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William Howard Taft holds the significant distinction of being the only person in the history of the nation to preside over two branches of the federal government. He was President from 1909 to 1913, and he was Chief Justice of the United States from 1921 to 1930. This achievement ought to have secured Taft a prominent position within the history of the Court. Yet Taft has drifted into almost complete professional eclipse. Although familiar to specialists in legal history, Taft is no more known to the average lawyer or law student than are Chief Justices White, Fuller, or Waite.Taft’s contemporary obscurity is remarkable. When Taft died on March 8, 1930, the nation convulsed in an overpowering and spontaneous wave of mourning. He was widely characterized as “the most beloved of Americans,” and hailed by observers like Augustus Hand, then a federal district Judge in New York, as “the greatest figure as Chief Justice since John Marshall.” Even Felix Frankfurter, certainly no admirer of Taft’s jurisprudence, was moved to observe that “Few public men have evoked such spontaneous and warm affection from the public as has Taft. . . . He is a dear man-a true human.”

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