The election of 1912 and this one has everything you could possibly imagine: multiple candidates, bad blood, and an assassination attempt on the campaign trail…So strap yourselves in folks, because this race going to be a crazy one featuring the Bull Moose Party!
The Presidency of William Howard Taft
After winning the election of 1908 mainly due to being Roosevelt’s handpicked successor, the newly elected President Taft was now in a position he never wanted to begin with, but attempted to make the best out of it.
Taft’s time in office came be divided in a three categories:
- Foreign Affairs
- Domestic Policies
- Issues within his administration
Let’s start with the foreign policies…President Taft made a staunch effort to not use military force in order to spread American influence aboard, but instead he wished to use arbitration in order to settle issues that would make both sides happy and also adopted the policy later known as ‘Dollar Diplomacy’ which sought to expand the Unites State’s financial reach to other countries like Latin America and East Asia.
Taft also looked to reduce as much European influence as possible and even proposed using the ‘Monroe Doctrine’ if necessary, while at the same time intervening in foreign matters involving Mexico and Nicaragua.
On the Domestic side of things, Taft refused to sign a bill that was supported by many labor unions, he removed all African Americans who held office jobs in the South, he appointed six different people to the Supreme Court, he allowed New Mexico and Arizona to officially become states and he busted up 70 out of 99 corrupt trusts which was more than Roosevelt’s who had broken up 40 during his time in office…So some bad and some good.
When it comes to issues within his administration, Taft went on to fire most of the people Roosevelt had previously appointed to positions of power and this became evident with the Ballinger-Pinchot Affair which saw the president replacing the current Interior Secretary, James Garfield with the former mayor of Seattle Washington, Richard A. Ballinger as Taft’s views on how to deal with conservation were far different from Roosevelt’s.
This appointment by Taft would lead to so much conflict that the Chief Forrester of the Roosevelt administration, Gifford Pinchot began voicing his disapproval which ultimately saw Pinchot getting fired from his position and would further escalate the division’s occurring within the president’s cabinet as the more conservative side (which Taft supported) was squeezing the more progressive side (that Roosevelt supported) out of the picture.
The Return of the Old Lion
Following the 1908 election, Theodore Roosevelt decides to spend some time with his family and even went hunting for animals in Africa, however during his travels Roosevelt hears what William Howard Taft is doing as president and this angers him not only because Taft is firing people TR appointed to government jobs, but Taft’s trusting busting/investigations on businesses like Standard Oil, and U.S. Steel enraged the former president as Roosevelt either approved or supported these companies.
After making his grand return to New York City and getting a massive ovation in 1910, Roosevelt is convinced by many progressives to break his promise to not run for another term and decides to go for the Republicans party’s nomination for president which by this point has increased the number of GOP primaries as a way to reduce the influence many of the party bosses previously had.
Despite the fact that Roosevelt performed better than his protégé and got more delegates, it becomes all in vain as the GOP party bosses controlled the convention and they decided to go against the will of the people and give the nomination to William Howard Taft which causes a large amount of chaos within the convention over claims of fraudulent votes being given to the incumbent president by many of the Roosevelt supporters.
Ultimately, Roosevelt and his supporters stormed out of the convention to create a new political party, leaving William Howard Taft to accept the nomination with Vice President James Sherman again as his running mate making Sherman the first sitting VP to be re-nominated since John C. Calhoun back in 1828.
The Bull Moose Party aka Progressive Party
A few weeks after the fiasco that was the GOP Convention, Theodore Roosevelt and a large swarm of his supporters and fellow progressives held their own convention for the newly created ‘Progressive Party’ also referred to as ‘The Bull Moose Party’ after Roosevelt allegedly responded to a journalist with the remark “I’m feeling as strong as a bull moose.”
The former president was welcomed with thunderous applause and Roosevelt unanimously got the Progressive Party’s nomination with Hiram Johnson, the Governor of California as his running mate.
Roosevelt proposed a platform that called for a “New Nationalism” which focused on ideas like:
- Women Suffrage
- An 8 Hour Work Day
- The Direct Election of U.S. Senators
- An Inheritance Tax
- Minimum Wage for Women
- Finance Reform in terms of Campaign Contributions
- A National Health Service
- An Income Tax via constitutional amendment
- Worker’s Compensation
- A Social Security System
- and more…
Because most third parties lack the money and influence of the Democrats and Republicans, Roosevelt and his supporters are traveling everywhere they can to get their progressive agenda out to the masses.
So that’s how the presidency of William Howard Taft has gone and how it’s led to Roosevelt running under a new party, but there’s still two more candidates to mention before we get into the election itself.
With all this drama going on between Taft/Roosevelt and their respective party wings, the Democrats were feeling mighty confident about their chances going into this election.
Since the last Democrat elected to the White House was all the way back in 1892, the party needed to find someone who could get them back into power and the two leading names running for the nomination was Champ Clark, the then Speaker of the House from Missouri and Woodrow Wilson the Governor of New Jersey.
Wilson, who was a reform minded progressive who believed that he wouldn’t get the nomination especially after his decision to turn his back on the corrupt Democratic bosses upon winning the Governorship in New Jersey, however that changed when the corrupt politicians of New York’s Tammany Hall endorsed Champ Clark leading to the Democratic Party’s progressive leader, William Jennings Bryan to throw his support behind Wilson.
After 46 ballots and some animosity within the convention, Wilson wins the party’s nomination and his bringing along with him as his running mate: Thomas Marshall, who was the Governor of Indiana and just one of a few other politicians who swung their votes over to the New Jersey Governor.
Wilson’s platform going into this election was called “The New Freedom” which were progressive reforms on tariffs, business and banking while also looking to abolish monopiles that have been enriching themselves under the presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.
