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|Presidential election results map. Red denotes states won by Taft/Butler, Blue denotes those won by Wilson/Marshall, Green denotes those won by Roosevelt/Johnson. Numbers indicate the number of electoral votes allotted to each state.|
The United States presidential election of 1912 was a rare four-way contest. Incumbent President William Howard Taft was renominated by the Republican Party with the support of its conservative wing. After former President Theodore Roosevelt failed to receive the Republican nomination, he called his own convention and created the Progressive Party (nicknamed the "Bull Moose Party"). It nominated Roosevelt and ran candidates for other offices in major states. Democrat Woodrow Wilson was finally nominated on the 46th ballot of a contentious convention, thanks to the support of William Jennings Bryan, the three-time Democratic presidential candidate who still had a large and loyal following in 1912. Eugene V. Debs was the nominee of the Socialist Party of America and got 6% of the popular vote, getting second place in several states.
Wilson defeated Taft, Roosevelt, and Debs in the general election, winning a big majority in the Electoral College and 42% of the popular vote, while his nearest rival, Roosevelt, won only 27%. Wilson became the only elected president from the Democratic Party between 1892 and 1932. He was the second of only two Democrats to be elected president between 1860 and 1932. This was the last election in which a candidate who was not a Republican or Democrat came second in either the popular vote or the Electoral College, and the first election in which all 48 states of the contiguous United States participated.
Progressive President Theodore Roosevelt had declined to run for re-election in 1908 in fulfillment of a pledge to the American people not to seek a second full term. Roosevelt's first term as president (1901–1905) was incomplete, as he succeeded to the office upon the assassination of William McKinley; it was only his second term (1905–1909) that encompassed four full years. He had tapped Secretary of War William Howard Taft to become his successor, and Taft had gone on to defeat Democrat William Jennings Bryan in the general election.
During Taft's administration, a rift grew between Roosevelt and Taft as they became the leaders of the Republican Party's two wings: the progressives, led by Roosevelt, and the conservatives, led by Taft. The progressive Republicans favored restrictions on the employment of women and children, favored ecological conservation, and were more sympathetic toward labor unions. The progressives were also in favor of the popular election of federal and state judges and opposed to having judges appointed by the president or state governors. The conservatives favored high tariffs on imported goods to encourage consumers to buy American-made products (as did most progressives), favored business leaders over labor unions, and were generally opposed to the popular election of judges.
By 1910 the split between the two wings of the Republican Party was deep, and this, in turn, caused Roosevelt and Taft to turn against one another, despite their personal friendship. Taft's popularity among Progressives officially collapsed when he supported the Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act in 1909 abandoned Roosevelt's anti-trust policy and fired popular conservationist Gifford Pinchot as head of the Bureau of Forestry in 1910.
For the first time significant numbers of delegates to the national conventions were elected in presidential preference primaries. Primary elections were advocated by the progressive faction in the Republican Party, which wanted to break the control of political parties by bosses. Altogether, twelve states held Republican primaries. Robert M. La Follette won two of the first four primaries (North Dakota and Wisconsin). Beginning with his runaway victory in Illinois on April 9, however, Roosevelt won nine of the last ten presidential primaries (in order, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, Oregon, Maryland, California, Ohio, New Jersey, and South Dakota), losing only Massachusetts to Taft. As a sign of his great popularity, Roosevelt even carried Taft's home state of Ohio.
The Republican Convention was held in Chicago from June 18 to June 22. Taft, however, had begun to gather delegates earlier, and the delegates chosen in the primaries were a minority. Taft had the support of the bulk of the party organizations in the Southern states. These states had voted solidly Democratic in every presidential election since 1880, and Roosevelt objected that they were given one-quarter of the delegates when they would contribute nothing to a Republican victory (as it turned out, delegates from the former Confederate states supported Taft by a 5 to 1 margin). When the convention gathered, Roosevelt challenged the credentials of nearly half of the delegates. By that time, however, it was too late. The delegates chose Elihu Root — once Roosevelt's top ally — to serve as chairman of the convention. Afterwards, the delegates seated Taft delegations in Alabama, Arizona, and California on tight contests of 597-472, 564-497, and 542-529, respectively. After losing California, where Roosevelt had won the primary, the progressive delegates gave up hope. They voted "present" on most succeeding roll calls. Not since the 1872 election had there been a major schism in the Republican party. Now, with the Democrats holding about 45% of the national vote, any schism would be fatal. Roosevelt's only hope at the convention was to form a "stop-Taft" alliance with La Follette, but Roosevelt had alienated La Follette, and the alliance could not form.
