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1908 United States 1916
United States presidential election, 1912
November 5, 1912
President Woodrow Wilson portrait December 2 1912.jpg Theodore Roosevelt-Pach.jpg
Nominee Woodrow Wilson Theodore Roosevelt
Party Democratic Progressive
Home state New Jersey New York
Running mate Thomas R. Marshall Hiram Johnson
Electoral vote 435 88
States carried 40 6
Popular vote 6,296,284 4,122,721
Percentage 41.8% 27.4%
William Howard Taft.jpg Eugene V. Debs, bw photo portrait, 1897.jpg
Nominee William Howard Taft Eugene V. Debs
Party Republican Socialist
Home state Ohio Indiana
Running mate Nicholas M. Butler Emil Seidel
Electoral vote 8 0
States carried 2 0
Popular vote 3,486,242 901, 551
Percentage 23.2% 6.1%
Presidential election results map. Red denotes states won by Taft/Butler, Blue denotes those won by Wilson/Marshall, Green denotes those won by Roosevelt/Johnson. Numbers indicate the number of electoral votes allotted to each state.

Previous President
William Howard Taft

Woodrow Wilson

The United States presidential election of 1912 was fought among three major candidates. Incumbent President William Howard Taft was renominated by the Republican Party with the support of the conservative wing of the party. After former President Theodore Roosevelt failed to receive the Republican nomination, he called his own convention and created the Progressive Party (nicknamed the "Bull Moose Party"). It nominated Roosevelt and ran candidates for other offices in major states. Democrat Woodrow Wilson was nominated on the 46th ballot of a contentious convention, thanks to the support of William Jennings Bryan, the three-time Democratic presidential candidate who still had a large and loyal following in 1912.

Wilson defeated both Taft and Roosevelt in the general election, winning a huge majority in the Electoral College, and won 42% of the popular vote while his nearest rival won 27%. Wilson became the only Democrat elected President between 1892 and 1932. Wilson was the second of only two Democrats to be elected President between 1860 and 1932. This was also the last election in which a candidate who was not a Republican or Democrat came second in either the popular vote or the Electoral College and the first election where the 48 states of the continental United States participated.



Progressive President Theodore Roosevelt had declined to run for re-election in 1908, following the tradition of presidents leaving office after two terms. He had tapped Secretary of War William Howard Taft to become his successor, and Taft had gone on to defeat Democrat William Jennings Bryan in the general election. During Taft's administration, a rift grew between Roosevelt and Taft as they became the leaders of the Republican Party's two wings: the progressives, led by Roosevelt, and the conservatives, led by Taft. The progressive Republicans favored restrictions on the employment of women and children, favored ecological conservation, were more favorable toward labor unions, and opposed tariffs on imported manufactured products. The progressives were also in favor of the popular election of federal and state judges; and opposed to having judges appointed by the President or state governors. The conservatives favored high tariffs on imported goods to encourage consumers to buy American-made products, favored business leaders over labor unions, and were generally opposed to the popular election of judges. By 1910 the split between the two wings of the Republican Party was deep, and this, in turn, caused Roosevelt and Taft to turn against one another, despite their personal friendship.



Republican Party nomination

Republican candidates:

Candidates gallery

An editorial cartoon depicting the perceived aggression between Taft and Roosevelt.

For the first time significant numbers of delegates to the national convention were elected in presidential preference primaries. Primary elections were advocated by the progressive faction in the Republican Party, which wanted to break the control of political parties by bosses. Altogether, fourteen states held Republican primaries. Robert M. LaFollette, Sr. won two of the first four primaries (North Dakota and Wisconsin), and Taft won the other two early primaries (New York and Nevada). Beginning with his runaway victory in Illinois on April 9, however, Roosevelt won nine of the last ten presidential primaries (in order, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, Oregon, Maryland, California, Ohio, New Jersey, and South Dakota), losing only Massachusetts to Taft. As a sign of his great popularity, Roosevelt even carried Taft's home state of Ohio.

