 1939 – July 31, 1953
Preceded by Robert J. Bulkley
Succeeded by Thomas A. Burke
9th United States Senate Majority Leader
In office
January 3, 1953 – July 31, 1953
Preceded by Ernest McFarland
Succeeded by William F. Knowland
Personal details
Born September 8, 1889(1889-09-08)
Cincinnati, Ohio
Died July 31, 1953(1953-07-31) (aged 63)
New York City, New York
Nationality American
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Martha Wheaton Bowers
Alma mater Yale University, Harvard Law School
Religion Episcopalian

Robert Alphonso Taft (September 8, 1889 – July 31, 1953), of the Taft political family of Cincinnati, was a Republican United States Senator and a prominent conservative statesman. As the leading opponent of the New Deal in the Senate from 1939 to 1953, he led the successful effort by the conservative coalition to curb the power of labor unions, and was a major proponent of the foreign policy of non-interventionism. However, he failed in his quest to win the presidential nomination of the Republican Party in 1940, 1948 and 1952. From 1940 to 1952 he battled New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey, the leader of the GOP's moderate "Eastern Establishment" for control of the Republican Party. In 1957, a Senate committee chaired by John F. Kennedy named Taft as one of the five greatest senators in American history, along with Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, John Calhoun, and Robert La Follette.[1]



Taft was a product of one of America's most prominent political families. He was the grandson of Attorney General and Secretary of War Alphonso Taft, and the son of President and Chief Justice William Howard Taft and Helen Herron Taft. His younger brother, Charles Taft, served as the Mayor of Cincinnati and was the unsuccessful Republican candidate for Governor of Ohio in 1952. As a boy he spent four years in the Philippines, where his father was governor. He was first in his class at the Taft School (run by his uncle), at Yale College (1910) and at Harvard Law School (1913), where he edited the Harvard Law Review and became a member of Skull and Bones[2]:126.[3][4] In 1913 after finishing first in his class at Yale and Harvard Law School, Taft scored the highest in the state on the Ohio bar exam. He then practiced for four years with the firm of Maxwell and Ramsey (now Graydon Head & Ritchey LLP) in Cincinnati, Ohio, his family's ancestral city. After a two-year stint in Washington working for the Food and Drug Administration, he returned to Cincinnati and opened his own law office. In 1924, he and his brother Charles helped form the law partnership Taft, Stettinius, and Hollister, with whom he continued to be associated until his death and which continues to carry his name today.

On October 17, 1914, he married Martha Wheaton Bowers, the heiress daughter of Lloyd Wheaton Bowers, who had served as the United States Solicitor General under his father. Taft himself appeared taciturn and coldly intellectual, characteristics that were offset by his gregarious wife, who served the same role his mother had for his father, as a confidante and powerful asset to her husband's political career. In 1949 Martha suffered a severe stroke which left her an invalid; after her stroke Taft faithfully assisted his wife, even helping to feed and take care of her at public functions, a fact which, his admirers noted, belied his public image as a cold and uncaring person. They had four sons including Robert Taft Jr. (1917–1993), who was also elected to the U.S. Senate; Horace Dwight Taft, who became a professor of physics and dean at Yale; and William Howard Taft III (1915–1991), who became ambassador to Ireland. Two of Taft's grandsons are Robert Alphonso Taft II (1942–), Governor of Ohio from 1999 to 2007, and William Howard Taft IV (1945–), Deputy Secretary of Defense from 1984 to 1989.