Unable to tolerate the personal humiliation he suffered at the hands of Taft and the Old Guard, and refusing to entertain the possibility of a compromise candidate, Roosevelt struck back hard. On the evening of June 22, 1912, Roosevelt asked his supporters to leave the convention. Roosevelt maintained that President Taft had allowed fraudulent seating of delegates to capture the presidential nomination from progressive forces within the Party. Thus, with the support of convention chairman Elihu Root, Taft's supporters outvoted Roosevelt's men, and the convention renominated incumbents William Howard Taft and James S. Sherman, making Sherman the first sitting vice-president to be nominated for re-election since John C. Calhoun in 1828.
|Vice Presidential Ballot|
|James S. Sherman||596|
|Charles Edward Merriam||20|
|Herbert S. Hadley||14|
|Albert J. Beveridge||2|
Republican progressives reconvened in Chicago and endorsed the formation of a national progressive party. When formally launched later that summer, the new Progressive Party chose Roosevelt as its presidential nominee and Hiram Johnson of California as his running mate. Questioned by reporters, Roosevelt said he felt as strong as a "bull moose." Henceforth known as the "Bull Moose Party," the Progressives promised to increase federal regulation and protect the welfare of ordinary people.
The party was funded by publisher Frank Munsey and its executive secretary George Walbridge Perkins, an employee of banker J. P. Morgan and International Harvester. Perkins blocked an anti-trust plank, shocking reformers who thought of Roosevelt as a true trust-buster. The delegates to the convention sang the hymn "Onward, Christian Soldiers" as their anthem; and in a famous acceptance speech, Roosevelt compared the coming presidential campaign to the Battle of Armageddon and stated that the Progressives were going to "battle for the Lord." However, many of the nation's newspapers, which tended to be pro-Republican, harshly depicted Roosevelt as an egotist who was only running for president to spoil Taft's chances and to feed his vanity. Many of these newspapers' political cartoons portrayed Roosevelt in this fashion; the anti-Roosevelt cartoon below was drawn by Edward Windsor Kemble for the January 1912 edition of Harper's Weekly.
The Democratic Convention was held in Baltimore, Maryland from June 25 to July 2. It proved to be one of the more memorable presidential conventions of the twentieth century. Initially, the frontrunner appeared to be Champ Clark of Missouri, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, and Clark did receive a majority of the delegate votes early in the balloting. However, due to the then-official two-thirds rule used by the Democratic Party, Clark was never able to get the necessary two-thirds majority to win the nomination. Clark's chances were hurt when Tammany Hall, the powerful and corrupt Democratic political machine in New York City, threw its support behind Clark. Ironically, instead of helping Clark, this led William Jennings Bryan, the three-time Democratic presidential candidate and still the leader of the party's liberals, to turn against Clark as the candidate of "Wall Street". Bryan instead threw his support to New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson, who had consistently finished second to Clark on each ballot, and who was regarded as a moderate reformer. Ironically, Wilson had nearly given up hope that he could be nominated, and he was on the verge of having a concession speech read for him at the convention that would free his delegates to vote for someone else. Bryan's defection from Clark to Wilson led many other delegates to do the same, and Wilson gradually gained strength while Clark's support dwindled. Wilson finally received the nomination on the 46th ballot. Thomas R. Marshall, the Governor of Indiana, who had swung his state's delegate votes to Wilson in later ballots, was named as Wilson's running mate.
|Vice Presidential Ballot|
|Thomas R. Marshall||389||644.5|
|George Earle Chamberlain||157||12.5|
|Elmore W. Hurst||78||0|
|James H. Preston||58||0|
|Martin Joseph Wade||26||0|
|William F. McCombs||18||0|
|John Eugene Osborne||8||0|
The Socialist Party of America was a highly factionalized coalition of local parties based in industrial cities and usually was rooted in ethnic communities, especially German and Finnish. It also had some support in old Populist rural and mining areas in the West, especially Oklahoma. By 1912, the party claimed more than a thousand locally elected officials in 33 states and 160 cities, especially the Midwest. Eugene V. Debs had run for president in 1900, 1904, and 1908, primarily to encourage the local effort, and he did so again in 1912.
