Wilson's directing hand at the start — Made few promises — Wilson and Marshall had popular records — No Democratic division — Roosevelt's vigorous and effective onslaught ons — "Thou shalt not steal" — Part taken by La Follette and Gompers — Wilson's big electoral majority
"In the affairs of a great nation we plan and labor, not for the present only, but for the long future as well." — Wilson
Would Mr. Wilson have been elected in 1912 if there had been no split in the Republican party that year? That question has been answered both ways. The best way to answer it is to compare 1892 with 1912. The Harrison administration had not met with popular approval. Harrison was one of the ablest lawyers who has served as chief magistrate in the nation's history. He obtained the reputation of being cold. The revolt of the farmers in the West he regarded as a temporary symptom of agrarian discontent. He lacked the power to deal successfully with the labor troubles in the East. There was no foreign issue to divert the attention of the people from hard times. The Democrats carried the House in 1890 by a large majority. That presaged the Democratic victory in 1892. No third party, except in a few small Western states, affected the result. History repeated itself twenty years later. Taft's administration did not make a popular appeal. Held in high esteem for his lovable p116qualities and regarded as an able lawyer, the Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act and Ballingerism caused the people to regard it as a reactionary administration. As a result in 1910, the large Republican majority in the House was wiped out and the Democrats controlled the House by a big majority. The Republicans of the West were in revolt. If there had been no Roosevelt and no Progressive Party, Wilson would have been elected in 1912 and for much the same reason that brought about the election of Cleveland in 1892. To be sure the majority in the electoral college would have been much smaller. When a President fails to win popular favor and the people are bent on a change, the question of a third party seldom affects the result. This is far from saying, however, that the Progressive Party in 1912 was not one of the most significant and militant political revolutions in the history of America. Led by one of the most remarkable men, it had the impulse of a great moral force. It called itself a party, but it was an organized protest and an army with banners seeking a new order. It has been treated as a mere temporary division of the Republican party. It was more than that, for Mr. Roosevelt drew to his support hundreds of thousands of Democrats who had long admired the qualities for which he was distinguished.
Mr. Wilson had the good judgment to understand that many of the supporters of Roosevelt had cut loose from the Republican party because they wished a new day. He recognized that real Progressives, whether supporting him or Roosevelt, were animated by the same aims. Therefore, though urged thereto by some of his supporters, he refrained in his letters and speeches from controversy with Mr. Roosevelt or any Progressive p117leaders and raised no issues except upon tariff and the trust problem. Even then he refrained from any personalities. Indeed, seldom did he at any time inject or take notice of personalities in his campaign. The exceptions were when he felt impelled to do so by some strong circumstance. The wisdom of his policy toward the Progressives is seen in the fact that, when he came to the Presidency and presented his program, most of the measures were supported by Progressives in Congress.
A few days after the nomination, the members of the Democratic National Committee visited the presidential candidate at Sea Girt, N. J., to confer with him about the conduct of the campaign. They found that he had already given it thought. The suggestion of a national Chairman gave concern. Hon. W. F. McCombs had been the pre-convention Chairman of the Wilson forces, zealous and active. Mr. Wilson evidently doubted his ability to do teamwork and hesitated to see him in command. And yet he held him in esteem and was appreciative of all he had done. He gave thought to the make-up of the Executive Committee and vetoed some suggestions for its membership. It was agreed that McCombs should be Chairman and W. G. McAdoo should be vice-Chairman. McCombs did not approve but acquiesced. His strength was not equal to the strain, and McAdoo was compelled for a time to take the lead until McCombs could resume active management. The tension in the campaign due to the ill health and inability of McCombs to do teamwork was to be a thorn in the side when Wilson went to Washington and in making up his Cabinet.
Keystone View Co.