Early public career

Robert A. Taft

When the United States entered World War I in April 1917, Taft attempted to join the U.S. Army, but he was rejected by the Army due to his poor eyesight. Instead, he joined the legal staff of the Food and Drug Administration where he met Herbert Hoover, who became his idol. In 1918–1919 he was in Paris as legal adviser for the American Relief Administration, Hoover's agency which distributed food to war-torn Europe. He learned to distrust governmental bureaucracy as inefficient and detrimental to the rights of the individual principles he promoted throughout his career. He strongly urged membership in the League of Nations,[5] but generally distrusted European politicians. He strongly endorsed the idea of a powerful World Court that would enforce international law, but no such idealized court ever existed during his lifetime. He returned to Cincinnati in late 1919, promoted Hoover for president in 1920, and opened a law firm with his brother Charles Taft. In 1920 he was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives, where he served as Speaker of the House in 1926. In 1930 he was elected to the state senate, but was defeated for reelection in 1932; it would be the only defeat in a general election he would suffer in his political career. His period of service in the Ohio state legislature was most notable for his efforts to modernize the state's antiquated tax laws. He was an outspoken opponent of the Ku Klux Klan and he did not support prohibition.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s Taft was a powerful figure in local and state political and legal circles, and was known as a loyal Republican who never threatened to bolt the party. He confessed in 1922 that "while I have no difficulty talking, I don't know how to do any of the eloquence business which makes for enthusiasm or applause."[6] A lackluster speaker who did not mix well or glad-hand supporters, nevertheless Taft was a tireless worker with a broad range of policy and political interests. His total grasp of the complex details of every issue impressed reporters and politicians. (Democrats joked that "Taft has the best mind in Washington, until he makes it up.") Taft's loyalty to the conservative politicians who controlled Ohio's Republican Party had a price, as it often caused conflict with his younger brother Charles, who as a local politician in Cincinnati had gained a reputation as a party maverick and liberal. However, despite their occasional policy disagreements, Charles loyally supported all three of his brother's presidential bids.

In 1917 Taft and his wife Martha bought a 46-acre (190,000 m2) farm in Indian Hill, Ohio, a well-to-do suburb of Cincinnati. Called "Sky Farm", it would serve as Taft's primary residence for the rest of his life. The Tafts gradually made extensive renovations that turned the small farmhouse into a sixteen-room mansion. On the farm Taft enjoyed growing strawberries, asparagus, and potatoes for profit. During the summer Taft often vacationed with his wife and children at the Taft family's summer home at Murray Bay, located in the Canadian province of Quebec.[7]

U.S. Senator

Taft was elected to the first of his three terms as U.S. Senator in 1938; he defeated the Democratic incumbent, Robert Bulkley.

Opposition to New Deal

Cooperating with conservative southern Democrats, he led the Conservative Coalition that opposed the New Deal. The Republican gains in the 1938 congressional elections, combined with the creation of the Conservative Coalition, had stopped the expansion of the New Deal. However, Taft saw his mission as not only stopping the growth of the New Deal, but also as eliminating many of the government programs that had already come from it. During his first term in the Senate, Taft criticized what he believed was the inefficiency and waste of many New Deal programs, and of the need to let private enterprise and businesses restore the nation's economy instead of relying upon government programs to end the Great Depression. He condemned the New Deal as socialist and attacked deficit spending, high farm subsidies, governmental bureaucracy, the National Labor Relations Board, and nationalized health insurance. However, he did not always follow conservative ideology; for instance, after investigating the lack of adequate housing in the nation he supported public housing programs.[8] He also supported the Social Security program. Taft set forward a conservative program that promoted economic growth, individual economic opportunity, adequate social welfare, strong national defense (primarily the Navy and Air Force), and non-involvement in European wars. He also strongly opposed the military draft on the principle that it limited a young man's freedom of choice. Broadly speaking, in terms of political philosophy Taft was a libertarian; he opposed nearly all forms of governmental interference in both the national economy and in the private lives of citizens.[9]

Opposition to World War II

Taft's greatest prominence during his first term came not from his fight against the New Deal and President Franklin Roosevelt, but rather from his vigorous and outspoken opposition to U.S. involvement in the Second World War. A staunch non-interventionist, Taft believed that America should avoid any involvement in European or Asian wars and concentrate instead on solving its domestic problems. He believed that a strong U.S. military, combined with the natural geographic protection of the broad Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, would be adequate to protect America even if the Nazis overran all of Europe. Between the outbreak of war in September 1939 and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 Taft opposed nearly all attempts to aid Allied forces fighting the Nazis in Europe. His outspoken opposition to aiding the Allied forces earned him strong criticism from many liberal Republicans, such as Wendell Willkie and Thomas E. Dewey, who felt that America could best protect itself by fully supporting the British and their allies. Although Taft fully supported the American war effort after Pearl Harbor and the declaration of war on Japan by the U.S. Congress on December 8, 1941, he continued to harbor a deep suspicion of American involvement in postwar military alliances with other nations, including NATO.

