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| Presidential election results map.|
Red denotes those won by Roosevelt/Johnson
The United States presidential election of 1912 was the 32nd quadrennial presidential election, held on Tuesday, November 5, 1912. The election 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 Champ Clark was finally nominated on the 46th ballot of a contentious convention, after New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson dropped out and most of his delegates flocked to Clark. William Jennings Bryan, the three-time Democratic presidential candidate, still had a large and loyal following in 1912, who encouraged him to break with the Democrats and run as a third party candidate. It is the last election in which a former, or incumbent, President (Roosevelt) ran for the office without being nominated as either a Democrat or Republican. It is also the last election in which an incumbent President running for re-election (Taft) failed to finish either first or second in the popular vote count.
Roosevelt won the election, gaining a narrow majority in the Electoral College and winning 32% of the popular vote, while Clark won 27%, Taft 23% and Bryan 6%. Roosevelt became the first president from the Progressive Party and the second president win a nonconsecutive term, after fellow New Yorker Grover Cleveland. Roosevelt became the first president to be elected to a third term. He was also the first third party nominee to become president. This election was the first time an incumbent president failed to win any electoral votes. It was also the only time an incumbent president was not first or second in the popular or electoral vote.
- William Howard Taft, President of the United States
- Theodore Roosevelt, former President of the United States from New York
- Robert M. La Follette, Senator from Wisconsin
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 of 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 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 votes 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.
- Theodore Roosevelt, former President of the United States, from New York
Candidates galleryRepublican 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 Governor Hiram Johnson from California as his vice presidential 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. 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 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.
- Woodrow Wilson, Governor of New Jersey
- Champ Clark, Speaker of the House from Missouri
- Judson Harmon, Governor of Ohio
- Oscar Underwood, House Majority Leader from Alabama
- Eugene Foss, Governor of Massachusetts
- Thomas R. Marshall, Governor of Indiana
- Simeon E. Baldwin, Governor of Connecticut
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. The initial frontrunner for the Democratic nomination was Speaker of the House Champ Clark. However, once he was endorsed by the corrupt Tammany Hall machine, William J. Bryan, the leader of the liberal wing of the party and a three time former nominee, angrily decried him as the candidate of "Wall Street". Bryan began looking for an alternate candidate, initially seeking out New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson. However, Wilson had dropped out and delivered his concession speech. With no other candidate to turn to, Bryan's supporters encouraged him to break from the party and run on a different ticket. Thus, the Democratic Party split, with Clark receiving the official nomination of the party, and Bryan leaving to revive the Populist Party. Clark selected Ohio Governor Judson Harmon as his running mate.
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 both parties divided, Roosevelt narrowly won victory.
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 supporters 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. Clark, as Speaker of the House, focused primarily on the fact the Democrats had won the House in the 1910 midterms and insisted that the Democratic House should have a Democratic president to cooperate with. Many have noted Clark's failure to exploit the Republican divide in traditionally Republican states that could have given him victory and criticize his decision to focus on preventing Bryan from stealing Democratic states from him. Meanwhile, Bryan did as he had done in his previous three campaigns, traveling across the country delivering speeches. Taft 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. Much of the Republican effort was designed to discredit Roosevelt as a dangerous radical, but this had little effect.
The impact of the third-party vote is indicated by the fact few states were carried by a majority of the popular vote. Bryan and Clark divided the Democratic base, with Clark winning the 11 states of the former Confederacy and Bryan winning the Midwestern and Mountain states. Division of the weak Democratic vote in Republican states resulted in many Democratic voters voting for Roosevelt, giving him victory in those states. Although the rift in the Democratic Party would be healed, the Republican Party was permanently divided.
Arizona and New Mexico cast presidential votes for the first time after being admitted to the Union the same year.
The division of the Republican Party combined with Roosevelt taking over all of the Republican states resulted in Taft winning zero states, the first time one of the two major parties at any given time had ever failed to win any states. It was the poorest showing for the Republican Party in history. The death of the Republican Party began in 1912 and ended in the election of 1924, the last time the Republican Party fielded a serious candidate in a presidential election. In subsequent Congressional elections, many former Republican ran either on the Progressive or Democratic ticket. The number of Republicans in Congress dwindled until there were no more Republicans in 1938.