1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft & Debs by James Chace

The US presidential election of 1912 had 4 viable candidates and was remarkable in many ways. Moreover, issues from that time are still being debated today.

Book cover: 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft & Debs — The Election That Changed the Country by James Chace
Book cover: 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft & Debs — The Election That Changed the Country by James Chace

The book is subtitled “The Election That Changed the Country”. This is not hyperbole — author James Chace makes a very convincing argument that, indeed, the U.S. presidential election of 1912 was without precedent for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it included four viable parties on the ballot. Theodore Roosevelt had come out of retirement to found the Progressive or “Bull Moose” Party and run as its candidate. A number of factors, including unrest among the new immigrant populations, had turned the party of Eugene Debs – the Socialists – into a threat as well.

As for the two “major” parties, William Howard Taft was running for re-election as the Republican incumbent whereas a newcomer on the national scene – former Princeton University president and New Jersey governor Woodrow Wilson – represented the Democrats.

The outcome of the four-way race hinged on a number of “new” issues that we are still wrestling with today: activism vs. isolationism in foreign policy, bigger vs. smaller government, and unbridled capitalism vs. regulation of the marketplace.

Results of 1912 US election
Results of 1912 US election

One of our history’s great “what-if’s” is how might history have been different if the Republicans had united behind Roosevelt who, as shown in the chart above, ran ahead of Taft in both the popular and electoral vote and thus very well might have defeated Wilson. Note also how different the outcomes are in the popular vote compared to the electoral vote.

It all reminds one of several of the elections in the first part of the 21st century.

Personal connection: My father was born on December 22, 1912,  just weeks after the election. [⇒ Excerpt]

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