Robert Taft


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(b. Cincinnati, Ohio, 8 Sept. 1889; d. New York City, 31 July 1953)

US; US Senator 1939–53 The son of President William Howard Taft, he bore the most famous name in Ohio politics. He took a BA at Yale University and graduated at Harvard Law School. He served as assistant counsel for the US Food Administration under Herbert Hoover in 1917–18 and worked also with Hoover in the American Relief Administration in Europe in 1919. After his return from Europe, he practised law in Ohio. He was deeply involved in the politics of the Republican Party in Ohio throughout his life. He served in the Ohio House of Representatives 1921–6, becoming Speaker in 1926, and in the Ohio Senate 1930–2. In 1938 he was elected to the US Senate and was re-elected in 1944 and 1950.

He took a conservative position and firmly opposed the New Deal. He was hostile to the growing power of organized labour. In 1947 he sponsored the Taft-Hartley Act, which banned the closed shop, permitted employers to sue unions for breach of contract and for damages during a strike or secondary boycott, and required an eighty-day cooling-off period before a strike. In foreign policy he took an isolationist stance throughout the 1930s and vehemently opposed such policies of President Franklin Roosevelt as Lend-Lease, which in his view were certain to take America into war. After Pearl Harbor he abandoned his isolationist position as unrealistic and supported American involvement in the war. He continued to support American involvement in international affairs after the Second World War but with considerable qualifications. He was a hesitant and reluctant supporter of such policies as the Marshall Plan and NATO.

He sought the Republican nomination for president unsuccessfully on three occasions, in 1940, 1948, and 1952. In 1952 he appeared to be the front runner for the Republican nomination but lost to Dwight D. Eisenhower, one of whose strongest reasons for entering the race was to prevent the nomination of a candidate with a foreign policy position not far removed from isolationism.

With the Republican victory in 1952 in the Senate elections as well as the presidential election, he became Senate majority leader and worked well with President Eisenhower despite their previous rivalry for the presidential nomination and their ideological differences on foreign and domestic policy. In the summer of 1953, however, he died of cancer.

Known as ‘Mr Republican’, he was the embodiment of conservative, Midwestern, isolationist Republicanism. He won respect for his intelligence and diligence. But he was somewhat cold in personality and too far to the right of the mainstream to succeed in his father's footsteps to the presidency.

Subjects: Politics — History.

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