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1912 Election

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1912 Election

The US Presidential Election of 1912 was a referendum on new progressive ideas. Torn between leaders, one of the two major political bodies—the Republican Party—split into two wings. This allowed the underdog party of the South to achieve a rare presidential victory. With Democrat Woodrow Wilson, Republican William Howard Taft, Progressive Teddy Roosevelt, and Socialist Eugene Debs, the field of viable candidates was crowded.

1912 Election 1912 Republican Party convention StudySmarter

The 1912 Republican Party Convention. Wikimedia Commons.

The background to the 1912 United States presidential election

After two terms as President, Theodore Roosevelt supported Taft's 1908 presidential bid. William Howard Taft had been Roosevelt's Secretary of War, and then became the 27th President of the United States for one term, from March 4th, 1909, to March 4th, 1913. Progressive values began to gain popularity within the Republican Party. When Taft was viewed as not holding to these ideals, Roosevelt decided to challenge Taft for the 1912 Republican nomination.

The Insurgents: Republicans in Congress who believed strongly in progressive ideas identified themselves as Insurgents. They believed Taft was too conservative. When Taft put together an unpopular Tariff Bill, the Insurgents decided he needed to go.

Progressive Ideas
Better working conditions
Against child labor
Women should be able to vote and hold office
Environmental Conservation
Judges and Senators should have direct election

The 1912 Primary Season

The presidential primaries in 1912 were heated affairs. The Republican Party got torn apart, and a new party was born from this historic event.

The 1912 Republican Convention

As the incumbent, Taft was able to secure the Republican Party nomination in 1912. Roosevelt had returned and attempted to wrest the nomination from Taft. He had beaten Taft in the 1912 primaries, even in Taft's home state. However, the party leaders and the Republican political establishment insured that Taft remained the party nominee. Those who had sided with Roosevelt marched out of the convention. They found a new party: the Progressive party.

1912 Election 1912 election campaign button Bull Moose StudySmarter

Progressive Party button. Wikimedia Commons.

1912 Election: The Progressive Party

After the convention, those who sided with Roosevelt founded the Progressive Party. The party quickly came to be called the Bull Moose Party. They supported many progressive policies and allocated some female candidates where it was allowed.

The 1912 Democratic Convention

Democratic congressional candidates had performed commendably in the 1910 midterm elections. It was thought that Democrats stood a significant chance of breaking the long Republican winning streak in presidential elections. Like the Republican convention of 1912, the Democrats' nominee was contested. In the end, New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson edged out the Speaker of the House, Champ Clark, for the nomination.

1912 Election Woodrow Wilson Campaign Button in the 1912 election StudySmarter

The Woodrow Wilson Campaign Button. Wikimedia Commons.

The 1912 Election candidates

There were four notable candidates in the 1912 Presidential Election. Woodrow Wilson ran as the candidate of the Democratic Party. William Howard Taft ran as the candidate of the Republican Party. Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt ran as the candidate of the Progressive Party. Eugene Debs ran as the candidate of the Socialist Party.

1912 Election: Roosevelt and the "New Nationalism"

The Republican candidate, Teddy Roosevelt, called his platform "New Nationalism". The platform proposed a much stronger federal government and tax reforms. The goal was to use the federal government to create social and economic reforms to help the underprivileged.

On a Milwaukee campaign stop, a man named John Schrank shot Roosevelt in the chest over his seeking a third term. Between a heavy coat, glasses case, thick speech sheets in his chest pocket, and his heavy build, the bullet only caused a minor wound. Roosevelt proceeded to show off the bloody manuscript of his speech and then deliver it with the bullet still stuck in his chest.

1912 Election: Woodrow Wilson and the "New Freedom Policy"

The Democrat candidate, Woodrow Wilson, called his platform the "New Freedom Policy." The policy was progressive on many issues but differed from the Progressive Party by calling for a smaller government. Even though his program was more moderate than Roosevelt's, his strategy was to break up monopolies instead of regulating them. A policy aimed at helping small businesses.

1912 Election: William Howard Taft

President Taft thought Roosevelt had grown too radical in his ideas. He had even gone as far as to state that if Roosevelt were the 1912 election winner, it would result in something like the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. As the primaries had shown, his ideas encountered difficulties connecting with many Americans. The election was then largely regarded between Roosevelt and Wilson, who had strong criticisms of him. Surprisingly, Taft put little effort into campaigning for his second term.