The Republican Convention was held in Chicago from June 18 to June 22. Taft, however, had begun to gather delegates earlier, and the delegates chosen in the primaries were a minority. Taft had the support of the bulk of the party organizations in Southern states. These states had voted solidly Democratic in every presidential election since 1880, and Roosevelt objected that they were given one-quarter of the delegates when they would contribute nothing to a Republican victory (as it turned out, former Confederate states supported Taft by a 5 to 1 margin). When the Convention gathered, Roosevelt was challenging the credentials of nearly half of the delegates. By that time, however, it was too late. The delegates chose Elihu Root — once Roosevelt's top ally — to serve as chairman of the convention. Afterwards, the delegates seated Taft delegations in Alabama, Arizona, and California on tight contests of 597-472, 564-497, and 542-529, respectively. After losing California, where Roosevelt had won the primary, the progressive delegates gave up hope. They voted "present" on most succeeding roll calls. Not since the 1872 election had there been a major schism in the Republican party. Now, with the Democrats holding about 45% of the national vote, any schism would be fatal. Roosevelt's only hope at the convention was to form a "stop-Taft" alliance with LaFollette, but Roosevelt had alienated LaFollette, and the alliance could not form.

Unable to tolerate the personal humiliation he suffered at the hands of Taft and the Old Guard, and refusing to entertain the possibility of a compromise candidate, Roosevelt struck back hard. On the evening of June 22, 1912, Roosevelt asked his supporters to leave the Convention. Roosevelt maintained that President Taft had allowed fraudulent seating of delegates in order to capture the presidential nomination from progressive forces within the Party. Thus, with the support of convention chairman Elihu Root, Taft's supporters outvoted Roosevelt's men, and the convention renominated incumbents William Howard Taft and James S. Sherman, making Sherman the first Vice President to be nominated for re-election since John C. Calhoun in 1828.

Vice Presidential Ballot
James S. Sherman 596
William Borah 21
Charles Merriam 20
Herbert Hadley 14
Albert J. Beveridge 2

Progressive Party

Republican progressives reconvened in Chicago and endorsed the formation of a national progressive party. When formally launched later that summer, the new Progressive Party chose Roosevelt as its presidential nominee and Hiram Johnson of California as his running mate. Questioned by reporters, Roosevelt said he felt as strong as a "bull moose." Thenceforth known as the "Bull Moose Party," the Progressives promised to increase federal regulation and protect the welfare of ordinary people.

The party was funded by publisher Frank A. Munsey and its executive secretary George Perkins, an employee of banker J. P. Morgan and International Harvester. Perkins blocked an anti-trust plank, shocking reformers who thought of Roosevelt as a true trust-buster. The delegates to the convention sang the religious hymn Onward, Christian Soldiers as their anthem; and in a famous acceptance speech Roosevelt compared the coming presidential campaign to the Battle of Armageddon and stated that the Progressives were going to "battle for the Lord." However, many of the nation's newspapers, which tended to be pro-Republican, harshly depicted Roosevelt as an egotist who was only running for president to spoil Taft's chances and to feed his large ego. Many of these newspaper's political cartoons depicted Roosevelt in this fashion; the anti-Roosevelt cartoon below was drawn by Edward Windsor Kemble for the January 1912 edition of Harper's Weekly.[1]

Democratic Party nomination

Democratic candidates:

