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History of the United States by Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard

«·The Administration of President Taft · CHAPTER XXI·»

Progressive Insurgency and the Election of 1912

Growing Dissensions.—All in all, Taft’s administration from the first day had been disturbed by party discord. High words had passed over the tariff bill and disgruntled members of Congress could not forget them. To differences over issues were added quarrels between youth and old age. In the House of Representatives there developed a group of young “insurgent” Republicans who resented the dominance of the Speaker, Joseph G. Cannon, and other members of the “old guard,” as they named the men of long service and conservative minds. In 1910, the insurgents went so far as to join with the Democrats in a movement to break the Speaker’s sway by ousting him from the rules committee and depriving him of the power to appoint its members. The storm was brewing. In the autumn of that year the Democrats won a clear majority in the House of Representatives and began an open battle with President Taft by demanding an immediate downward revision of the tariff.

The Rise of the Progressive Republicans.—Preparatory to the campaign of 1912, the dissenters within the Republican party added the prefix “Progressive” to their old title and began to organize a movement to prevent the renomination of Mr. Taft. As early as January 21, 1911, they formed a Progressive Republican League at the home of Senator La Follette of Wisconsin and launched an attack on the Taft measures and policies. In October they indorsed Mr. La Follette as “the logical Republican candidate” and appealed to the party for support. The controversy over the tariff had grown into a formidable revolt against the occupant of the White House.

Roosevelt in the Field.—After looking on for a while, ex-President Roosevelt took a hand in the fray. Soon after his return in 1910 from a hunting trip in Africa and a tour in Europe, he made a series of addresses in which he formulated a progressive program. In a speech in Kansas, he favored regulation of the trusts, a graduated income tax bearing heavily on great fortunes, tariff revision schedule by schedule, conservation of natural resources, labor legislation, the direct primary, and the recall of elective officials. In an address before the Ohio state constitutional convention in February, 1912, he indorsed the initiative and referendum and announced a doctrine known as the “recall of judicial decisions.” This was a new and radical note in American politics. An ex-President of the United States proposed that the people at the polls should have the right to reverse the decision of a judge who set aside any act of a state legislature passed in the interests of social welfare. The Progressive Republicans, impressed by these addresses, turned from La Follette to Roosevelt and on February 24, induced him to come out openly as a candidate against Taft for the Republican nomination.

The Split in the Republican Party.—The country then witnessed the strange spectacle of two men who had once been close companions engaged in a bitter rivalry to secure a majority of the delegates to the Republican convention to be held at Chicago. When the convention assembled, about one-fourth of the seats were contested, the delegates for both candidates loudly proclaiming the regularity of their election. In deciding between the contestants the national committee, after the usual hearings, settled the disputes in such a way that Taft received a safe majority. After a week of negotiation, Roosevelt and his followers left the Republican party. Most of his supporters withdrew from the convention and the few who remained behind refused to answer the roll call. Undisturbed by this formidable bolt, the regular Republicans went on with their work. They renominated Mr. Taft and put forth a platform roundly condemning such Progressive doctrines as the recall of judges.

The Formation of the Progressive Party.—The action of the Republicans in seating the Taft delegates was vigorously denounced by Roosevelt. He declared that the convention had no claim to represent the voters of the Republican party; that any candidate named by it would be “the beneficiary of a successful fraud”; and that it would be deeply discreditable to any man to accept the convention’s approval under such circumstances. The bitterness of his followers was extreme. On July 8, a call went forth for a “Progressive” convention to be held in Chicago on August 5. The assembly which duly met on that day was a unique political conference. Prominence was given to women delegates, and “politicians” were notably absent. Roosevelt himself, who was cheered as a conquering hero, made an impassioned speech setting forth his “confession of faith.” He was nominated by acclamation; Governor Hiram Johnson of California was selected as his companion candidate for Vice President. The platform endorsed such political reforms as woman suffrage, direct primaries, the initiative, referendum, and recall, popular election of United States Senators, and the short ballot. It favored a program of social legislation, including the prohibition of child labor and minimum wages for women. It approved the regulation, rather than the dissolution, of the trusts. Like apostles in a new and lofty cause, the Progressives entered a vigorous campaign for the election of their distinguished leader.