1912 Election: Eugene Debs

1912 was Eugene Debs' fourth run as the Socialist candidate for US president. While he was considered part of the general progressive wave, he was also unique. Roosevelt and Wilson both advocated for differing levels of reform to the basic capitalist system. Debs proclaimed a more radical system of collective ownership rooted in the ideas of Karl Marx.

1912 election issues

The 1912 election centered on progressive issues. The policies of incumbent William Howard Taft were unpopular and had split his own party. The question was primarily how far to the left the country would move. Wilson advocated moderate reforms for small businesses, Roosevelt for making large monopolies serve the public, and Debs collective ownership. The public generally agreed on the direction in which to move, but the debate was on where to stop.

1912 Election Results

Woodrow Wilson was the winner of the 1912 Presidential Election with 43 percent of the vote. He was followed by Roosevelt with 27 percent, Taft with 23 percent, and Debs with 6 percent. The split of the Republican party between Roosevelt and Taft allowed Wilson to become the second democratic president since the Civil War. The election showed strong support for progressive ideas put forth by the Democrat, Progressive and Republican parties, as opposed to the conservative ideals of the Republican party under Taft.

1912 Election Map

Below, you can see the 1912 election results on the map.

1912 Election A map of the 1912 US Presidential Election results with Electoral College vote count by state StudySmarter

1912 Election Results with Electoral Vote Counts. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

An America Ready for Change

The results of the 1912 election showed two trends that indicate the desire for change among Americans at that time. The first was that candidates proclaiming progressive ideas accounted for 76 percent of the vote. This showed the overwhelming unpopularity of Taft's policies as president. Also, rarely have third-party candidates received more than five percent of the vote, yet in 1912 two third-party candidates did.

The election demonstrated that a more broad-minded and labor-focused political climate was brewing in the United States. This new context will bring forth the conditions for the emergence of the American middle-class.

1912 Election - Key takeaways

  • Won by Democrat Woodrow Wilson.
  • Second Democratic presidential victory since the Civil War.
  • Progressive ideas were endorsed by three of the four candidates.
  • Republican Party split between incumbent Taft and his predecessor Roosevelt.
  • Roosevelt a launched third party: the Progressive Party.
  • The Progressive Party was also called The Bull Moose Party.
  • The Progressive Party in 1912 was one of the most successful third-party campaigns in US history.

Frequently Asked Questions about 1912 Election

The candidates for the 1912 presidential election were Woodrow Wilson, who ran as the candidate of the Democratic Party;  William Howard Taft ran as the candidate of the Republican Party; Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt for the Progressive Party, and Eugene Debs ran for Socialist Party.

Roosevelt challenged Taft because he felt Taft was not standing for progressive ideas.

The Republican Party was split over progressive and conservative ideals, a division that open the way to Wilson's win in the 1912 presidential election. 

The Democrats won the 1912 election.

The candidates for the 1912 presidential election were Woodrow Wilson, who ran as the candidate of the Democratic Party;  William Howard Taft ran as the candidate of the Republican Party; Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt for the Progressive Party, and Eugene Debs ran for Socialist Party.

Final 1912 Election Quiz

Question

Who won the 1912 presidential election?

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Answer

Woodrow Wilson

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Question

What was the "Bull Moose Party"?

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Answer

A popular name for the Progressive Party 

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Question

Why did Roosevelt run for president in 1912?


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Answer

He was unhappy with the conservative policies of William Howard Taft 

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Question

What set of ideals were very popular in the 1912 election 

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Answer

Progressive

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Question

How did Taft campaign in the 1912 presidential election?

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Answer

He ignored campaigning 

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Question

The 1912 presidential election had the best showing for third party candidates in US history 

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Answer

True 

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Question

The Progressive Party split off what which other political party 

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Answer

Republican Party 

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Question

William Toward Taft won the Republican presidential primaries in 1912 

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Answer

False 

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Question

Democrats had only taken the presidency once between the Civil War and the 1912 presidential election 

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Answer

True 

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Question

What was Roosevelt's 1912 platform called?


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Answer

New Nationalism

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Question

What was Wilson's 1912 platform called?

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Answer

New Freedom

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