Plenty of Presidents were governors before ascending to the White House, but most of them oversaw states within the U.S. One exception was William Howard Taft, who served as governor of the Philippines and Cuba. Taft’s political aspirations were matched (if not surpassed) by those of his wife, Helen “Nellie” Herron Taft, who vowed as a young woman to become First Lady; when President William McKinley asked William Howard Taft to establish a civilian government in the Philippines, which was then a U.S. protectorate, Nellie was considerably more pleased than her husband was. Taft served as governor-general from July 4, 1901, until December 23, 1903, twice turning down what in many ways was his true lifelong ambition: a spot on the Supreme Court.
His foreign service didn’t end there. While serving as secretary of war under Theodore Roosevelt from 1904 to 1908, Taft traveled to Cuba after the island’s president, Tomás Estrada Palma, asked the U.S. to intervene in ongoing conflicts over its recent election following the country’s 1902 independence. The terms of the 1903 Cuban–American Treaty of Relations allowed the U.S. to intervene militarily in order to preserve Cuba’s independence, and Palma resigned when he realized Taft wasn’t going to do so on his behalf. The following day, September 29, 1906, Taft established a provisional government in Cuba and made himself its provisional governor, a post he held for two weeks before being succeeded by Charles Edward Magoon. Taft went on to serve as President of the United States from 1909 until 1913 and as chief justice of the United States from 1921 until 1930.