Robert Alfonso Taft was a U.S. Senator and a prominent conservative. Taft was called “Mr. Republican” during his terms in the Senate, where he represented Ohio from 1939 until his death 14 years later. The grandson of an attorney general and the son of a president of the United States, Robert Taft was an assistant to Herbert Hoover during the First World War. At that time, Hoover was the director of the American Food Administration, which oversaw the supply and conservation of food for the duration of the war. Taft accompanied Hoover to Paris to attend the Versailles Conference, and, along with Hoover, he left the Wilson delegation on the grounds that the conference’s policies were creating the conditions for another European war.

Serving in the Ohio legislature, Taft gained national stature when, in the Supreme Court, he argued against President Franklin Roosevelt’s decision to criminalize all private domestic transactions in gold. In the 1938 elections, after the Congress rejected the president’s attempt to pack the U.S. Supreme Court, Taft was elected to the U.S. Senate.

Taft was greatly distrustful of big government; when the Republicans gained a majority in Congress in 1946, he led the fight against continuing government controls. As chairman of the Senate Labor Committee, he managed passage of the Taft–Hartley Labor Relations Act, which outlawed “closed shops”—those that required, as a condition of employment, that a worker be a member in good standing of the union. It also permitted the states to outlaw compulsory union membership for all new employees—the so‐​called “Right to Work.” Taft spoke extensively in the 1940s in favor of international law and an effective World Court as a solution to international problems and opposed the United Nations. As an advocate of international law and of constitutionalism, Taft opposed Harry Truman’s intervention in Korea in 1950 without a declaration of war by the Congress, as he opposed Truman’s seizure of the steel industry under the president’s power as commander in chief. Taft barely lost the 1952 Republican presidential nomination to Dwight D. Eisenhower; despite his losing the nomination, Eisenhower later adopted Taft’s principles in his Morningside Heights program of September 1952. Taft became majority leader of the U.S. Senate when the Republicans regained the majority in that body in the 1952 elections. He died in July 1953.

Further Readings

De John, Samuel, Jr. Robert Taft, Economic Conservatism, and Opposition to United States Foreign Policy, 1944–1951. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Southern California, August 1976.

Patterson, James T. Mr. Republican: A Biography of Robert A. Taft. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1972.

———. “Robert A. Taft and American Foreign Policy, 1939–1945.” Watershed of Empire: Essays in New Deal Foreign Policy. Leonard P. Liggio and James J. Martin, eds. Colorado Springs, CO: Ralph Myles, 1976.

Taft, Robert A. A Foreign Policy for Americans. New York: Doubleday, 1952.

Leonard Liggio
Originally published