Woodrow Wilson and the Election of 1912.—With the Republicans divided, victory loomed up before the Democrats. Naturally, a terrific contest over the nomination occurred at their convention in Baltimore. Champ Clark, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Governor Woodrow Wilson, of New Jersey, were the chief contestants. After tossing to and fro for seven long, hot days, and taking forty-six ballots, the delegates, powerfully influenced by Mr. Bryan, finally decided in favor of the governor. As a professor, a writer on historical and political subjects, and the president of Princeton University, Mr. Wilson had become widely known in public life. As the governor of New Jersey he had attracted the support of the progressives in both parties. With grim determination he had “waged war on the bosses,” and pushed through the legislature measures establishing direct primaries, regulating public utilities, and creating a system of workmen’s compensation in industries. During the presidential campaign that followed Governor Wilson toured the country and aroused great enthusiasm by a series of addresses later published under the title of The New Freedom. He declared that “the government of the United States is at present the foster child of the special interests.” He proposed to free the country by breaking the dominance of “the big bankers, the big manufacturers, the big masters of commerce, the heads of railroad corporations and of steamship corporations.”

In the election Governor Wilson easily secured a majority of the electoral votes, and his party, while retaining possession of the House of Representatives, captured the Senate as well. The popular verdict, however, indicated a state of confusion in the country. The combined Progressive and Republican vote exceeded that of the Democrats by 1,300,000. The Socialists, with Eugene V. Debs as their candidate again, polled about 900,000 votes, more than double the number received four years before. Thus, as the result of an extraordinary upheaval the Republicans, after holding the office of President for sixteen years, passed out of power, and the government of the country was intrusted to the Democrats under the leadership of a man destined to be one of the outstanding figures of the modern age, Woodrow Wilson.

General References

J.B. Bishop, Theodore Roosevelt and His Time (2 vols.).

Theodore Roosevelt, Autobiography; New Nationalism; Progressive Principles.

W.H. Taft, Popular Government.

Walter Weyl, The New Democracy.

H. Croly, The Promise of American Life.

J.B. Bishop, The Panama Gateway.

J.B. Scott, The Hague Peace Conferences.

W.B. Munro (ed.), Initiative, Referendum, and Recall.

C.R. Van Hise, The Conservation of Natural Resources.

Gifford Pinchot, The Fight for Conservation.

W.F. Willoughby, Territories and Dependencies of the United States (1905).

Research Topics

Roosevelt and “Big Business.”—Haworth, The United States in Our Own Time, pp. 281-289; F.A. Ogg, National Progress (American Nation Series), pp. 40-75; Paxson, The New Nation (Riverside Series), pp. 293-307.

Our Insular Possessions.—Elson, History of the United States, pp. 896-904.

Latin-American Relations.—Haworth, pp. 294-299; Ogg, pp. 254-257.

The Panama Canal.—Haworth, pp. 300-309; Ogg, pp. 266-277; Paxson, pp. 286-292; Elson, pp. 906-911.

Conservation.—Haworth, pp. 331-334; Ogg, pp. 96-115; Beard, American Government and Politics (3d ed.), pp. 401-416.

Republican Dissensions under Taft’s Administration.—Haworth, pp. 351-360; Ogg, pp. 167-186; Paxson, pp. 324-342; Elson, pp. 916-924.

The Campaign of 1912.—Haworth, pp. 360-379; Ogg, pp. 187-208.


1. Compare the early career of Roosevelt with that of some other President.

2. Name the chief foreign and domestic questions of the Roosevelt-Taft administrations.

3. What international complications were involved in the Panama Canal problem?

4. Review the Monroe Doctrine. Discuss Roosevelt’s applications of it.

5. What is the strategic importance of the Caribbean to the United States?

6. What is meant by the sea power? Trace the voyage of the fleet around the world and mention the significant imperial and commercial points touched.

7. What is meant by the question: “Does the Constitution follow the flag?”

8. Trace the history of self-government in Porto Rico. In the Philippines.

9. What is Cuba’s relation to the United States?

10. What was Roosevelt’s theory of our Constitution?

11. Give Roosevelt’s views on trusts, labor, taxation.

12. Outline the domestic phases of Roosevelt’s administrations.

13. Account for the dissensions under Taft.

14. Trace the rise of the Progressive movement.

15. What was Roosevelt’s progressive program?

16. Review Wilson’s early career and explain the underlying theory of The New Freedom.

«·The Administration of President Taft · CHAPTER XXI·»