The Life and Times of William Howard Taft: A Biography - Vol. 1

By Henry F. Pringle | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
RELUCTANT FEET

DIRECT evidence is lacking, but it is a safe assumption that Taft might have studied law at Yale, Columbia University or any other institution had he been anxious to do so. His father had taken an LL.B. at Yale. Charles P. Taft went to Columbia. So did Harry. But Will, greatly as he loved New Haven, entered the Cincinnati Law School in the fall of 1878. Perhaps he was drawn by the friends and acquaintances of his boyhood. His interest in the minutiae of Cincinnati social life-- the activities of the people of Mt. Auburn and Walnut Hills-- never faded. When he was chief justice of the United States, and old age had settled upon him, it delighted him to hear the latest gossip. He would sit on his cottage porch at Murray Bay, Quebec, and watch the colors of the changing river. Nothing pleased him more, at such hours, than telling and hearing stories about the men and women who had been the boys and girls of his youth, whether such stories were new, old or even scandalous.

The choice of a law school may not have mattered much in the seventies. To an extent, the degree was superfluous anyway. In many states a man became a lawyer by hanging out a shingle: "Attorney-at-law. Wills. Deeds. Notary Public." The pursuit of a legal education was a leisurely affair and the work, particularly for a college graduate, was less than arduous.

"What I really know of the law," Taft was fond of declaring, "I learned at the expense of Hamilton County, Ohio, as assistant prosecuting attorney, and judge of the Superior Court."1

The pace of life, fairly fast at Yale, slowed down during the summer of 1878 and for some years the particular devil assigned to William Howard Taft, the devil of lethargy, got in its work. On his twenty-first birthday he congratulated himself that he was "able to vote, to make a will or do anything which becomes a man. It hardly seems possible that I have arrived at manhood for I feel

____________________
1
Horacc D. Taft to author, Dec. 2, 1933.

-47-

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