1944 re-election

In 1944 Taft was nearly defeated in his bid for a second term in the Senate; his Democratic opponent, William G. Pickrel, received major support from Ohio's labor unions and internationalists and nearly won the upset victory. Following his re-election, Taft became chairman of the Senate Republican Conference in 1944.

Condemnation of the Nuremberg Trials

Taft condemned the postwar Nuremberg Trials as victor's justice in which the people who won the war were the prosecutors, the judges and the alleged victims, all at the same time. Taft condemned the trials as a violation of the most basic principles of American justice and internationally accepted standards of justice.[10] Although his opposition to the trials was strongly criticized by many prominent politicians and journalists, other observers, such as Senator John F. Kennedy in his bestselling Profiles in Courage, applauded Taft's principled stand even in the face of great criticism.

1947 Taft–Hartley Labor Act

When the Republicans took control of Congress in 1947, Taft focused on labor-management relations as Chair of the Senate Labor Committee. Decrying the effect of the Wagner Act in tilting the balance toward labor unions, he wrote the 1947 Taft–Hartley Act, which remains the basic labor law. It bans "unfair" union practices, outlaws closed shops, and authorizes the President to seek federal court injunctions to impose an eighty-day cooling-off period if a strike threatened the national interest. Taft displayed all of his parliamentary skills in getting the bill through Congress; when President Harry Truman vetoed it, Taft then convinced both houses of Congress to override the veto.

Second term issues

From 1947 to 1949, when the Republicans controlled the Senate, Taft was his party's leading voice in domestic policy. He was reluctant to support farm subsidies, a position that hurt the GOP in rural areas (especially in the Midwest) in the 1948 elections. Taft 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 year. It was one of the few Fair Deal proposals of President Truman he liked.[11]

In terms of foreign policy he was non-interventionist and did not see Stalin's Soviet Union as a major threat. Nor did he pay much attention to internal Communism. The true danger, he believed, was big government and runaway spending. He supported the Truman Doctrine, reluctantly approved the Marshall Plan, and opposed NATO as unnecessary and provocative to the Soviets. He took the lead among Republicans in condemning President Harry S Truman's handling of the Korean War and questioning the constitutionality of the war itself, saying: "My conclusion, therefore, is that in the case of Korea, where a war was already under way, we had no right to send troops to a nation, with whom we had no treaty, to defend it against attack by another nation, no matter how unprincipled that aggression might be, unless the whole matter was submitted to Congress and a declaration of war or some other direct authority obtained."[12]

In the wake of the Independence of the State of Israel, Senator Taft was a supporter of the new state, and called to lift the arms embargo to the Middle East, and for the shipment of military aid for the new country.[13]

1950 re-election

In 1950 Taft ran a more effective campaign in which he wooed factory workers; he won a third term by a wide margin.

By the start of his third term in the Senate, Taft had been given the nickname "Mr. Republican";[12] he was the chief ideologue and spokesperson for the conservatism of the Republican Party of that era, and he was the acknowledged national leader of the GOP's conservative faction. (Patterson, p. 335)

Presidential ambitions

1940 and 1944

Taft first sought the Republican (GOP) presidential nomination in 1940, but lost to Wendell Willkie. Taft was regarded as a strong contender, but his outspoken opposition support of non-interventionist foreign policies, and his opposition to the New Deal in domestic policy led many liberal Republicans to reject his candidacy. At the 1940 GOP Convention Willkie—a onetime Democrat and corporate executive who had never run for political office—came from behind to beat Taft and several other candidates for the nomination. In the 1944 presidential campaign Taft was not a candidate, instead he supported Governor John Bricker of Ohio, a fellow conservative, for the GOP nomination. However, Bricker was defeated by New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey; Bricker then became Dewey's running mate.

