Presidential Cabinet Secretary. The founder of the Taft Republican political dynasty, he served as the Secretary of War from March to May 1876 and the Attorney General from May 1876 until March 1877 under President Ulysses S. Grant. The only child of Peter Rawson Taft, a Vermont lawyer and politician, he attended local schools until the age of sixteen. He then taught school to earn money to attend Amherst Academy (now Amherst College) in Amherst, Massachusetts. In 1829 he entered Yale College at New Haven, Connecticut and graduated in 1833. From 1837 until 1837 he was an instructor at Elington, Connecticut and subsequently studied law at the Yale Law School and was admitted to the Connecticut bar in 1838. Taft elected not want to practice law in New York because he believed people were under the corrupting influence of wealth, so in 1839 he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio where he became a member of the Cincinnati City Council, and one of the most influential citizens of Ohio. In 1856 he was a delegate to the Republican National Convention, and also that year made an unsuccessful run for the US House of Representatives against George H. Pendleton. From 1866 until 1872 he was a judge of the Superior Court of Cincinnati, after which he resigned to practice law with two of his sons. In 1872 he was the first president of the Cincinnati Bar Association. In 1875 he ran for the Republican nomination for the Governor of Ohio but lost to future US President Rutherford B. Hayes. In 1876 when US Secretary of War William W. Belknap resigned, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed him for the position in March of that year. During his short term, he reformed and reversed War Department policy by having commanders at US military forts in the West to choose who would run post traderships. In May 1876 Grant appointed him to become the US Attorney General. The following October, after the highly contested Hayes-Tilden Presidential Election, he supported Grant's use of the military in South Carolina and Mississippi to suppress violence against African Americans in the South. He then cosponsored a bill, signed into law by Grant, that peacefully settled the 1876 Election with an Electoral Commission. In 1879 he was again an unsuccessful Republican candidate for Governor of Ohio, losing to Charles Foster. In 1882 he was appointed by President Chester A. Arthur as US Minister to Austria-Hungary until 1884 and US Minister to Imperial Russia in St. Petersburg from 1884 to 1885. He died at the age of 80. His son, William Howard Taft, became the 27th US President. Both his grandson and great-grandson, Robert A. Taft I and Robert Taft Jr., were US Senators and his great-great-grandson, Robert A. Taft II, was the Governor of Ohio from 1999 until 2007.
Bio by: William Bjornstad