Candidates gallery

The Democratic Convention was held in Baltimore from June 25 to July 2. It proved to be one of the more memorable presidential conventions of the twentieth century. Initially, the frontrunner appeared to be Champ Clark of Missouri, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Clark did receive a majority of the delegate votes early in the balloting. However, due to the then-official two-thirds rule used by the Democratic Party, Clark was never able to get the necessary two-thirds majority to win the nomination. Clark's chances were hurt when Tammany Hall, the powerful and corrupt Democratic political machine in New York City, threw its support behind Clark. However, instead of helping Clark it led William Jennings Bryan, the three-time Democratic presidential candidate and still the leader of the party's liberals, to turn against Clark as the candidate of "Wall Street". Bryan instead threw his support to New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson, who had consistently finished second to Clark on each ballot, and who was regarded as a moderate reformer. Ironically, Wilson had nearly given up hope that he could be nominated, and he was on the verge of having a concession speech read for him at the convention freeing his delegates to vote for someone else. Bryan's defection from Clark to Wilson led many other delegates to do the same, and Wilson gradually gained in strength while Clark's support dwindled. Wilson received the nomination on the 46th ballot. Thomas R. Marshall, the Governor of Indiana, who had swung his state's delegate votes to Wilson in later ballots, was named as Wilson's running mate.

Vice Presidential Ballot
Ballot 1st 2nd
Thomas R. Marshall 389 644.5
John Burke 304.67 386.33
George E. Chamberlain 157 12.5
Elmore W. Hurst 78 0
James H. Preston 58 0
Martin J. Wade 26 0
William F. McCombs 18 0
John E. Osborne 8 0
William Sulzer 3 0

Socialist Party

Eugene Debs' 6% was an all-time high for the Socialist Party

The Socialist Party of America was a highly factionalized coalition of local parties based in industrial cities and usually was rooted in ethnic communities, especially German and Finnish. It also had some support in old Populist rural and mining areas in the West, especially Oklahoma. By 1912, the party claimed more than a thousand locally elected officials in 33 states and 160 cities, especially the Midwest. Eugene Debs had run for President in 1900, 1904, and 1908, primarily to encourage the local effort, and he did so again in 1912.[2]

The conservatives, led by Victor Berger of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, promoted progressive causes of efficiency and an end to corruption, nicknamed "gas and water socialism". Their opponents were the radicals who wanted to overthrow capitalism, tried to infiltrate labor unions, and sought to cooperate with the Industrial Workers of the World ("the Wobblies"). With few exceptions the party had weak or nonexistent links to local labor unions. Immigration was an issue—the radicals saw immigrants as fodder for the war with capitalism, while conservatives complained that they lowered wage rates and absorbed too many city resources. Many of these issues had been debated at the First National Congress of the Socialist Party in 1910, and they were debated again at the national convention in Indianapolis in 1912. At the latter, the radicals won an early test by seating Bill Haywood on the Executive Committee, by sending encouragement to western “Wobblies”, and by a resolution seeming to favor industrial unionism. The conservatives counterattacked by amending the party constitution to expel any socialists who favored industrial sabotage or syndicalism (that is, the IWW), and who refused to participate in American elections. They adopted a conservative platform calling for cooperative organization of prisons, a national bureau of health, abolition of the Senate and the presidential veto, and a long list of progressive reforms that the Democratic party was known for[citation needed]. Debs did not attend—he saw his mission as keeping the disparate units together in the hope that someday a common goal would be found.

General election


The 1912 presidential campaign was bitterly contested. Vice President James S. Sherman died in office on October 30, 1912, less than a week before the election, leaving Taft without a running mate. With the Republican Party divided, Wilson captured the presidency handily on November 5. Nevertheless, Roosevelt was to the left of Wilson on many issues; had Roosevelt not been in the race, it is doubtful that Wilson would have defeated Taft. Many Roosevelt supporters undoubtedly would have preferred Taft to Wilson.

Republican campaign postcard charging a Democratic administration would remove pensioners from the rolls

While Roosevelt was campaigning in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on October 14, 1912, a saloonkeeper named John F. Schrank shot him, but the bullet lodged in his chest only after penetrating both his steel eyeglass case and passing through a 50 page single-folded copy of the speech he was carrying in his jacket.

The election of 1912 is considered the high tide of progressive politics. A match-up between Roosevelt and Wilson alone may also have produced a Wilson victory, as many conservatives may have preferred Wilson, who still would have won much of the Democratic and progressive base.