1948 and 1952

In 1948 Taft made a second try for the GOP nomination, but was defeated by his arch-rival, Governor Dewey, who led the GOP's moderate/liberal wing.

In 1952 Taft made his third and final try for the GOP nomination; it also proved to be his strongest effort. He had the solid backing of the party's conservative wing. Former Nebraska Congressman Howard Buffett (father of billionaire Warren Buffett) served as his campaign manager.[14] With Dewey no longer an active candidate many political pundits regarded him as the frontrunner. However, the race changed when Dewey and other GOP moderates were able to convince Dwight D. Eisenhower, the most popular general of World War II, to run for the nomination. According to biographer Stephen Ambrose, Eisenhower agreed to run in part because of his fear that Taft's non-interventionist views in foreign policy might unintentionally benefit the Soviet Union in the Cold War.[citation needed]

The fight between Taft and Eisenhower for the GOP nomination was one of the closest and most bitter in American political history. When the Republican Convention opened in Chicago in July 1952, Taft and Eisenhower were neck-and-neck in delegate votes, and the nomination was still up for grabs as neither had a majority. On the convention's first day, Eisenhower's managers complained that Taft's forces had unfairly denied Eisenhower supporters delegate slots in several Southern states, including Texas, where the state chairman, Orville Bullington, was committed to Taft, and also in Georgia. The Eisenhower partisans proposed to remove pro-Taft delegates in these states and replace them with pro-Eisenhower delegates; they called their proposal "Fair Play". Although Taft angrily denied having stolen any delegate votes, the convention voted to support Fair Play 658 to 548, and the Texans voted 33-5 for Eisenhower as a result. In addition, several uncommitted state delegations, such as Michigan and Pennsylvania, agreed to support Eisenhower. There were rumors after the convention that the chairmen of these uncommitted states, such as Arthur Summerfield of Michigan, were secretly pressured by Dewey and the GOP's Eastern Establishment to support Eisenhower; however, these rumors were never proved. (Summerfield did become Ike's Postmaster General following the election.)

The addition of these formerly uncommitted state delegations, combined with Taft's loss of many Southern delegates due to the Fair Play proposal, decided the nomination in Eisenhower's favor. Despite his bitterness at his narrow defeat and his belief that he had been unfairly ambushed by the Eisenhower forces (including Governor Dewey), after the convention Taft issued a brief statement conveying his congratulations and support to Eisenhower. Thereafter, however, he brooded in silence at his summer home in Quebec. As the weeks passed, Eisenhower's aides worried that Taft and his supporters would sit on their hands during the campaign, and that as a result Eisenhower might lose the election. In September 1952 Taft finally agreed to meet with Eisenhower, at Morningside Heights in New York City. There, in order to gain Taft's support in the campaign, Eisenhower promised he would take no reprisals against Taft partisans, would cut federal spending, and would fight "creeping socialism in every domestic field." In fact, Eisenhower and Taft agreed on most domestic issues; their disagreements were primarily in foreign policy. Eisenhower firmly believed in NATO and was committed to the U.S. supporting anti-Communism in the Cold War.

Senate Majority Leader

Following Eisenhower's election and the GOP takeover of Congress, Taft served as Senate Majority Leader in 1953, and he strongly supported Eisenhower's domestic proposals. He worked hard to assist the inexperienced new officials of the administration. He even tried—with little success—to curb the excesses of red-baiting U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy. By April the President and Taft were friends and golfing companions, and Taft was praising his former adversary. Defeat in 1952, it seemed, had softened Taft. No longer burdened by presidential ambitions, he had become less partisan, less abrasive, and more conciliatory; during this time he was widely regarded as the most powerful man in Congress.

On May 26, 1953, Taft delivered his final speech, in which he presciently warned of the dangers of America's emerging Cold War foreign policy, and specifically U.S. military involvement in Southeast Asia:

I have never felt that we should send American soldiers to the Continent of Asia, which, of course, included China proper and Indo-China, simply because we are so outnumbered in fighting a land war on the Continent of Asia that it would bring about complete exhaustion even if we were able to win. ... So today, as since 1947 in Europe and 1950 in Asia, we are really trying to arm the world against Communist Russia, or at least furnish all the assistance which can be of use to them in opposing Communism.

