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
"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
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
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
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."