The Election of 1912 Part I


Three republicans played important parts in the campaign of 1912,Taft, Roosevelt, and Senator La Follette, of Wisconsin. The last mentioned, called by admirers ''Battling Bob," came into prominence as an antagonist of the regular Wisconsin republicans led by Senator Spooner. By earnest appeals to the people he drove Spooner into retirement and established direct primaries and public control of railroads in his state. Securing a seat in the senate in 1906, he showed himself a tireless opponent of the Taft regulars, and in 1911 was considered a likely Western candidate for the presidential nomination. His views were too advanced for the East, and it was conceded that he would not take the prize away from Taft; but it .vas thought that if the latter were defeated at the polls, La Follette would be a man to be reckoned with in the future.

The Eastern insurgents accepted his leadership with some hesitation, for they thought Roosevelt a stronger man. In 1911, they organized at Chicago a Progressive Republican League, outwardly in support of La Follette. Similar local organizations were also widely formed. All these were republican. Roosevelt was known to be in sympathy with the movement, and it was whispered that he might become the candidate of the league, displacing the Wisconsin leader. February 2,1912, La Follette made a violent and rambling speech at a Philadelphia banquet. It was evident that a too strenuous canvass had overcome his physical strength, and his friends hurried him to a sanitarium. His collapse proved temporary, but the haste with which the Roosevelt progressives accepted it as final suggested that they gladly took it as an opportunity to bring forth their favorite. They so utilized the interval of La Toilette's eclipse that he could not recapture his lost position.

February 10 seven progressive governors with seventy other prominent progressives, representing twenty-four states, met to urge Roosevelt to .become a candidate for the republican nomination. February 14 he replied that the selection of a candidate should be left to republicans in primaries and that he would abide such a decision. Under existing conditions this answer made him a candidate. Three days earlier, at Columbus, Ohio, he had made a speech which, widely published under the title " A Charter of Democracy," was his personal platform. It declared for the recall of judicial decisions, asserted that the courts should not make law, and indorsed the initiative and referendum, a short ballot, residential primaries, and popular election of senators. His frank appearance in the arena brought down on him the attacks of Taft men and democrats. Immediately after his election in 1904 he had issued a statement that he should consider his coming administration a second term and would not accept another nomination. That statement was a source of much embarrassment before the campaign of 1912 ended.

The national republican convention was to meet at Chicago, June 18, and the two factions began a vigorous canvass to secure the delegates. As Taft had the support of the organization men generally, Roosevelt demanded primaries, and when the demand was opposed declared that his opponent was the champion of the bosses. In fact, the old Platt machine of New York, now led by Barnes, the old Quay machine of Pennsylvania, now led by Penrose, the Lorimer machine of Illinois, and other less prominent groups of party managers were for Taft; but, nevertheless, Roosevelt's accusation was unjust. Taft had ever stood for clean government, and could not rid of bosses the party which had made him its leader with the aid of Roosevelt himself.

Thirteen states employed primaries in one form or another, and Roosevelt carried nine, Taft two, and La Follette two. In Illinois and Ohio, Roosevelt had the popular indorsement, but the plan in use left the selection of delegates to conventions chosen in the old way, and the conventions named men not in sympathy with Roosevelt. Most of the states having no primaries selected Taft delegates. Wherever they felt themselves victims of wrongs the progressives named contesting delegations, some of them on very weak grounds.

The Southern delgates, peculiarly under the influence of the officeholders, were generally for Taft. The contests first went before the national committee controlled by the regulars, who made up the temporary roll of the convention. Out of 254 disputed seats 235 were awarded to Taft men. The regulars claimed the contests were insignificant, but the progressives asserted that Roosevelt was the victim of fraud. The states holding primaries had chosen 36 delegates for La Follette, 48 for Taft, and 278 for Roosevelt. This, it was said, indicated that the republican voters wanted Roosevelt and the machines wanted Taft. The temporary roll gave the latter a majority of about 20.

July 15 the progressive leader arrived in Chicago. Asked how he felt he replied, "Like a bull moose," from which phrase came the nickname, ''bull-moose party." When the convention assembled Senator Root was selected for temporary chair-man and made the keynote speech. A credentials committee was appointed which approved the decisions of the national committee in reference to contests. When the progressives questioned its report, they were defeated on a roll call. Roosevelt now advised his friends in the convention to refrain from further participation. On the first ballot for the nominee the result was Taft 561, Roosevelt 107, La Follette 41, scattering 19, and not voting 344. Taft was declared the nominee and James S. Sherman was made the candidate for the vice-presidency.

Republican dissensions had much interest for the democrats, who had their own conservatives and progressives. If Roosevelt had been the republican nominee, it would have been their interest to nominate a conservative, since many republicans would not vote for a progressive. Under such circumstances the conservative democrats might regain control of the party. At first this wing seemed inclined to unite on Governor Harmon, of Ohio, who satisfied the business men. He was not approved by the Western men, and when this was observed sentiment shifted to Underwood, who offered the prospect of uniting the South and East. He also was opposed by the Western men, of whom Bryan, though not now a candidate, as the most influential leader. Two other prominent aspirants appeared, Governor Wilson, of New Jersey, and Speaker Clark, of Missouri. Wilson was Southern born, a man of fine education, a reformer who had fought hard against the New Jersey machine, an eloquent speaker, and the champion of progressive ideas who, nevertheless, was likely to be more acceptable to the conservative East than an extreme reformer like Roosevelt. Clark was also a progressive, but he had risen to prominence as an organization man, and while he was popular as a campaign speaker, some persons feared that his close association with the regular politicians would take off the edge of his reforming zeal, once he was in office. Clark's friends, however, resented the idea that he was less a progressive than Wilson. Bryan did not at first commit himself as to the third and fourth candidate, but he was clear in his opposition to the first and second.

When the convention met, Baltimore, June 25, each of these candidates had strong support without a majority. The conservatives were well organized, and August Belmont, a great New Convention York banker, sat in his state's delegation, while Thomas F. Ryan, a successful Wall Street operator, sat in the Virginia delegation. It was soon evident that the conservatives feared Wilson most, and by agreeing with some of the Clark men they chose Alton B. Parker temporary chairman, against the protest of Bryan, to whom their action seemed the undoing of the work of years. They then offered him the permanent chairmanship, but he would not bind
his hands by accepting, and the position went to Ollie James, one of his supporters, but without a reciprocal pledge by Bryan. The Eastern press had many times announced the elimination of Bryan politics, and it again assured the public that he was cleverly outplayed in the game. But they burst into applause when, on June 29, he made a countermove whose boldness and sagacity have rarely been equaled in a party convention. Speaking as an individual delegate, he offered a resolution pledging the convention to nominate no man who was" the representative of or under obligation to" the great financial interests and demanding the withdrawal of Belmont and Ryan from the convention. Violent protests followed, but Bryan was not perturbed. He withdrew the latter part of his resolution when assured that the gentlemen named would withdraw of their own accord, an the first part was adopted by an overwhelming majority.


Website: The History
Article Name: The Election of 1912 Part I
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: A Short History of the United States by John Spencer Bassett, Ph.D. The Macmillan Company 1913
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