The conservatives, led by Victor L. Berger of Milwaukee, promoted progressive causes of efficiency and an end to corruption, nicknamed "gas and water socialism". Their opponents were the radicals who wanted to overthrow capitalism, tried to infiltrate labor unions, and sought to cooperate with the Industrial Workers of the World ("the Wobblies"). With few exceptions, the party had weak or nonexistent links to local labor unions. Immigration was an issue—the radicals saw immigrants as fodder for the war with capitalism, while conservatives complained that they lowered wage rates and absorbed too many city resources. Many of these issues had been debated at the First National Congress of the Socialist Party in 1910, and they were debated again at the national convention in Indianapolis in 1912. At the latter, the radicals won an early test by seating Bill Haywood on the Executive Committee, sending encouragement to western “Wobblies”, and passing a resolution seeming to favor industrial unionism. The conservatives counterattacked by amending the party constitution to expel any socialists who favored industrial sabotage or syndicalism (that is, the IWW), and who refused to participate in American elections. They adopted a conservative platform calling for cooperative organization of prisons, a national bureau of health, abolition of the Senate and the presidential veto, and a long list of progressive reforms that the Democratic party was known for. Debs did not attend—he saw his mission as keeping the disparate units together in the hope that someday a common goal would be found.
The 1912 presidential campaign was bitterly contested. Vice-President James S. Sherman died in office on October 30, 1912, less than a week before the election, leaving Taft without a running mate. With the Republican Party divided, Wilson captured the presidency handily on November 5.
While Roosevelt was campaigning in Milwaukee on October 14, 1912, a saloonkeeper named John Flammang Schrank shot him, but the bullet lodged in his chest only after penetrating both his steel eyeglass case and passing through a 50-page single-folded copy of the speech he was carrying in his jacket.
The election of 1912 is considered the high tide of progressive politics. A match-up between Roosevelt and Wilson alone may also have produced a Wilson victory, as many conservatives may have preferred Wilson, who still would have won much of the Democratic and progressive base.
The Socialists had little money—Debs' campaign cost only $66,000, mostly for 3.5 million leaflets and travel to rallies organized by local groups. His biggest event was a speech to 15,000 in New York City. The crowd sang “La Marseillaise” and “The Internationale” as Emil Seidel, the vice- presidential candidate, boasted, “Only a year ago workingmen were throwing decayed vegetables and rotten eggs at us but now all is changed…. Eggs are too high. There is a great giant growing up in this country that will someday take over the affairs of this nation. He is a little giant now but he is growing fast. The name of this little giant is socialism.” Debs said that only the socialists represented labor. He condemned “Injunction Bill Taft” and ridiculed Roosevelt as “a charlatan, mountebank, and fraud, and his Progressive promises and pledges as the mouthings of a low and utterly unprincipled self seeker and demagogue.” Debs insisted that the Democrats, Progressives, and Republicans alike were financed by the trusts. Party newspapers spread the word—there were five English-language and eight foreign-language dailies along with 262 English and 36 foreign-language weeklies. The labor union movement, however, largely rejected Debs and supported Wilson.
Roosevelt conducted a vigorous national campaign for the Progressive Party, denouncing the way the Republican nomination had been "stolen." He bundled together his reforms under the rubric of "The New Nationalism" and stumped the country for a strong federal role in regulating the economy and chastising bad corporations. Wilson supported a policy called "The New Freedom". This policy was based mostly on individualism instead of a strong government. Taft, knowing he had no chance to win, campaigned quietly, and spoke of the need for judges to be more powerful than elected officials. The departure of the more progressive Republicans left the conservative Republicans even more firmly in control of their party until 1916, when many progressives returned. The last Progressive Republican president elected was Herbert Hoover in 1928. Much of the Republican effort was designed to discredit Roosevelt as a dangerous radical, but this had little effect.
The widespread distribution of the third-party vote is indicated by the fact that while by electoral vote Taft carried 2 states, Roosevelt 6, and Wilson 40, yet by majority of the popular vote, Taft carried no state, Roosevelt carried 1 (South Dakota, where there was no Republican ticket), and Wilson carried 11 (all the states of the former Confederacy). More than 2/3 of Wilson's total vote was cast in the 37 states that he did not carry by majority vote.
Wilson had more votes than William Jennings Bryan had received in each of the New England states, in Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Texas, Wyoming, and Oregon, and slight increases in Delaware and West Virginia. In South Dakota there was an increase, but in that state there was no Republican ticket in 1912. In Washington and California, there was an increase, but women were voting in 1912 as they had not been in 1908. Except for these states, Wilson fell behind the Bryan strength and notably so in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska, Kansas, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Arkansas. In only 2 sections was Wilson's vote greater than the greatest Bryan vote: in New England and in the Pacific section.
