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26 June, 2013
Theodore Roosevelt
Chapter XIII: The Bull Moose
by Pearson, Edmund Lester


It was not personal ambition which made Roosevelt become the leader of the revolt in the Republican Party, and later head a new party. The revolt had been growing while he was in Africa, and he was long besought to become its leader. At first, Senator La Follette seemed a possible leader, but he broke down in a nervous attack, and the belief that he was not the man for the place has been justified by later events.

As President Taft's administration drew to an end, in 1911 and 1912, it was clear that he was steadily losing the public confidence. State elections, and other straws, showed how the wind was blowing. The Progressive Republicans pointed out to their fellow-members of the party that only where a Progressive ran for office in a state election did the party win. Otherwise the Democrats were victorious. The lesson was plain; but the stand- patters did not care to see it. By the beginning of 1912 it was freely predicted in print that the Democrats would nominate Governor Wilson of New Jersey, their strongest candidate, and that they would win if the Republicans insisted on naming Mr. Taft. But the old-line Republicans were above taking advice. The Democrats were naturally gleeful about the situation; they kept their faces straight and solemnly warned the Republicans, in the name of the safety of the country, not to listen to the "wild man," Roosevelt, but to be sure to nominate Mr. Taft. And the Republicans listened to the advice of their opponents. "Whom the Gods would destroy they first make mad."

Roosevelt had been telling his friends that he would not run again; that he did not wish to oppose Mr. Taft, who had been his close friend and associate. But neither he, nor the Republicans who thought as he did, liked to see their party drift back and back to become the organization for plunder which the Bosses would have made it long before, if they had always had a "good-natured" man in the White House. When the governors of seven States-- Michigan, West Virginia, Wyoming, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Missouri and Kansas--united in an appeal to Roosevelt for leadership, he began to change his mind.

He said in private, that he knew it would be hard, if not impossible, for him to get the nomination; President Taft had all the machinery on his side. He knew that it meant parting with many of his best friends; the older politicians would mainly oppose him; he would have to go directly to the people for his support, and rely upon the younger leaders as his lieutenants.

In going straight to the people he was following one of the principles of the Insurgent or Progressive Republicans. In order to fight the Bosses, and overcome the crooked and secret influence of "big business" in politics, the Progressives were proposing various methods by which it was hoped the people might rule more directly, and prevent a few men from overcoming the wishes of the many. One of these methods was the direct primary, so that the voters might choose their candidates themselves, instead of leaving it to the absurd conventions, where large crowds of men are hired to fill the galleries, yell for one candidate, and try to out-yell the opposing crowd.

In February, 1912, Roosevelt announced that he was a candidate for the Republican nomination.

"My hat is in the ring," he said.

The storm of abuse which raged around him now was terrific. All the friends of fattened monopoly--and this included many of the most powerful newspapers--screamed aloud in their fright. Mostly they assailed him on three counts: that he was "disloyal" to his friend, Mr. Taft, that he had promised never to run for President again; and that it meant the overthrow of the Republic and the setting up of a monarchy if any man ever disregarded Washington's example and was President for three terms.

The charge of disloyalty to Mr. Taft does not deserve discussion. Those who made it never stopped to think that they were saying that a man should set his personal friendships higher than his regard for the nation; that he must support his friend, even if he believed that to do so would work harm to the whole country. Moreover, if there had been any disloyalty, it had not been on Mr. Roosevelt's side! He had remained true to his principles. As for the promise never to run again, we have already seen what he said about that. The notion that Washington laid down some law against reelecting a President for more than two terms is an example of how a complete error may pass into popular belief and become a superstition. Washington said and believed the very opposite. He did not wish a third term himself, because he was old and weary, but in regard to third terms he seems to have been even more liberal than Roosevelt, who disapproved of three terms in succession. But Washington distinctly said that he saw no reason why a President should not be reelected as often as the people needed his services. He said nothing about four, eight, or twelve years, but in discussing this very question in a letter to Lafayette, wrote:
"I can see no propriety in precluding ourselves from the services of any man, who on some emergency shall be deemed most capable of serving the public." [Footnote: Sparks, "Writings of George Washington," ix. 358.]
In the primary campaign, in the spring of 1912, the Progressive Republicans and Mr. Roosevelt proved their case up to the hilt. In every instance but one, where it was possible to get a direct vote of the people, Roosevelt beat President Taft, and overwhelmingly. Thus, in California he beat him nearly two to one; in Illinois, more than two to one, in Nebraska more than three to one, in North Dakota more than twenty to one, in South Dakota more than three to one. In New Jersey, Maryland, Oregon and Ohio, Roosevelt won decisively; in Pennsylvania by a tremendous majority. Massachusetts, the only remaining State which held a direct primary, where both men were in the field, split nearly even, giving Mr. Taft a small lead.