The nominees for the Presidency and Vice-Presidency
This photograph, taken on the lawn of the Governor's mansion at Sea Girt, in 1912, shows the Democratic nominees, Woodrow Wilson and Thomas R. Marshall, surrounded by prominent committeemen
Governor Wilson's hand was seen quickly in the direction of the campaign, selecting only progressives as p118the real managers. The League of College Votes, with yells and cheers, was an inspiring force in the campaign. "The schoolmaster in politics" attracted collegians, and Princeton men were notably active. Samuel Gompers, the veteran labor leader, was an early visitor to Sea Girt, with approval of platform. He let an enthusiastic supporter. He was to be a distinguished co‑worker in advancing humane legislation. When war came he was to crown his career as member of the Advisory Committee of the Council of National Defense, and prove himself inspiring, influential, and effective in efforts to win the World War. Wilson told his campaign managers he could not consent for them to accept any large campaign contribution from any source, and under his inspiration the popular appeal for small sums was remarkably successful.
Mr. Wilson believed a candidate ought to make few promises and religiously keep every pledge made. He did not wish to arouse hopes that could not be fulfilled. The responsibility of leadership he took seriously and never surrendered to the temptation of promising the millennium. In a heart-to‑heart talk to some newspaper men at Sea Girt, before he had written his speech of acceptance, Wilson said, "When messages are brought to me by friends, of what is expected of the next President, I am sometimes terrified at the task that would await me in case I should be elected. For instance, my daughter, who is engaged in social-welfare work in Philadelphia, told me of a visit she paid a humble home in that city when the head of a large family told her that her husband was going to vote for me because it would mean cheaper bread." He paused and said, "Think of the responsibility such expectation creates. I can't reduce p119the price of bread. I can only strive in the few years I shall have office to remove the noxious growths that have been planted in the soil and try to clear the way for the new adjustment which is necessary."
The Baltimore platform in its treatment of leading issues made instant appeal to the country. Even greater appeal was made in the personnel of the Democratic nominees. Wilson's spectacular and successful victory over New Jersey bosses, and the record of humane and advanced legislation he had secured, made him a popular hero. This was particularly true as to the young and independent voters of the country. They welcomed the opportunity to get rid of old guard and well-greased party manipulation. The nominee for Vice-President, Thomas R. Marshall, of Indiana, had a record second only among American Governors to that of Wilson. The voters studied what he had achieved as Governor of his State and found it progressive and humane. While he had been called upon for no such combat with Boss Rule as Wilson, he had shown the highest quality of independence and leadership. He had opposed the decree of "the organization" to sidestep the direct selection of a United States senator. His wise leadership opened the door for the election of Kern to the Senate. The Indiana Senator was chosen majority leader, and he gave proof of the wisdom of the selection.
The Democratic leaders did not need to make promises. Their supporters said: "A Governor is President on a small scale. You can tell what will be done in Washington by reading what has been done in Trenton." Fortunately what had been done by Wilson had been blazoned on the front page of every paper for a year. The laws he had sponsored were fought at every step by p120the trusts, public service corporations, and other intrenched interests, for New Jersey was called "the mother of trusts." Under the old rule, the combinations in restraint of trade had flocked there as chickens gather under a mother's wing. Before the national issues were brought to the front, Wilson leaders paramounted his achievements in New Jersey and his fight for democratization at Princeton. With that background, appealing to the admiration and imagination of patriotic voters, the campaign progressed from victory to victory. To be sure Roosevelt attracted hundreds of thousands of young men, who, like Wilson's supporters, were tired of the old grandmother's leading strings which made Taft's campaign a procession from the funeral chapel to the cemetery. Roosevelt's cohorts were enthusiastic, militant, and strenuous. The same was true, with more moderation of expression and deeper conviction, of the same type of Wilson's supporters. The Roosevelt hurrah was for the man, rather than the new issues he championed, and which later he saw go into innocuous desuetude. But how he did move and stir millions as he called men to battle! The Wilson hurrah lacked the abandon of enthusiasm, but made up in deep devotion to the principles and faith in the candidate. Against two such attractive candidates, the able and undramatic Taft, weighted down with the Aldrich Tariff and Ballingerism (a 1912 prophecy of the Teapot Dome scandal of 1924), could make no headway. He was also handicapped by money-bags campaign blundering. As early as September a member of the Democratic Executive Committee said, "Taft will not carry over four States." The Taft press derided the prophecy. The committeeman was too generous, for the Republican candidate p121received only the electoral vote of Utah and Vermont. Mr. Taft had won the nomination at Chicago on the first ballot over Roosevelt. The nomination to the vice-presidency went to James S. Sherman, of New York, who died October 30. Herbert S. Hadley, of Missouri, with Progressive leanings, was named for Vice-President. There was gossip that the Taft forces had offered to nominate Hadley, a Roosevelt supporter, for President at Chicago, as a compromise candidate, but Theodore Roosevelt put his foot down on any compromise with what he called "the thieves" and "porch-climbers."