Wilson's vote, 6,296,919, was less than Bryan's in any one of his campaigns. Wilson led the poll in 1,969 counties. But he had a majority vote in only 1,237 counties. It was less than Bryan had had in any of his campaigns.
Taft had a majority in only 35, and "Other(s)" in only 305. These small figures clearly reveal the result of the division of the normal Republican vote, as does the fact that in the greatest number of counties (1,396) no party had a majority.
The Republican vote of 1908 was in 1912 found giving its support to Roosevelt or Taft. But Taft had a lead over the field in only 232 counties. In addition to 7 Southern states in which he had no county, he had none in Maine, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Washington, and of course none in South Dakota and California, where there was no Taft ticket.
The split in the Republican vote made it possible for Wilson to carry a number of states that had been reliably Republican for decades. For the first time since 1852, a majority of the New England states were carried by a Democrat. In fact, Wilson was the first Democratic presidential candidate ever to carry the state of Massachusetts (whereas Rhode Island and Maine had not been carried by a Democrat since 1852). On the West coast, Oregon had not been carried by a Democrat since 1868.
The split in the Republican vote resulted in the weakest Republican effort in history. Winning only 8 electoral votes, Taft suffered a worse defeat than any other president defeated for re-election. Nicholas Murray Butler was selected to receive the electoral votes from Utah and Vermont that would have gone to Sherman, the deceased vice-president.
The 772 counties not carried by Wilson or by Taft were distributed in 38 states, most of them in Pennsylvania (48), Illinois (33), Michigan (68), Minnesota (75), Iowa (49), South Dakota (54), Nebraska (32), Kansas (51), Washington (38), and California (44), and almost without exception were carried by Roosevelt. Debs carried 4 counties.
In this election of 1912 was polled the largest non-Democratic, non-Republican vote of the Fourth Party System. It amounted to roughly 5,250,000 votes and represented 1/3 of the votes cast. Approximately 4/5 of it (4,125,000) was cast for Theodore Roosevelt, but the Socialist vote was larger than it had ever been, or than it was to be in American history except for 1920.
Eugene Debs, the nominee of the Socialist Party, polled nearly 1,000,000 votes, more than doubling his vote of 1908. Although Debs would obtain a higher vote total in 1920, Debs' 1912 showing of 5.98% was the highest percentage of the vote received by any Socialist presidential candidate in American history.
1912 marked the first (and last) election since 1860 in which 4 candidates each cleared 5.0%. 1912 was also the only election in which a third-party candidate received more popular votes and electoral votes than one of the major-party candidates.
|Presidential candidate||Party||Home state||Popular vote||Electoral
|Count||Pct||Vice-presidential candidate||Home state||Elect. vote|
|Woodrow Wilson||Democratic||New Jersey||6,296,284||41.8%||435||Thomas R. Marshall||Indiana||435|
|Theodore Roosevelt||Progressive||New York||4,122,721||27.4%||88||Hiram W. Johnson||California||88|
|William Howard Taft||Republican||Ohio||3,486,242||23.2%||8||Nicholas Murray Butler||New York||8|
|Eugene V. Debs||Socialist||Indiana||901,551||6.0%||0||Emil Seidel||Wisconsin||0|
|Eugene W. Chafin||Prohibition||Illinois||208,156||1.4%||0||Aaron S. Watkins||Ohio||0|
|Arthur E. Reimer||Socialist Labor||Massachusetts||29,324||0.2%||0||August Gillhaus||New York||0|
|Needed to win||266||266|
Source (Popular Vote): Leip, David. 1912 Presidential Election Results. Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections (July 28, 2005).Source (Electoral Vote): Electoral College Box Scores 1789–1996. Official website of the National Archives. (July 31, 2005).
|EV||State||Woodrow Wilson||Theodore Roosevelt||William Taft||Eugene V. Debs||State|
|10||Oklahoma||119,156||47.4||10||not on ballot||90,786||36.1||41,674||16.6||OK|
|5||South Dakota||48,942||43.5||58,811||52.3||5||not on ballot||4,662||4.1||SD|
|Percentages in this table do not take into account other candidates|
Failing to make itself a believable third party, the Bull Moose Party ended up losing strength. Its candidates did poorly in 1914. It vanished in 1916 with most members following Roosevelt back into the Republican party. However, the Taft conservatives controlled the party and its platform from 1912 to 1928, and thus some Progressives like Harold L. Ickes joined the steadily more liberal Democratic party.
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