Alphonso Taft was born on November 5, 1810, in Townsend, Vermont. Taft's father participated in the Vermont legislature but earned his living principally through farming. Alphonso Taft attended the Amherst Academy and eventually enrolled in Yale College. Upon graduation, Taft taught at this institution. At the same time, Taft pursued a law degree from the Yale Law School. He received his degree in law in 1838.
Upon graduation, Taft moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he established a legal practice. Many of his cases involved railroad companies. Taft also served as one of the directors of the Little Miami Railroad and the Marietta & Cincinnati Railroad. He represented several other similar organizations in legal disputes.
In 1865, Taft became involved in politics. That year, the state legislature appointed him to the Ohio Superior Court. The most famous case that he participated in was one debating the reading of the Bible in public schools. The majority of jurists on the Superior Court ruled in favor of reading the Bible at the start of the school day, but Taft disagreed. He concluded that the King James version of the Bible, the version read in public schools, was not followed by a significant number of Roman Catholics. Taft also argued that the New Testament was not followed by Jews. The Ohio Supreme Court agreed with Taft, overturning the lower court's decision. Taft's position hurt him politically. Republican Party officials considered Taft for the party's nomination for Ohio's governor in 1875 and 1879. Each time, the officials cited Taft's ruling in this case for not selecting him.
Despite his setbacks in Ohio, Taft did attain prominent positions in the federal government. In 1876, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Taft as Secretary of War. Three months later, Grant appointed his fellow Ohioan Attorney General of the United States. Taft stepped down as Attorney General upon Rutherford B. Hayes's assumption of the presidency in 1877. In 1882, Taft became the United States minister to Austria, and he concluded his political career as United States minister to Russia, a position he held from 1883 to 1885. Taft died on May 28, 1891. The Taft name remained commonplace in national politics during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Taft's son, William Howard Taft, became President of the United States in 1909.