The Socialists had little money—Debs' campaign cost only $66,000, mostly for 3.5 million leaflets and travel to rallies organized by local groups. His biggest event was a speech to 15,000 in New York City. The crowd sang “La Marseillaise” and “The Internationale” as Emil Seidel, the vice presidential candidate, boasted, “Only a year ago workingmen were throwing decayed vegetables and rotten eggs at us but now all is changed…. Eggs are too high. There is a great giant growing up in this country that will someday take over the affairs of this nation. He is a little giant now but he is growing fast. The name of this little giant is socialism.” Debs said that only the socialists represented labor. He condemned “Injunction Bill Taft” and ridiculed Roosevelt as “a charlatan, mountebank, and fraud, and his Progressive promises and pledges as the mouthings of a low and utterly unprincipled self seeker and demagogue.” Debs insisted that the Democrats, Progressives, and Republicans alike were financed by the trusts. Party newspapers spread the word—there were five English-language and eight foreign-language dailies along with 262 English and 36 foreign language weeklies. The labor union movement, however, largely rejected Debs and supported Wilson.

Results by county explicitly indicating the percentage of the winning candidate in each county. Shades of blue are for Woodrow Wilson, shades of red are for William Taft, shades of green are for Theodore Roosevelt, and shades of yellow are for Eugene Debs. Grey indicates counties with no information or results.

Roosevelt conducted a vigorous national campaign for the Progressive Party, denouncing the way the Republican nomination had been "stolen." He bundled together his reforms under the rubric of "The New Nationalism" and stumped the country for a strong federal role in regulating the economy, and, especially, watching and chastising bad corporations and overruling federal and state judges who made unprogressive decisions. Wilson happened to support a policy called "The New Freedom". This policy was based mostly on individualism instead of a strong government. Taft, knowing he had no chance to win, campaigned quietly, and spoke of the need for judges to be more powerful than elected officials. The departure of the more extreme progressives left the conservatives even more firmly in control of the Republican Party, and many of the Old Guard leaders even distrusted Taft as too progressive for their taste, especially on matters of antitrust and tariffs. Much of the Republican effort was designed to discredit Roosevelt as a dangerous radical, but this had little effect. The result was the weakest Republican effort in history.

Roosevelt's strong third-party candidacy resulted in the only instance in the 20th century of a third party candidate receiving more votes than one of the major party candidates: although he failed to become chief executive again, Roosevelt succeeded in his vendetta against Taft, who received just 23% of the popular vote compared to Roosevelt's 27%. Winning only eight electoral votes, Taft suffered a worse defeat than any other President defeated for reelection. Nicholas Butler was selected to receive the electoral votes from Utah and Vermont that would have gone to Sherman. [3] Wilson easily won election despite getting fewer votes and a lower percentage than William Jennings Bryan had for the Democrats four years previously: 6.3 million votes and 42% to 6.4 million and 43% for Bryan, who lost badly to Taft in 1908. Debs' 6% was the all-time high for the Socialist Party in presidential elections and made 1912 the first (and last) election since 1860 in which four candidates each cleared 5%.


This was the first 48-state election, with Arizona and New Mexico having joined the Union earlier in the year.

Presidential candidate Party Home state Popular vote Electoral
Running mate Running mate's
home state
Running mate's
electoral vote
Count Pct
Thomas Woodrow Wilson Democratic New Jersey 6,296,284 41.8% 435 Thomas Riley Marshall Indiana 435
Theodore Roosevelt Progressive New York 4,122,721 27.4% 88 Hiram Warren Johnson California 88
William Howard Taft Republican Ohio 3,486,242 23.2% 8 Nicholas Murray Butler New York 8
Eugene Victor Debs Socialist Indiana 901,551 6.0% 0 Emil Seidel Wisconsin 0
Eugene Wilder Chafin Prohibition Illinois 208,156 1.4% 0 Aaron Sherman Watkins Ohio 0
Arthur Elmer Reimer Socialist Labor Massachusetts 29,324 0.2% 0 August Gilhaus New York 0
Other 4,556 0.0% Other
Total 15,048,834 100% 531 531
Needed to win 266 266

Source (Popular Vote): Leip, David. 1912 Presidential Election Results. Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections (July 28, 2005).Source (Electoral Vote): Electoral College Box Scores 1789–1996. Official website of the National Archives. (July 31, 2005).

