Theodore Roosevelt’s States Why He Is Running For President in 1912, Challenging President Taft

“I entered the fight solely because I had become convinced that there was a very real and extensive feeling among people at large that I ought to do so, and because I had become convinced that the only way in which progressive sentiment could find any effective expression was through my candidacy.”

He urges Republican progressives to stay unified, and not to allow “reactionaries” to divide and conquer them

 

“The reactionary element in the Republican Party are doing everything they can to stir up every movement against me, because they recognize that I am the only man whom there is any possibility of...

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Theodore Roosevelt’s States Why He Is Running For President in 1912, Challenging President Taft

“I entered the fight solely because I had become convinced that there was a very real and extensive feeling among people at large that I ought to do so, and because I had become convinced that the only way in which progressive sentiment could find any effective expression was through my candidacy.”

He urges Republican progressives to stay unified, and not to allow “reactionaries” to divide and conquer them

 

“The reactionary element in the Republican Party are doing everything they can to stir up every movement against me, because they recognize that I am the only man whom there is any possibility of the progressives nominating, and therefore they desire to delude the progressives into giving aid and comfort to the reactionaries…”

 

An important letter, containing the clearest and most direct explanation for TR’s candidacy that we have ever carried

William H. Taft and Theodore Roosevelt first become friends around 1890 while Taft was Solicitor General and Roosevelt a member of the Civil Service Commission. A decade later Taft served in the Roosevelt administration, first as governor of the Philippines and then as secretary of war. TR mentored and groomed Taft to be his successor in the White House, and in the 1909 election worked successfully to get Taft elected. During the election, Taft vowed to run the country just as Roosevelt had. But the new administration was off to a rocky start with the outgoing President. After apparently indicating that he would retain most of the existing cabinet members, Taft soon discovered that he would be better served by his own hand-picked secretaries. Roosevelt was miffed at having his cabinet members dismissed and at not being consulted on the new appointments.

After Taft’s inauguration, Roosevelt traveled in Africa and Europe for more than a year. He went on safari with his son Kermit, and then met up with wife Edith in Egypt. The two of them journeyed throughout Europe, encountering constant demands to meet and greet notables in every country. When the Roosevelts returned to New York City in June 1910, they were greeted by one of the largest mass receptions ever given in there. When he first arrived back in the United States, TR remained noncommittal on the Taft presidency, as he wanted time to assess Taft’s performance before making any judgments. However, some of his old friends had already brought him negative reports. Famed conservationist Gifford Pinchot was so angry with Taft regarding conservation that he had earlier traveled to Italy to meet Roosevelt and discuss the situation. Once TR returned home, he was frequently visited by old friends who decried Taft’s efforts to undo his work.

During this period, progressivism was gradually rising from the local and state level to the national level. Increasing numbers of people across the nation supported expanding the role of the federal government to ensure the welfare of the people. Pressured by many in the progressive wing of the Republican Party to challenge Taft in 1912, Roosevelt weighed his options. One of those urging Roosevelt on was prominent publisher Frank A. Munsey, who over his career owned at least 17 newspapers and publications, and who wrote in January 1912 asking TR to openly announce that should he be nominated for President, he would accept. Roosevelt was grateful for the support, but not quite ready yet. One factor in his hesitancy was that progressive Robert M. La Follette was carrying the progressive banner in challenging Taft. However, on February 2, 1912, La Follette had a public breakdown before a gathering of leading magazine editors, lashing out with such a lack of self-control that it caused many to doubt his sanity. He was through, then and there, making way for TR. So Roosevelt decided to throw “his hat into the ring” and run against his former protege, making that declaration on February 24, 1912.

Not all progressive Republicans were happy with this decision, and some wavered. C.C. Creegan, the long-time president of Fargo College in North Dakota, was one of these, and he wrote Roosevelt on the subject. TR responded explaining why he felt compelled to take on Taft and declare himself a candidate for president, and explaining that the reactionaries in the party were employing a divide and conquer strategy to split progressives.

Typed letter signed, on his The Outlook letterhead, New York, March 8, 1912, to Creegan. “I enclose you a copy of my letter to Mr. Munsey, and of two statements I made in reference thereto. These put my position as clearly as I am able to. I shall remain in the fight until the Convention names a candidate. I entered the fight solely because I had become convinced that there was a very real and extensive feeling among people at large that I ought to do so, and because I had become convinced that the only way in which progressive sentiment could find any effective expression was through my candidacy. It has of course since become entirely clear that the reactionary element in the Republican Party are doing everything they can to stir up every movement against me, because they recognize that I am the only man whom there is any possibility of the progressives nominating, and therefore they desire to delude the progressives into giving aid and comfort to the reactionaries by failure to support me.” With this argument TR won over most Republican progressives, including Creegan. In September the North Dakota Progressive Party would nominate Creegan for governor.

The Republicans met in Chicago in June 1912, hopelessly split between the Roosevelt progressives and the supporters of President Taft. Roosevelt came to the convention having won a series of preferential primaries that put him ahead of the President in the race for party delegates. Taft, however, controlled the convention floor, and his backers managed to exclude most of the Roosevelt delegates by not recognizing their credentials. These tactics enraged TR, who then refused to allow his name to be placed in nomination, paving the way for Taft to win on the first ballot. Roosevelt and his supporters – including Munsey, who offered financial backing – abandoned the G.O.P. and reconvened in Chicago two weeks later to form the Progressive Party. They then nominated TR as their presidential candidate with Governor Hiram Johnson of California as his running mate. Roosevelt electrified the convention with a dramatic speech in which he announced that “we stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord.” Declaring that he felt “as strong as a Bull Moose,” Roosevelt gave the new party its popular name—the Bull Moose Party. Its tenets included political justice and economic opportunity, and it sought a minimum wage for women; an eight-hour workday; a social security system; a national health service; a federal securities commission; and direct election of U.S. senators. The platform also supported the initiative, referendum, and recall as means for the people to exert more direct control over government. Many of these programs would in time become law.

Roosevelt’s candidacy ruined Taft’s hopes for reelection, but did not get TR himself back into the White House. In the November election, Democrat Woodrow Wilson captured 41.9 percent of the vote to Roosevelt’s 27.4 percent and Taft’s 23.1 percent. Socialist Party candidate Eugene Debs won 6 percent. Despite the divided popular vote, Wilson compiled 435 electoral votes compared to Roosevelt’s 88 and Taft’s 8. Roosevelt won in six states—California, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Washington. Despite its loss, the strong showing of the Progressive Party signaled the emergence of a significant force in U.S. political history. It also reflected a rising progressive spirit in the United States.

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