Is this policy of uniting the free world against Communism in time of peace going to be a practical long-term policy? I have always been a skeptic on the subject of the military practicability of NATO. ... I have always felt that we should not attempt to fight Russia on the ground on the Continent of Europe any more than we should attempt to fight China on the Continent of Asia.[15]

Death and legacy

In early 1953 Taft began to feel pain in his hips, and after a painful golf outing with President Eisenhower in April 1953 he entered Walter Reed Hospital for initial tests which led doctors to suspect a tumor or arthritis. Tests in May at Holmes Memorial Hospital near Cincinnati revealed that his body was full of cancer.[16] In late May 1953, Taft transferred his duties as Senate Majority Leader to Senator William Knowland of California,[citation needed] but he did not resign his Senate seat and told reporters that he expected to recover and return to work. However, his condition rapidly worsened, and Taft returned to New York Hospital for surgery on July 4 during a Senate recess. He died on July 31, suffering a final brain hemorrhage just hours after his wife Martha's final visit.[16] President Eisenhower and many prominent politicians from both parties attended his funeral. He is buried at Indian Hill Episcopal Church Cemetery in Cincinnati.

In 1957, a committee led by Senator John F. Kennedy selected Taft as one of five of their greatest Senate predecessors whose oval portraits would adorn the President's Room off the Senate floor. Kennedy would profile him in his book Profiles in Courage, and Taft continues to be regarded by historians as one of the most powerful U.S. Senators of the twentieth century. (Patterson, p. 617)

Statue at the Robert A. Taft Memorial and Carillon


The Robert A. Taft Memorial, featuring a 10-foot (3.0 m) statue by the sculptor Wheeler Williams and a bell tower, is located north of the Capitol on Constitution Avenue. The inscription on the tower reads:

"This Memorial to Robert A. Taft, presented by the people to the Congress of the United States, stands as a tribute to the honesty, indomitable courage, and high principles of free government symbolized by his life."[17]

Electoral history


  1. ^ "The "Famous Five"". Retrieved 2007-01-29. 
  2. ^ Robbins, Alexandra (2002). Secrets of the Tomb: Skull and Bones, the Ivy League, and the Hidden Paths of Power. Boston: Little, Brown. ISBN 0-316-72091-7. 
  3. ^ "Taft's son elected to Skull and Bones". New York Times. 28 May 1909. 
  4. ^ Time Magazine. 1940. Education: Skull & Bones.
  5. ^ Taft, Foreign Policy for Americans p. 37
  6. ^ Taft Papers 1:271
  7. ^ (Patterson, pp. 112-116)
  8. ^ How We Got Here: The '70s. New York, New York: Basic Books. 2000. p. 7. ISBN 0465041957. 
  9. ^ (Patterson, pgs. 332-333)
  10. ^ Ruch, Walter (1946-10-06). "Taft Condemns Hanging for Nazis as Unjust Verdict". The New York Times: p. 1. Retrieved 2008-01-30. 
  11. ^ Charles C. Brown, "Robert A. Taft, Champion of Public Housing and National Aid to Schools," Cincinnati Historical Society Bulletin, 1968, Vol. 26 Issue 3, pp 219-253
  12. ^ a b Woods, Thomas (2005-07-07) Presidential War Powers,
  13. ^ Taft calls for Military Aid to protect New Israel State Milwaukee Sentinel May 17, 1948
  14. ^ Dionne, E.J., Why Americans Hate Politics, pg. 265
  15. ^ Rothbard, Murray. Swan Song of the Old Right,
  16. ^ a b Wead, Doug (2004). All the Presidents' Children: Triumph and Tragedy in the Lives of America's First Families. Simon and Schuster. p. 209. ISBN 9780743446334. Retrieved April 19, 2009. 
  17. ^ "The Robert A. Taft Memorial and Carillon". Retrieved 2007-10-13. 

