The United States presidential election of 1912 was fought among three major candidates, two of whom had previously won election to the office. Incumbent President William Howard Taft was renominated by the Republican party with the support of the conservative wing of the party. After former President Theodore Roosevelt failed to get the Republican nomination, he called his own convention and created a new Progressive Party (nicknamed the “Bull Moose Party”). It nominated Roosevelt and ran candidates for other offices in major states. Democrat Woodrow Wilson was nominated on the 46th ballot of a contentious convention, thanks to the support of William Jennings Bryan. He defeated both Taft and Roosevelt in the general election, winning a huge majority in the Electoral College despite only winning 42% of the popular vote, and initiating the only period between 1892 and 1932 when a Democrat was elected President. Wilson was the second of only two Democrats to be elected President between 1860 and 1932. This was also the last election in which a third party candidate came in second in the Electoral College.
For the first time some delegates to the national convention were elected in presidential preference primaries. Primary elections were advocated by the progressive faction in the GOP, which wanted to break the control of political parties by bosses. Altogether, fourteen states held Republican primaries. Robert LaFollette won two of the first four primaries (North Dakota and Wisconsin), and Taft won the other two early primaries (New York and Nevada). 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.
The Republican Convention was held in Chicago from June 18 to June 22. Unfortunately for Roosevelt, Taft had started much earlier in rounding up delegates, and the delegates chosen by primary election were a minority. Taft had the support of the bulk of the party organizations in 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, former Confederate states supported Taft by a 209-40 margin). When the Republican National Convention gathered, Roosevelt was challenging 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 LaFollette, but Roosevelt had alienated LaFollette, 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 in order 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 Vice President since Richard M. Johnson to be nominated for reelection.
|Vice Presidential Ballot|
|James S. Sherman||596|
|Albert J. Beveridge||2|
The party was funded by publisher Frank A. Munsey and its executive secretary George 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 Democratic Convention was held in Baltimore from June 25 to July 2. After a long deadlock, former Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan threw his support to Woodrow Wilson in order to defeat Missouri Representative Champ Clark. Clark had received a majority of the vote, but because of the "two-thirds rule" and bitter opposition from Bryan and others, his support faded. Wilson received the nomination on the 46th ballot. He then went on to win the election.
|Vice Presidential Ballot|
|Thomas R. Marshall||389||644.5|
|George E. Chamberlain||157||12.5|
|Elmore W. Hurst||78||0|
|James H. Preston||58||0|
|Martin J. Wade||26||0|
|William F. McCombs||18||0|
|John E. 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 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 Berger of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 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, by sending encouragement to western “Wobblies”, and by 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 party was so factionalized it could not survive a national election that required unity, and it fell apart after 1912.
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, especially, watching and chastising bad corporations and overruling federal and state judges who made unprogressive decisions. Wilson happened to support 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 extreme progressives left the conservatives even more firmly in control of the Republican Party, and many of the Old Guard leaders even distrusted Taft as too progressive for their taste, especially on matters of antitrust and tariffs. Much of the Republican effort was designed to discredit Roosevelt as a dangerous radical, but people knew Roosevelt too well to buy that argument. The result was the weakest Republican effort in history. Roosevelt's strong third-party candidacy resulted in the only instance in the 20th century of a third party candidate receiving more votes than one of the major party candidates: although he failed to become chief executive again, Roosevelt succeeded in his vendetta against Taft, who received just twenty-three percent of the popular vote compared to Roosevelt's twenty-seven percent. Winning only eight electoral votes, Taft suffered a worse defeat than any other President defeated for reelection.
Source: Library of Congress
Source (Popular Vote):
Source (Electoral Vote):
|Woodrow Wilson||Theodore Roosevelt||William Taft||Eugene V. Debs|
|10||Oklahoma||119,156||47.4||10||not on ballot||90,786||36.1||41,674||16.6|
|5||South Dakota||48,942||43.5||58,811||52.3||5||not on ballot||4,662||4.1|
| ||count||%|| electoral|
|percentages in this table do not take into account other candidates|