State by state results

EV State Woodrow Wilson Theodore Roosevelt William Taft Eugene V. Debs State
count  % EV count  % EV count  % EV count  % EV
12 Alabama 82,438 69.9 12 22,680 19.2 9,807 8.3 3,029 2.6 AL
03 Arizona 10,324 44.0 3 6,949 29.6 3,021 12.9 3,163 13.5 AZ
09 Arkansas 68,814 55.4 9 21,644 17.4 25,585 20.6 8,153 6.6 AR
13 California 283,436 43.6 *2 283,610 43.6 *11 3,914 0.6 79,201 12.2 CA
06 Colorado 114,232 43.7 6 72,306 27.7 58,386 22.3 16,418 6.3 CO
07 Connecticut 74,561 39.9 7 34,129 18.2 68,324 36.5 10,056 5.4 CT
03 Delaware 22,631 47.1 3 8,886 18.5 15,998 33.3 556 1.2 DE
06 Florida 35,343 72.2 6 4,555 9.3 4,279 8.7 4,806 9.8 FL
14 Georgia 93,087 76.7 14 21,985 18.1 5,191 4.3 1,058 0.9 GA
04 Idaho 33,921 32.5 4 25,527 24.5 32,810 31.5 11,960 11.5 ID
29 Illinois 405,048 36.0 29 386,478 34.3 253,593 22.5 81,278 7.2 IL
15 Indiana 281,890 44.6 15 162,007 25.6 151,267 23.9 36,931 5.8 IN
13 Iowa 185,325 38.3 13 161,819 33.4 119,805 24.8 16,967 3.5 IA
10 Kansas 143,663 39.3 10 120,210 32.9 74,845 20.5 26,779 7.3 KS
13 Kentucky 219,484 48.9 13 101,766 22.7 115,510 25.8 11,646 2.6 KY
10 Louisiana 60,871 76.8 10 9,283 11.7 3,833 4.8 5,261 6.6 LA
06 Maine 51,113 39.7 6 48,495 37.7 26,545 20.6 2,541 2.0 ME
08 Maryland 112,674 49.1 8 57,789 25.2 54,956 24.0 3,996 1.7 MD
18 Massachusetts 173,408 35.8 18 142,228 29.4 155,948 32.2 12,616 2.6 MA
15 Michigan 150,751 27.9 214,584 39.7 15 152,244 28.2 23,211 4.3 MI
12 Minnesota 106,426 32.8 125,856 38.8 12 64,334 19.8 27,505 8.5 MN
10 Mississippi 57,324 88.9 10 3,549 5.5 1,560 2.4 2,050 3.2 MS
18 Missouri 330,746 47.8 18 124,375 18.0 207,821 30.1 28,466 4.1 MO
04 Montana 27,941 35.0 4 22,456 28.1 18,512 23.2 10,885 13.6 MT
08 Nebraska 109,008 44.3 8 72,681 29.5 54,226 22.0 10,185 4.1 NE
03 Nevada 7,986 39.7 3 5,620 27.9 3,196 15.9 3,313 16.5 NV
04 New Hampshire 34,724 39.7 4 17,794 20.4 32,927 37.7 1,981 2.3 NH
14 New Jersey 178,289 41.6 14 145,410 33.9 88,835 20.7 15,948 3.7 NJ
03 New Mexico 20,437 41.3 3 8,347 16.9 17,733 35.9 2,859 5.8 NM
45 New York 655,573 41.9 45 390,093 24.9 455,487 29.1 63,434 4.1 NY
12 North Carolina 144,407 59.3 12 69,135 28.4 29,129 12.0 987 0.4 NC
05 North Dakota 29,555 34.6 5 25,726 30.1 23,090 27.1 6,966 8.2 ND
24 Ohio 424,834 41.5 24 229,807 22.5 278,168 27.2 90,144 8.8 OH
10 Oklahoma 119,156 47.4 10 not on ballot 90,786 36.1 41,674 16.6 OK
05 Oregon 47,064 35.5 5 37,600 28.3 34,673 26.1 13,343 10.1 OR
38 Pennsylvania 395,637 33.0 444,894 37.2 38 273,360 22.8 83,614 7.0 PA
05 Rhode Island 30,412 39.5 5 16,878 21.9 27,703 36.0 2,049 2.7 RI
09 South Carolina 48,357 96.0 9 1,293 2.6 536 1.1 164 0.3 SC
05 South Dakota 48,942 43.5 58,811 52.3 5 not on ballot 4,662 4.1 SD
12 Tennessee 133,021 53.0 12 54,041 21.5 60,475 24.1 3,564 1.4 TN
20 Texas 221,589 73.1 20 28,853 9.5 26,755 8.8 25,743 8.5 TX
04 Utah 36,579 32.7 24,174 21.6 42,100 37.6 4 9,023 8.1 UT
04 Vermont 15,354 24.9 22,132 35.8 23,332 37.8 4 928 1.5 VT
12 Virginia 90,332 66.3 12 21,776 16.0 23,288 17.1 820 0.6 VA
07 Washington 86,840 27.9 113,698 36.5 7 70,445 22.6 40,134 12.9 WA
08 West Virginia 113,097 42.8 8 79,112 29.9 56,754 21.5 15,248 5.8 WV
13 Wisconsin 164,230 42.0 13 62,448 16.0 130,596 33.4 33,476 8.6 WI
03 Wyoming 15,310 36.6 3 9,232 22.1 14,560 34.8 2,760 6.6 WY
EV State count  % EV count  % EV count  % EV count  % EV State
531 Totals: 06,296,184 42.5 435 04,122,721 27.8 88 03,486,242 23.5 8 0901,551 6.1 0
Percentages in this table do not take into account other candidates