Secondary sources

  • Armstrong John P. "The Enigma of Senator Taft and American Foreign Policy." Review of Politics 17:2 (1955): 206–231. in JSTOR
  • Berger Henry. "A Conservative Critique of Containment: Senator Taft on the Early Cold War Program." In David Horowitz, ed., Containment and Revolution. (1967), pp 132–39
  • Berger, Henry. "Senator Robert A. Taft Dissents from Military Escalation." In Thomas G. Paterson, ed., Cold War Critics: Alternatives to American Foreign Policy in the Truman Years. (1971)
  • Doenecke, Justus D. Not to the Swift: The Old Isolationists in the Cold War Era (1979), by a conservative historian
  • Farber, David. The Rise and Fall of Modern American Conservatism: A Short History (2010) pp 9–38
  • Hayes, Michael T. The Republican Road Not Taken: The Foreign-Policy Vision of Robert A. Taft, Independent Review [1]
  • Kirk, Russell, and James McClellan. The Political Principles of Robert A. Taft (1967), by a leading conservative
  • Malsberger, John W. From Obstruction to Moderation: The Transformation of Senate Conservatism, 1938–1952 (2000)
  • Matthews, Geoffrey. "Robert A. Taft, the Constitution, and American Foreign Policy, 1939–53," Journal of Contemporary History, 17 (July, 1982),
  • Moore, John Robert. "The Conservative Coalition in the United States Senate, 1942–45." Journal of Southern History 1967 33(3): 369–376. uses roll calls in JSTOR
  • Moser, John E. "Principles Without Program: Senator Robert A. Taft and American Foreign Policy," Ohio History (1999) 108#2 pp 177–92 online edition, by a conservative historian
  • Patterson, James T. "A Conservative Coalition Forms in Congress, 1933–1939," The Journal of American History, Vol. 52, No. 4. (Mar., 1966), pp. 757–772. in JSTOR
  • Patterson, James T. Congressional Conservatism and the New Deal: The Growth of the Conservative Coalition in Congress, 1933–39 (1967)
  • Patterson, James T. "Robert Alphonso Taft". Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 5: 1951–1955. American Council of Learned Societies, 1977.
  • Patterson, James T. Mr. Republican: A Biography of Robert A. Taft (1972), standard scholarly biography
  • Radosh. Ronald. Prophets on the right: Profiles of conservative critics of American globalism (1978)
  • Reinhard, David W. The Republican Right Since 1945 (1983) online edition
  • Van Dyke, Vernon, and Edward Lane Davis. "Senator Taft and American Security." Journal of Politics 14 (1952): 177–202. online edition
  • White; William S. The Taft Story (1954). Pulitzer prize online edition
  • Wunderlin, Clarence E. Robert A Taft: Ideas, Tradition, And Party In U.S. Foreign Policy (2005).

Primary sources

  • Kirk, Russell and James McClellan, eds. The Political Principles of Robert A. Taft (1967).
  • Wunderlin, Clarence E. Jr., et al. eds. The Papers of Robert A. Taft vol 1, 1889–1939 (1998); vol 2, 1940–1944 (2001); vol 3, 1945–1948 (2003); vol 4, 1949–1953 (2006).
  • Robert A. Taft, A Foreign Policy for Americans
United States Senate
Preceded by
Robert J. Bulkley
United States Senator (Class 3) from Ohio
1939 – 1953
Served alongside: A. Victor Donahey, Harold H. Burton,
James W. Huffman, Kingsley A. Taft, and John W. Bricker
Succeeded by
Thomas A. Burke
Party political offices
Preceded by
Chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee
Succeeded by
William F. Knowland
Preceded by
Styles Bridges
New Hampshire
Senate Republican Leader
Succeeded by
William F. Knowland
Honorary titles
Preceded by
John J. Pershing
Persons who have lain in state or honor
in the United States Capitol rotunda

August 2 – August 3, 1953
Succeeded by
Unknown Soldiers of World War II
and the Korean War

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