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Robert A. Taft

Robert Alphonso Taft was born on September 8, 1889, in Cincinnati, into one of Ohio`s most famous political families. His grandfather, Alphonso, had been President Ulysses S. Grant`s secretary of war. His father was William Howard Taft, later to become the 19th president of the United States. Robert Taft was a junior at Yale University when his father achieved the White House in 1909. Not having to struggle financially, Taft attended the best of schools. He attended school in Cincinnati and Taft school (operated by the family) in Watertown, Connecticut. He lived comfortably and traveled extensively, including furthering his education in the Philippine Islands. He associated with aristocratic families and married an heiress, Martha Bowers. Despite his elite status, Taft was a serious student and assumed that he would make his own way in the world. He graduated from Yale University in 1910, and from Harvard University Law School in 1913. Taft was admitted to the Ohio Bar association in the same year. In addition to his law practice, Taft became the assistant counsel with the United States Food Administration in 1917 and 1918. It was there that he became friends with Herbert Hoover. He assisted Hoover in distributing food to the Europeans during World War I. He strongly endorsed Hoover for the Republican presidential nomination in 1920 and again in 1928. Taft harbored public service aspirations as did his family. He served as member of the House of Representatives from 1921 to 1926 and also served as the speaker and Republican majority leader in 1926. His endeavors made an impression on the public, as he achieved a variety of moderate reforms and worked to enhance economic efficiency throughout his state. By the early 1930s, Taft gained recognition as a politician who struggled to improve Ohio’s public institutions. Taft lost his father in 1930. Losses continued with the onset of The Great Depression. His law practice survived along with his personal fortune; however, devastation hit his political circle. He had been elected to the state senate in 1930, but failed to be reelected in 1932. His friend, President Hoover, and other friends in the Hoover administration, were voted out of office and badly discredited. His own reputation untarnished, however, Taft found new direction with his opposition to incoming president Franklin D. Roosevelt`s New Deal. But never having to deal with money issues before, and previously unaware of how the poor lived, Taft would gain new insight into the American people. Robert A. Taft By 1935 Taft recognized the need to help the underprivileged. He then began to endorse federal relief programs, unemployment insurance and old-age pensions. He also supported government regulation of the banking and securities industries. Still relatively liberal on those issues as well as government-regulated collective bargaining, he hoped to win the approval and backing of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). However, Taft did not approve of the lengths to which President Roosevelt was going to alleviate the depression. While he acknowledged that Roosevelt addressed issues President Hoover had not, Taft felt strongly that the president`s ideas would lead America into a continued depression. He also did not agree with Roosevelt’s direction in regards to power and decision making in Washington, or his efforts to plan and direct economic activity. Taft’s belief was that if Roosevelt’s plan to extend the government’s hold into business went unchecked, it would inevitably lead to socialism and political tyranny. The National Recovery Administration (NRA) and Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) together confirmed for Taft what was basically wrong with the New Deal. Because of his ongoing opposition to President Roosevelt, Taft gained new respect among conservatives and he was given the title of “Mr. Republican." Also opposing the Roosevelt administration for urging the nation`s involvement in the European war, he said, "Our country is nearly self-sufficient and foreign trade will continue no matter who wins the war." Taft went on to become a major spokesman for the isolationist Republican Old Right. With his new goal and direction, he began a crusade by reorganizing the Cincinnati Republican organization. Confident of his ideals, he ran for the U.S. Senate in 1937 and won an easy victory over the incumbent, Robert Bulkley. In 1941, Senator Taft supported the positions of the America First Committee in opposition to Roosevelt`s drift towards war. He spoke strongly against Lend-Lease early in the year. By autumn, the drift had become a headlong rush, and as with each incident involving American vessels, FDR requested and received greater latitude from Congress to expose American vessels to further incidents. Taft remained an opponent until the end, speaking in the Senate on October 28, 1941:

It was just such sinkings and such deaths which took us into the World War. It is an almost inevitable cause of complete war. It is probably more likely to be so now than it was in the World War, because now these ships would be invariabley carrying contraband manufactured by the United States and shipped by us to the British in order to enable them to carry on war against Germany. There could hardly be any doubt in the mind of any German commander as to any such ship that it would be carrying contraband.
His opposition was to no avail and the Senate accepted Roosevelt`s suggested changes to the Neutrality Act on November 7, the House on November 13. A month later, the country was at war. Taft was reelected to the U.S. Senate in 1944 and again in 1950. During that time, Taft continued to be devoted to American institutions, yet expressed strong antiwar convictions. Due to his hard work, personal integrity and strong influence in policy making, Taft became known as a true conservative who was, nevertheless, receptive to new ideas. Taft continued to attack the initiatives of Roosevelt, then Truman. His focus lay on such domestic matters as federal aid, housing, medical care and education, which he felt were more important than foreign policy. The Taft-Hartley Act (co-sponsored by Taft), which set up controls over labor unions, was passed over President Harry S. Truman`s veto in June 1947. Truman denounced it as a "slave-labor bill." Taft`s failure to win the 1948 Republican nomination may be attributable to his reputation as an isolationist. He was notorious for condemning other politicians who supported wars, while he continually opposed U.S. involvement abroad. His consistent opposition to the draft was perhaps the best example of his belief in individual liberty. Before World War II, Taft was a leading isolationist, but the experience of that war led him to support establishment of the United Nations afterward. Wavering between two opposing views, such as isolationism and internationalism, did not gain credibility for Taft. Therefore, if he had any hopes at all to return as a candidate for election, he would have to prove otherwise. His slightly modified views came to life with the publication of his book, A Foreign Policy for Americans (1951), at which time he became the ranking Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The media jumped in to label Taft as "unelectable" as president, averring that he was too dull and seemed to change his mind almost on a daily basis. In 1952 Taft was considered to be a frontrunner, but he was eclipsed by war hero Dwight D. Eisenhower. Robert Taft stood for the GOP presidential nomination three times, but never received the nomination. He served in the U.S. Senate for 14 years and became Senate majority leader just before his death from cancer in New York City on July 31, 1953. Continuing the family tradition, his son Robert A. Taft Jr. served as U.S. Senator from Ohio from 1971 to 1977. His grandson Bob Taft was elected governor of Ohio in 1998.