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The 1912 Presidential
Dylan Cook
POLI 423
Context of the Election
Incumbent William Howard Taft (R) sought re-election in 1912, although
major divisions were emerging within the Republican Party throughout
his previous administration.
Republicans were divided between the Conservatives, led by Taft,
and the Progressives, led by Former President Theodore Roosevelt
From 1907-1909, Republicans had a majority in both the House and
the Senate - but lost their majority in the House to the Democrats as
a result of the 1910 mid-term elections.
At the time, three major issues divided the nation - labor unions,
employment regulations (especially for women and children), and
tariff reform.
 Progressives favored more loose regulations on labor unions,
restrictions on employment, etc., while Conservatives sought
higher tariffs and stronger business leaders
Context of the Election
Democrats, at the time, favored many policies
regarding employment and labor unions that most
Progressives identified with. Although, they disagreed
that increased government control should be the
catalyst for these changes.
o Much of the party also identified with the political
ideals established by William Jennings Bryan trust-busting, opposition to banks, and the general
limitation of corporate control.
Since 1860, the only Democrat to be successfully
elected President was Grover Cleveland.
o Demonstrated a dominance of Republican control in
the Presidency.
Party Primaries and Nominations
• The 1912 Presidential election was strongly influenced
by the fact that it involved the first modern party
o Republicans had their first ever primaries in this
election, with 12 states participating
 Other States selected candidates through state
conventions, not by the popular vote of citizens
 Roosevelt won 9 of these voter-primaries, while
Taft only won the state of Massachusetts.
• Senator Robert LaFollette from Wisconsin
won the other two primaries
Party Primaries and Nominations
• At the 1912 Republican National Convention (RNC),
delegates chose between Taft, Roosevelt, and
o Many of the delegates chosen by state conventions
were heavily contested.
 Taft was very much in control of the RNC at the
time, and as such nearly all contested delegates
were awarded to Taft.
• Roosevelt responded by creating a
convention of his own, forming the
Progressive Party (also known as the BullMoose Party).
Party Primaries and Nominations
• The Democratic National Convention (DNC) was, for
the most part, a competition between Governor
Woodrow Wilson (New Jersey), and Speaker Champ
Clark (Missouri).
o Clark won more delegates than any other candidate
in the primaries, but lacked the two-third majority
necessary to clinch a victory.
 Clark would eventually lose to Wilson, as the
political machine Tammany Hall endorsed Clark
• William Jennings Bryan saw this as Clark
being endorsed by Wall Street, and urged
delegates to support Wilson instead.
Candidate Profiles The Democratic Party
Thomas Woodrow Wilson
(V.P. Thomas R. Marshall)
Governor of New Jersey
Former President of Princeton University
Championed Policies of limited government
and the breaking of monopolies
Famously stated "it is getting harder to run
a Constitution than to frame one"
Candidate Profiles The Republican Party
William Howard Taft
(V.P. James S. Sherman)
Judge, Superior Court of Cincinnati (1887)
Solicitor General of the United States (1890)
Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals (1891)
Secretary of War (1904)
Appointed by Theodore Roosevelt
President of the United States (1908-1912)
Chief Justice, Supreme Court (1921-1930)
Candidate Profiles The Progressive Party
Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt
(V.P. Hiram Johnson)
Born into a wealthy family, a Harvard educated
Biologist and Historian
Member, New York State Assembly (1882-1884)
Left politics from 1884-1886 to become a
Rancher in South Dakota
Governor of New York (1898)
Vice President of the United States (1900-1901)
President of the United States (1901-1908)
Candidate Profiles The Socialist Party
Eugene V. Debs
(V.P. Emil Seidel)
Terre-Haute City Clerk (1879-1883)
Member, Indiana General Assembly (1884-1886)
Founder, American Railway Union (ARU)
Sent to federal prison due to involvement in
The Pullman Strike
Founder, Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)
Ran for President as the Social Party Candidiate
in 1900, 1904, and 1908
The General Election Campaign
• The two major candidates in the election, Wilson and
Roosevelt, campaigned on a collection of policy
reforms that served to distinguish between their
Progressive similarities:
o Roosevelt's plan was known as "The New
Nationalism," and called for the federal
government to take firm control over economic
regulation and corporate reform
o Wilson's plan was known as "The New Freedom,"
and called for less government control, but an
increased focus on tarriff, business, and banking
The General Election Campaign
• Among the other two candidates o
Taft's campaign was extremely reserved, knowing that progressive
reform was dominating the discussions surrounding the election.
Instead, he spent a great deal of time calling for increased power for
federal judges.
Debs and the Socialist Party spent most of their funds on purchaing
pamphlets to spread the word about how the Socialists, not the
Democrats, truly represented labor unions. They frequently accused
the other three parties and their candidates as being supported by
the very corporations they sought to bring down.
The General Election Campaign
• Other major events of note:
o Vice President James S. Sherman died a week
before the election was held, essentially leaving
Taft without a running-mate (although Nicholas
Butler would eventually be tapped by the RNC to
serve in Sherman's absence).
o Roosevelt was shot while giving a campaign speech
in Milwaukee, but nonetheless finished his talk due
to the fact that his eyeglass case and a copy of his
speech were hit by the bullet first.
The Election Outcome
The Election Outcome
Electoral Votes:
Wilson (D) - 435
Roosevelt (P)- 88
Taft (R) - 8 (Utah and Vermont)
Debs (S) - 0
Popular Vote:
Wilson (D) - 41.8%
Roosevelt (P)- 27.4%
Taft (R) - 23.2%
Debs (S) - 6.0%
Legacy of the 1912 Election
Last election in which a Republican or Democratic candidate placed
below 2nd in either the Popular Vote or the Electoral College
First election in which all 48 contiguous States participated
Wilson would remain the only Democratic President elected between
1892 and 1932
The Progressive Party, having lost despite a strong outcome in the
election, slowly dissolved and its members re-joined the Republican
This election marked the first time that a majority of New England States
were won by a Democrat since 1852 (and the first time Oregon was won
by a Democrat since 1868)
This did not occur again until FDR's victory in 1932