In the face of this clear indication of what the voters wished, for the Republican leaders to go ahead and nominate Mr. Taft was sheer suicide from a political point of view. It was also something much worse: the few denying the will of the many. This, of course, is tyranny,--what our ancestors revolted against when they founded the nation. But go ahead they did. It is probable that even as early as this they had no idea of winning the election; they merely intended to keep the party machinery in their own hands. Gravely talking about law and the Constitution they proceeded to defy the first principles of popular government.

By use of the Southern delegates, from States where the Republican Party exists mostly in theory, by contesting almost every delegation, and always ruling against Roosevelt, by every manipulation which the "Old Guard" of the party could employ, Mr. Taft was nominated. In at least one important and crucial case, delegates were seized for Mr. Taft by shameless theft. The phrase is that used by Mr. Thayer,--a historian, accustomed to weigh his words, and a non-partisan in this contest, since he favored neither Mr. Taft nor Roosevelt.

In August the Progressive Party was founded at a convention held in Chicago. Roosevelt and Johnson were the nominees for President and Vice-President. The men gathered at this convention were out of the Republican Party; they had not left it, but the party had left them. Not willingly did they take this action; men whose grandfathers voted for Fremont in 1856 and for Lincoln in 1860, and again for Lincoln in 1864, when the fate of the Republic really depended on the success of the Republican Party. The sons of men who had fought for the Union did not lightly attack even the name of the old party. But there was nothing left but its name; its worst elements led it; many of the better men who stayed in it kept silent. Probably even they realized the nauseous hypocrisy of the situation when Mr. William Barnes of New York came forward and implored that the country be saved, that our liberty be saved, that the Constitution be saved!

For the destroyer, from whom the country was to be saved, was one of the greatest and most honorable men of his time,--while it was later established in court that it was no libel to say that Mr. Barnes was a Boss and had used crooked methods.

The Progressives, soon called the Bull Moose Party, attracted the usual group of reformers, and some cranks. Each new party does this. Roosevelt had, many years before, spoken of the "lunatic fringe" which clings to the skirts of every sincere reform.

"But the whole body," writes Mr. Thayer, "judged without prejudice, probably contained the largest number of disinterested, public-spirited, and devoted persons, who had ever met for a national and political object since the group which formed the Republican Party in 1854."

All the new measures which they proposed, although denounced by the two old parties, were in use in other democratic countries; many of them have since been adopted here. Roosevelt foresaw the radical wave which was later to sweep over the country and was trying to make our government more liberal, so as to meet the new spirit of things. The more radical of Socialists always hated him as their worst enemy, for they knew that his reasonable reforms would make it impossible for them to succeed in their extreme proposals.

The jokes made about the new party were often most amusing and added a great deal of interest to an exciting campaign. The Bull Moosers were very much in earnest, and had a camp-meeting fervor, which laid them open to a good deal of ridicule. But they could stand it, for they knew that as between themselves and the Republicans, the last laugh would be theirs. The Republicans had nominated Mr. Taft by means of delegates from rock-ribbed Democratic States like Alabama, Florida and Georgia, let them now see if they could elect him by such means!

One phase of the campaign was a shame and a disgrace. The Republican newspapers joined in the use of abusive terms against Roosevelt, to a degree which has never been paralleled, before nor since. They described him as a monster, a foul traitor, another Benedict Arnold, and for weeks used language about him for which the writers would be overcome with shame if it were brought home to them now. This had its natural result. Just as the speeches of Emma Goldman and others stirred up the murderer of President McKinley to his act, so this reiteration of abuse, this harping on the assertion that Roosevelt was the enemy of the country, the destroyer of law and liberty, induced another weak-minded creature to attempt murder.

A man named Schrank who said that he had been led on by what he read in the papers, waited for Roosevelt outside a hotel in Milwaukee. This was during the campaign and Roosevelt was leaving the hotel to make a speech in a public hall. As he stood up in his automobile, Schrank shot him in the chest. The bullet was partially checked by a thick roll of paper--the notes for his speech--and by an eye-glasses case. Nevertheless, with the bullet in him, only stopping to change his blood-soaked shirt, he refused to quit. He went and made his speech, standing on the platform and speaking for over an hour.

He thought of himself as a soldier fighting for a cause, and he would no more leave because of a wound than he would have deserted his fellow-hunter in Africa, when that charging lion came down on them.

For two weeks he had to keep out of the campaign, recovering from his wound, first in a hospital and then at home. Governor Wilson, the Democratic nominee, soon to be the President-Elect, generously offered to cease his campaign speeches, but this offer was declined by Mr. Roosevelt.

In the election, Mr. Wilson was the winner, with Mr. Roosevelt second. The Progressive candidate beat the Republican, as it had been predicted he would. Mr. Roosevelt received over half a million more votes than Mr. Taft, and had eighty-eight electoral votes to eight for Mr. Taft. The Bosses were punished for defying the will of the voters and a useful lesson in politics was administered.

The testimony of Mr. Thayer is especially valuable, since he was a supporter of Mr. Wilson in this election. He writes that since the election showed that Roosevelt had been all the time the real choice of the Republican Party "it was the Taft faction and not Roosevelt which split the Republican Party in 1912."

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