There was no delay after the selection of the campaign committee in organizing the Wilson forces. Whatever disappointment grew out of the contest at Baltimore was not visited on Wilson. Clark and Harmon and Underwood gave whole-hearted support. As Speaker and leader of the House respectively, Clark and Underwood were to co‑operate in the progressive legislation that marked the days to come at Washington, and Harmon was to give wise counsel. It is a matter of history that the attitude of the Democrats in the House in 1909‑10 contributed in large measure toward the victory of 1912. Asked if he intended to take the stump, Mr. Bryan said, "Take the stump? I should say I will." Not even when he was a candidate for President was the Nebraskan more abundant in labors or in convincing brilliancy on the stump. In fact, as he said, it was the first presidential campaign for years in which he could praise the candidate as much as he desired without opening himself to the charge of self-praise.
All elements of the party co-operated. "We are for Wilson," declared Hearst's papers, though they were p122never partial to him as candidate or chief executive. As the campaign progressed, the Roosevelt hope of creating an imposing Democratic defection from Wilson failed, though he did poll a large Democratic vote in November.
Charging unfair tactics on the part of the Old Guard Republicans in control of the Chicago Convention, the supporters of Roosevelt withdrew from the convention and organized the Progressive Party with the red bandanna as its oriflamme, the bull-moose as its symbol, and "Onward, Christian Soldiers" as its marching song. With Roosevelt as candidate President, Hiram Johnson for Vice-President, and George W. Perkins as the "angel", the party was born full panoplied, with abundance of enthusiasm and "ample funds" for conducting the wonderful campaign that followed. After the climax of 1912 all other campaigns in comparison have been dull and spiritless. Mr. Roosevelt, a veritable Rupert, was first to arrive on the field. He literally made a centre rush, so rapidly did he charge. Leaving Chicago, he plunged into the campaign and kept the country alternately gasping and applauding at the picturesqueness of his vocabulary and the vigor of his denunciation coupled with the earnestness of an evangelist. He early sensed that the contest was to be between him and Wilson. Though in his seven years in the White House he had not advised tariff legislation, Roosevelt warned the people against the evils Wilson's position on the tariff would inflict. He told the voters that "if the Democratic platform (on the tariff) was not repudiated" the party under Wilson would "bring every industry in the country to a crash which would make all the panics in our past history like child's play."
p123 Popular as his campaign was, it was a year when the people would not think in terms of an old issue. They wanted something new, with "pep" in it, and, aside from his tariff speeches, Roosevelt supplied that demand. The best analysis of the political trend of the times was presented by Prof. John B. Clark in an article in the Outlook. A Republican and descended from a long line of Republicans, he contended that the real issue was the treatment of great business corporations. He contrasted the proposed treatment of them by the candidates greatly to the advantage of Mr. Wilson and his party. High protective duties could mean only continued exorbitant prices, he held, while Colonel Roosevelt's proposal to let the "good trusts" alone was proof that under him relief from monopolistic oppression could not be had. The Democratic Party, he said, offered the single solution — reasonable reform of abuses in the tariff, necessity of preserving competition and prevention of monopoly. Colonel Roosevelt declared his plea for high tariff duties was made to help wage workers. Governor Wilson availed himself of the Lawrence (Massachusetts) textile strike where it was brought out that operatives were getting only eight dollars a week, and pointed out that this great industry was always seeking tariff favors on the ground that they were needed "to pay good wages to employees." The Democratic candidate declared that the best wages were being paid by the unprotected industries.
