William Howard Taft's Executive Orders

Instructor: Mary Ruth Sanders Bracy

Mary Ruth teaches college history and has a PhD.

In this lesson, we will learn about President William Howard Taft's executive orders. Taft used the executive power to address land distribution in the West, which impacted Native American policy.

Who Was President Taft?

What do the Emancipation Proclamation, Japanese Internment in World War I, and the rule that federal employees can go home at noon on December 24 have in common? They were all accomplished by executive order, which is an instruction from the president that has the full force of law. Executive orders allow presidents to create or adjust policies without going through Congress.

William Howard Taft was president of the United States from 1909-1913. He was a Republican and originally from Ohio. Later, he became the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1921-1930). He was the only man in U.S. history to serve in both of those roles. Taft was a fairly unremarkable president. Sandwiched between Theodore Roosevelt (a larger-than-life figure and extremely popular man) and Woodrow Wilson (who shepherded the United States through World War I), Taft's presidency was quite uneventful.

President William Howard Taft
President William Howard Taft

Like his predecessor Theodore Roosevelt, Taft believed in conservation. Roosevelt used more executive orders than any president previously, mostly to create national forests, parks, and wildlife refuges. Taft, on the other hand, preferred that Congress create laws to address conservation. Still, he did issue some executive orders — 724 over the course of his presidency. Most of Taft's executive orders also dealt with land use as he used his executive authority to redistribute land in the West. This had two impacts. First, it reserved a significant amount of land to the public domain. Second, it impacted Native American policy because Taft granted land to and took land from Native American tribes.

Let's look at some specific executive orders that redistributed land in the American West.

Confiscating Native American Land

With the passage of the Dawes Act in 1887, the U.S. government's policy toward Native American land use changed significantly. The law allowed land to be distributed among individuals instead of being held in common by the tribe or as a reservation. Because of this, the government was able to seize Native American land for its own purposes. Some of Taft's executive orders that accomplished this were:

  • Executive Order 1090 — Camp McDowell Reservation, Arizona. Signed in 1909, this order took land from the Papago Indians and returned it to the public domain.
  • Executive Order 1172 — Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation, New Mexico. This 1910 executive order confiscated the land of the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation and returned it to the public domain.
  • Executive Order 1485 — Restoration: San Bernadino Meridian, California. Signed in 1912, this executive order restored Native American land to the public domain ''for purpose of settlement and entry.''

Granting Native American Land

Even though the Dawes Act allowed for confiscation, President Taft reserved more land for Native American use while he was president than he confiscated. Some of these executive orders were:

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