Another edition of the presidential election series will be discussing the election of 1908 as Theodore Roosevelt is stepping away from the oval office in order to have his best friend take his place, William Howard Taft, but in order for this to happen he’ll have to take on a man is looking for one more shot at becoming the president…
Teddy’s Out of the Game
Since his victory in the 1904 election, Theodore Roosevelt has continued his progressive policies on environmental and consumer protections while also passing into law the Hepburn Act of 1906 which allowed the government to regulate railroad rates that were too high for merchants to afford.
Not only that but with the help of Upton Sinclair and his influential book ‘The Jungle’, Roosevelt passed the Pure and Food Drug Act & the Meat Inspection Act which prevented foods with dangerous chemicals and misleading labels to not be sold or shipped out.
After all of this, Roosevelt decided not to seek another term as president which would’ve technically been seen as a third term and instead, he looked to give the mantel of POTUS to someone who he believes will continue on his policies for the next four years.
Roosevelt’s Handpick Successor
After Roosevelt chose not to run again for another term, he decided the man who should succeed him as president was his best friend and protégé, William Howard Taft who was a former lawyer and the then Secretary of War during Roosevelt’s time in office.
Whilst Taft was hesitant to the idea of running for president as his aspersions were more centred around becoming a judge for the Supreme Court, he decided to follow along with his buddy’s plans and decided to run.
1908 was the first time a presidential preference primary took place which allowed multiple states to nominate delegates for the Republican National Convention (or RNC for short) and to the fact that Roosevelt was widely loved by the party, most of the delegates went with the president’s hand pick successor as their nominee despite most in the convention wanting Roosevelt to run again.
Taft accepted the Republican Party’s nomination for president with James Schoolcraft Sherman, the then U.S. Representative from New York as his running mate.
Now let’s look at the opposite side of the political spectrum and see who the Democrats nominate as their candidate.
The Return of the Preacher Man
With news that Theodore Roosevelt wasn’t running in 1908, the Democratic Party saw their progressive leader: William Jennings Bryan as a more worthy successor to the president especially since he was promoting many of the policy ideas Roosevelt enacted long before the reform minded Republican became commander and chief.
Bryan’s only opponent in getting the nomination was John A. Anderson who was the Governor of Minnesota that had a history of being a reformer for much of his career and he looked popular enough to even win states that had previously gone to the Republicans, however by the time of the Democratic National Convention (or DNC for short) everyone including Anderson saw that Bryan had the most support from the progressive wing of the party.
William Jennings Bryan in his third time around got the Democratic Party’s nomination for president and the delegates at the convention chose his running mate in the form of John Kern who was a former State Senator from Indiana.
Upon the news of the Democratic Party’s nominees for president and vice president, most of the newspapers lambasted them with the New York Times claiming that “A man twice defeated for the Presidency was at the head of it, and a man twice defeated for the Governor of his state was at the tail of it”.
William J. Bryan is back at it as he gets the nomination and he thinks his going sweep the floor with Roosevelt’s protégé, but before we get into the campaigns between the two major candidates we have to talk about another person who’s back in 1908 running for president.
The Socialist Party
Following their success within the popular vote in the 1904 election, the Socialist Party returned with Eugene Debs again as their candidate for president with Ben Hanford again as his running mate. Just like William Jennings Bryan, this was Debs’ third time running for president but after proving the rumours of his health being in bad shape were untrue, Debs won his party’s nomination.
A lot of influential figures of the day including the current president believed that Debs and the Socialist Party would end up stealing some of the progressive voters that would’ve gone to Taft but were also not satisfied with Bryan as the Democratic nominee and others presumed that the party would end up getting a million votes by election day.
Now it’s time to focus on the campaigns of each candidate heading into this election.
Much like his previous two attempts for president, Williams Jennings Bryan did a lot of travelling and gave numerous speeches in order to fire up the base and rally more support.
Bryan’s support of silver currency by 1908 was considered antiquated, so he switched up his focus on the issues of campaign finance reform and pushed for the direct election of senators and the creation of an income tax whilst promoting the party slogan “Shall the People Rule?”
Since Taft was running on the same ideas that Roosevelt supported and with many of them being seen as progressive, this ended up driving most of the progressive voters away from Bryan and it probably didn’t help that Taft’s campaign slogan in this election was “Vote for Taft now, you can vote for Bryan anytime.” which was a not-so-subtle dig at Bryan’s two failed runs for the presidency in 1896 and 1900.
For his part, Eugene Debs went on an extensive whistlestop tour where he traveled around the country making brief appearances while also delivering speeches from the back of the train however this also made him worn out, so Theodore Debs (Eugene’s brother) gave speeches in his place as the Socialist candidate regained his energy.
So that’s how all three candidates are operating their campaigns for this election, now it’s time to see who emerged as the victor by looking at the results.
Since the last election, the new state of Oklahoma was now able to vote in this election thereby increasing the number of electoral votes needed to win by 242 or more.
When election day rolled around, William Howard Taft easily won thus becoming the 27th president in U.S. history; Taft won with 321 electoral votes and 51.6% of the popular while also carrying 29 states in the process.
William Jennings Bryan, in his third and final bid for the presidency came in second place once more with 162 electoral votes, which was better than his previous performance in 1900, but he also suffered his worse showing in the popular vote ever in this election, receiving 43.1% and carrying only 17 states. Eugene Debs and the Socialist Party came in third place again but were unable to get the million votes they had anticipated, instead, they walked away with 2.8% of the popular vote.
With this victory by William Howard Taft, the Republican Party gained their fourth consecutive win for the presidency since 1872.
And that’s the election of 1908, William Jennings Bryan strikes out, Theodore Roosevelt is heading to Africa to go hunt some animals and William Howard Taft is now tasked with the goal of continuing the policies of his predecessor which will lead to some mixed results as we head into the election of 1912.
The Election of 1904: Theodore Roosvelt vs. Alton B. Parker
The Election of 1900: William McKinley vs. William Jennings Bryan
The Election of 1896: William McKinley vs. Williams Jennings Bryan
The Election of 1892: Grover Cleveland vs. Benjamin Harrison vs. James B. Weaver