Colonel Roosevelt, who was contributing editor of the Outlook, carried, in the issue of July 13, an article headed "Thou Shalt Not Steal," in which the "theft" charge against the Taft wing of the Republican Party was reiterated and elaborated. Colonel Roosevelt's trust plank was attacked with considerable effect. He had proposed p124a commission to regulate trusts expressly providing: "Any corporation voluntarily coming under the commission should not be prosecuted under the anti-trust law so long as it obeys in good faith the orders of the commission." Years afterwards, when the Federal Trade Commission was created under Wilson, Roosevelt's supporters said it was in line with his platform pledge. Wilson did not agree, but referred to it as an agency, not to regulate, but to prevent the practices of combinations.
Governor Wilson was progressive enough to suit many progressives, and so cool-headed and sure-footed and audacious (when convinced that he was right) in all of his positions, that many independents were attracted to his standard. He made it clear that he would advocate no governmental change any for the purpose of change, but would seek change only as it meant necessary reform and restoration of the right of the people to govern their affairs. Speaking in Connecticut, where conservative sentiment was especially strong, he said:
"We ought to go very slowly and very carefully about the task of altering the institutions we have been a long time in building up. I believe that the ancient traditions of a people are its ballast. You must knit the new into the old. If I did not believe that to be progressive is to preserve the essentials of our institutions, I for one would not be a progressive."
Mr. Wilson's attitude and magnanimity also won him many friends. Speaking at Minneapolis, where anti-Taft sentiment was very strong, and, doubtless mindful of the harsh things Colonel Roosevelt had said about the President, Mr. Wilson said: "I do not believe that any man in the United States who knows his facts can question the patriotism or the integrity of the man who p125now presides at the executive office in Washington," and it brought from many sources the comment: "This is a magnanimous campaigner and a gentleman."
A conspicuous figure in that campaign was Senator La Follette, of Wisconsin. He fought Roosevelt for the control of the Progressive Party. When Roosevelt charged that the Taft nomination by the Republican convention was stolen, La Follette retorted that nobody had been more ready to "steal than Roosevelt." The Wisconsin Senator said in his weekly that Bryan at Baltimore was "a towering figure of moral power and patriotic devotion to civic righteousness" and that Roosevelt had "as great an opportunity to serve the progressive cause as Bryan had at Baltimore, but would not accept it because he was serving himself only." Such criticism by La Follette — a genuine progressive, even radical in progress — was Roosevelt's most serious handicap in uniting all progressive forces under his banner. But, in spite of it, his ability to attract the Republican Progressives was evident in the overwhelming vote given him.
October 14, Colonel Roosevelt, while bowing to a cheering crowd in front of a hotel in Milwaukee, was shot in the breast by John Shrank, of New York. Although badly wounded, Roosevelt showed the "stuff" of his courage when he insisted on being driven to the auditorium, where he spoke for an hour and a half. Governor Wilson, reluctant to fight a stricken antagonist, cancelled many of his speaking dates and waited for Colonel Roosevelt to resume. The assault on Roosevelt removed some of the asperities of the campaign, but upon his recovery it was carried through with vigor, resulting in what most political prognosticators declared it would — the election of Woodrow Wilson as the twenty-eighth President of p126the United States. Wilson received 435 electoral votes; Roosevelt 81; and Taft 15. The popular vote was: Wilson, 6,293,154; Roosevelt 4,119,538; Taft, 3,484,980.
And the first "schoolmaster in politics" to be chosen chief executive, made ready to move to Washington.
Would he use the Rod, the Big Stick, or Persuasion? Taft had used the last. Roosevelt had used the Big Stick. Did Wilson have the Rod ready? That was the question when a perfect day ushered in the new administration, auspicious of what promised to be a new era of Good Feeling.
Baltimore's choice was ratified.
Images with borders lead to more information.
Life of Wilson
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
Page updated: 16 Aug 08