Source: Leip, David. 1912 Presidential Election Data by State. Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections (July 31, 2005).


Inauguration platform being constructed in front of the Capitol Building ten days before Wilson's March 4, 1913 inauguration.

Failing to make itself a believable third party, the Bull Moose Party ended up losing strength. Its candidates did poorly in 1914. It vanished in 1916 with most members following Roosevelt back into the Republican party. However, the Taft conservatives controlled the party and its platform after 1912, and thus some Progressives like Harold L. Ickes joined the steadily more liberal Democratic party.

The election of 1912 was the topic of counterfactual speculation by John Lukacs, "The Election of Theodore Roosevelt, 1912", in What If? 2, edited by Robert Cowley.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Ira Kipnis, The American Socialist Movement, 1897-1912 1952.
  3. ^ Library of Congress


  • Chace, James (2004). 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft, and Debs—The Election That Changed the Country. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0743203941. 
  • Cooper, John Milton, Jr. (1983). The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt. Cambridge: Belknap Press. ISBN 0674947517. 
  • Kipnis, Ira (1952). The American Socialist Movement, 1897-1912. New York: Columbia University Press. 
  • Link, Arthur C. (1956). Wilson: Volume 1, The Road to the White House. 
  • Morgan, H. Wayne (1962). Eugene V. Debs: Socialist for President. Syracuse University Press. 
  • Mowry, George E. (1946). Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive Movement. Madison: Winconsin University Press. 
  • Wilensky, Norman N. (1965). Conservatives in the Progressive Era: The Taft Republicans of 1912. Gainesville: University of Florida Press. 

Primary sources

  • Wilson, Woodrow (1956). John Wells Davidson. ed. A Crossroads of Freedom, the 1912 Campaign Speeches. 

External links


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