The 1916 election is one of the most interesting, and most controversial elections in US political history. Although in 1916 incumbent Theodore Roosevelt was still very popular, there was still some strong antiwar sentiment in the US. Many leading modern historians contribute Roosevelt's ultimate victory to disagreements within the opposition.

Republican Nomination

In November 1915 Roosevelt announced he would seek a third term in office. The only serious opposition he faced was from the antiwar branches of the liberal and conservative wings of the party. Robert M. La Follette was the progressive antiwar candidate, trying to gain control over the liberal wing and split the party like in 1912. William Howard Taft, the conservative cabinet member from Ohio, who had initially opposed the war now supported it and gave his full support to Roosevelt. This together with the fact that Roosevelt had nearly enough founded the American progressive movement meant Roosevelt had support from across the spectrum of the Republican party. Roosevelt suggested the convention be held early, he knew he'd be nominated within the first three ballots and although in 1908 and 1912 he had cherished campaigning, now he had more pressing matters to attend to. The convention was held on June 5th, La Follette put up some resistance to Roosevelt but lost. Roosevelt won 90% of the delegates on the 1st ballot.

Since Roosevelt had made his peace with the conservative and moderate branches of the Republican party, he was able to take the support of almost his entire party into the election. He campaigned on his previous electoral successes, and a promise to end the war "swiftly but surely".

Nominee 1
Theodore Roosevelt 410
Robert M. La Follette 41

Democratic Party Nomination

The Democratic party held no primaries in 1916, instead the party decided on its presidential candidate at the party convention on August 23rd. The convention was held late because many of the pro-war, former Bourbon Democrats wanted Roosevelt to remain president, and merely saw the election as an opportunity to show their strength. However the democrats were not strong, they were at the weakest they had been since their founding, nearly 100 years before.

The former Bourbons, led by T. Woodrow Wilson, had the most financial backing, and were the most appealing to non-democrats. The isolationist middle of the party put forward Champ Clark, and the radical "Christian left", lead by William Jennings Bryan were the splits in the party.

Wilson and Clark had been the presidential and vice presidential nominees in the 1912 election and many moderates hoped for some kind of coalition against Bryan, and ultimately against Roosevelt. During the weeks leading up to the convention various attempts had been made to get the two men to come to some sort of agreement, but Clark refused to accept Wilson's pro-war manifesto.

For the 1st and 2nd ballots Wilson had a steady majority over Clark and Bryan. However on the 3rd ballot several more delegates arrived that supported Clark, giving both Wilson and Clark an equal majority. On the 4th ballot Clark took the lead, however on the 5th Wilson took a vast lead, still not quite enough for the absolute majority needed, over 75% of the delegates. On the 10th ballot Wilson finally got enough support to win the nomination. He chose fellow war democrat Thomas R. Marshall as his running mate.

Nominee 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
T. Woodrow Wilson 118 119 120 121 149 171 174 174 180 214
Champ Clark 104 110 120 124 81 74 81 60 67 11
William Jennings Bryan 91 87 74 94 90 38 40 61 54 78

Peoples Party Nomination

Discontented with the result of the convention, on September 8th Bryan and the 80 or so antiwar democratic delegates that supported him founded the Peoples Party. A manifesto was hurriedly put together, based on progressive social programmes and a balanced foreign policy. It was made clear that state pacifism was not an election pledge, but the current war was branded as mindless slaughter. Bryan symbolically asked for a clock to be placed behind the speaker podium, and at the beginning of the convention states that every time the clock ticked, an American soldier died in Europe.

America Party Nomination

Similarly to Bryan's reaction to losing his nomination, La Follette formed his own antiwar party. Despite receiving offers to join Bryan's campaign he tried to form a coalition of progressive and conservative Republicans to combat Roosevelt. La Follette wanted to brand the party progressive, but admitted he needed support from the moderates and conservatives. After the convention La Follette had only 15 delegates to support him, within three months he had built this up to 42.


On November 7th, Roosevelt took 41% of the popular vote, less than expected, 28% for Wilson, 22% for Bryan and 9% for La Follette.

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