Eugene Debs & The Socialist Party
The last main player in this race is Eugene Victor Debs, the former Union Leader from Indiana who ran with the Socialist Party back in 1900, 1904 and 1908.
During William Howard Taft’s time in office, many Americans are feeling much discontent over the fact that many of Taft’s policies are focusing more on pro-business conservatism than progressivism and this leads to many believing that the Socialist Party will see a major rise in popularity going into the election of 1912.
With a growing number of workers unhappy with their present conditions and many members of the Socialists Party winning elections in the state and local level, Eugene Debs decides to run for president a fourth time and gets the nomination with a new running mate in Emil Seidel, who is the Mayor of Milwaukee Wisconsin and the first socialist mayor of a major U.S. city.
So those are the four major candidates running for president in 1912, now let’s take a look at the campaigns that each candidate is using in this election.
Bad Blood & Campaigning
Most of the election as you can imagine focused mainly on the rivalry between Taft and Roosevelt with the former friends constantly badmouthing each other in the press with Roosevelt calling Taft a traitor to the progressive cause while Taft would call Roosevelt’s policy ideas radical if not fringing on the verge socialism.
However, it doesn’t take long for the incumbent POTUS to realize that he stood very little chance against his predecessor’s verbal attacks or the progressive platform Roosevelt and Wilson were offering the American people.
Not only that, but Taft’s vice president would die less than a week before the election thus leading to William Howard Taft hastily picking the president of Columbia University, Nicolas Butler as his new running mate making James S. Sherman the last VP to die while still being in office.
Eugene Debs for his part is making numerous speeches everywhere he goes where he criticizes the two major parties for being in the back pocket of the wealthy elites whilst lambasting the former president as an unprincipled demagogue and nicknaming the current president “Injection Bill Taft”. However, due to the Socialist Party have very little money and the fact that many of Roosevelt’s ideas appealed to some socialist voters, leaves many Debs supporters to shift away and vote for the progressives.
With Taft seeing no hope for victory and the Socialists being relegated to the background thanks to the Bull Moose Party, this election soon became a race between Roosevelt and Wilson with both men using speeches and in Wilson’s case motion pictures to help sway the people to their side even though both are running as progressives in this election.
While both Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt were running as progressives in this election, Wilson has the benefit of being the nominee for one of the established political parties thus making it easier for him to reach the masses as opposed to Roosevelt who is running as a third party candidate and like much third parties they don’t have much of the influence or financial backing of the Democrats or Republican to campaign for long periods of time.
Even still, Roosevelt is using his popularity and dynamic skills as a speaker to draw huge crowds even at the expense of his own health, however its Roosvelt’s health that becomes a big issue on October 14th during a trip in Wisconsin.
As the former president prepares to leave his hotel to deliver a speech at the Wisconsin Auditorium now called Miller High Life Theatre, a former saloonkeeper named John Schrank pulls out a .38 caliber revolver and shoots Roosevelt straight in the chest.
Miraculously, Roosevelt doesn’t die from the assassination attempt as his steel eyeglass case and his 50-page folded speech in his breast pocket saved his life. Roosevelt then tells the crowd not to hurt his assailant and allows the police to drag him away.
In case you’re wondering why Schrank decided to shoot Teddy Roosevelt in the first place, well the story goes that the deranged saloonkeeper had a dream in which former president William McKinley rose from his coffin and pointed to a figure who looked like Roosevelt and was instructed by the dead president to avenge his death…needless to say, Schrank was declared insane and was sent to a mental hospital where he lived until passing away in September of 1943.
If you can believe it, Teddy Roosevelt despite having the bullet still lodged in chest, he went on to give that speech to the Wisconsin crowd which lasted for…84-90 minutes!!! and the former POTUS even showed off his speech and his bloody shirt which both had bullet holes inside leaving the crowd in absolute shock that the former president was shot.
While this moment of badassery has become the stuff of legend in the life and times of Theodore Roosevelt, it also led to the campaigns coming to a temporary halt in order for the former president to heal up from the assassination attempt.
After all of this madness and stunning turn of events, it’s time to look at the results with the electoral votes needed to win this race being 266 or more thanks to the inclusion of New Mexico and Arizona, but as you’ll soon see from the electoral map the winner of this election didn’t have any problem scooping up votes.
From an electoral standpoint, Woodrow Wilson easily defeats his three rivals to become the 28th president in U.S. History; Winning with an mind blowing 435 electoral votes, but only receiving 41.8% of the popular vote which is the lowest amount of the popular vote won a newly elected Democratic president since James Buchanan in the election of 1856.
Speaking of mind blowing, Theodore Roosevelt came in second place…that’s right…in second place with 88 electoral votes (which were the states of Washington, California, South Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan and Pennsylvania) and 27.4% of the popular vote, however Roosevelt, Taft, and Debs all lost their home states in this election to Wilson.
Due to the fact that many Republicans who supported progressive ideas jump onboard to the Bull Moose Party, William Howard Taft came in third with an abysmal 8 electoral votes (which was two states: Utah and Vermont) and 23.2% of the popular vote meaning that Taft suffered the worse loss of any U.S. president attempting to be re-elected.
Eugene Debs came in fourth place with no electoral votes but pulled in an impressive 6% of the popular vote which is the best performance for the Socialist Party in a presidential election.
Many historians today believe that the split within the Republican Party is what led to Woodrow Wilson’s landslide victory in the electoral college. Had Roosevelt won the GOP nomination for president than TR would’ve become president again and the first one to serve a third term albeit a third nonconsecutive term.
Regardless of his loss to Wilson, the former president Theodore Roosevelt did make history by becoming the first and to date only third party candidate in American History to ever come in second place in a presidential election.