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1912 United States 1920
United States presidential election, 1916
November 7, 1916
Thomas Woodrow Wilson.jpg Governor Charles Evans Hughes.jpg
Nominee Woodrow Wilson Charles Evans Hughes
Party Democratic Republican
Home state Virginia New York
Running mate Thomas R. Marshall Charles W. Fairbanks
Electoral vote 277 254
States carried 30 18
Popular vote 9,126,868 8,548,728
Percentage 49.2% 46.1%
ElectoralCollege1916.svg
Presidential election results map. Red denotes states won by Hughes/Fairbanks, Blue denotes those won by Wilson/Marshall. Numbers indicate the number of electoral votes allotted to each state.

Previous President
Woodrow Wilson
Democratic

President-elect
Woodrow Wilson
Democratic

The United States presidential election of 1916 took place while Europe was embroiled in World War I. Public sentiment in the still neutral United States leaned towards the British and French (allied) forces, due to the harsh treatment of civilians by the German Army, which had invaded and occupied large parts of Belgium and northern France. However, despite their sympathy with the allied forces most American voters wanted to avoid involvement in the war, and preferred to continue a policy of neutrality. The campaign pitted incumbent President Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic candidate, against Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes, the Republican candidate. After a hard-fought contest, Wilson defeated Hughes by a narrow margin. Wilson was helped by his campaign slogan "He kept us out of war".

Contents

Nominations

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Republican Party nomination

Republican candidates:

Candidates gallery

Republican National Convention

The 1916 Republican National Convention was held in Chicago from June 7 to June 10. A major goal of the party's bosses at the convention was to heal the bitter split within the Republican Party (GOP) that had occurred in the 1912 presidential campaign. In that year Theodore Roosevelt had bolted the GOP and formed his own political party, the Progressive Party, which contained most of the GOP's liberals. William Howard Taft, the incumbent President, had won the nomination of the regular Republican Party. This split in the GOP ranks had divided the Republican vote and led to the election of Democrat Woodrow Wilson. Although several candidates were openly competing for the 1916 nomination — most prominently conservative Senator Elihu Root of New York and liberal Senator John W. Weeks of Massachusetts — the party's bosses wanted a moderate who would be acceptable to both factions of the party. They turned to Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes, who had served on the court since 1910 and thus had the advantage of not having publicly spoken about political issues in six years. Although he had not actively sought the nomination, Hughes made it known that he would not turn it down; he won the nomination on the third ballot. Former Vice-President Charles W. Fairbanks was nominated as his running mate. Hughes is the only Supreme Court Justice to be nominated for President by a major political party.

Republican Convention, The Coliseum, Chicago
Ballot 1 2 3
Charles E. Hughes 253 326 950
John W. Weeks 105 102 2
Elihu Root 103 89 9
Charles Fairbanks 89 75 7
Albert Cummins 85 77 2
Theodore Roosevelt 81 65 19
Theodore Burton 78 69 9
Lawrence Sherman 66 59 5
Philander Knox 36 30 6
Henry Ford 32 29 9
Martin Brumbaugh 29 22 2
Robert M. La Follette, Sr. 25 25 23
William Howard Taft 14 4 0
Thomas C. DuPont 7 13 6
Henry Cabot Lodge 7 2 0
John Wanamaker 5 1 1
Frank B. Willis 1 2 2
William Borah 2 0 2
Warren G. Harding 1 0 1
Samuel W. McCall 0 1 1
Leonard Wood 0 1 1

Democratic Party nomination

Democratic candidate:

Candidates gallery

Democratic National Convention

The 1916 Democratic National Convention was held in St. Louis, Missouri from June 14 to June 16. Given Wilson's enormous popularity within the party, he was overwhelmingly renominated. His Vice-President, Thomas R. Marshall, was also renominated with no opposition.

Progressive Party Nomination

The Progressives renominated former President Theodore Roosevelt, but he withdrew from the race and supported Hughes. When Roosevelt refused to be their candidate, the Progressive Party quickly fell apart; most of its members returned to the Republican Party, although a substantial minority supported Wilson for his efforts in keeping the United States out of World War I. Roosevelt turned down the Progressive nomination for both personal and political reasons; he had become convinced that running for President on a third-party ticket again would merely give the election to the Democrats. He had also developed a strong dislike for President Wilson, who he believed was allowing Germany and other warring nations in Europe to "bully" the United States.

General election

The fall campaign

The fighting in Europe dominated the campaign. Woodrow Wilson campaigned for reelection on a pledge of continued neutrality in the Great War in Europe. His campaign slogan, "He Kept Us out of War", was highly popular. Hughes advocated a program of greater mobilization and preparedness; some pro-Wilson newspapers claimed that Hughes, if elected, was secretly planning to take America into the war. With Wilson having successfully pressured the Germans to suspend unrestricted submarine warfare, it was difficult for Hughes to attack Wilson's peace platform. Hughes criticized Wilson's military interventions in Mexico, where the U.S. was supporting various factions in a civil war. Hughes also attacked Wilson for his support of various "pro-labor" laws (such as limiting the workday to eight hours), on the grounds that they were harmful to business interests. However, his criticisms gained little traction, especially among factory workers who had supported such laws. Hughes was helped by the vigorous support of popular former President Theodore Roosevelt, and by the fact that the Republicans were still the nation's majority party at the time. A key mistake by Hughes was made in California. Just before the election Hughes made a campaign swing through the state. While in Long Beach he stayed in the same hotel as Hiram Johnson, the powerful Republican Governor of the state. Hughes — who may not have known of Johnson's presence in the hotel — never made the short trip to greet Johnson in his hotel suite; Johnson took this as a deliberate snub and never gave Hughes his full support. Given the extremely narrow loss Hughes suffered in California, this unintentional slight may have cost him the Presidency.

Results

On election night (November 7) Hughes took an early lead in the Eastern and Midwestern states, and several newspapers declared him the winner. However, Wilson refused to concede, and as returns came in from the South and West, Wilson made a comeback and eventually took the lead. The key state proved to be California, which Wilson won by only 3,800 votes out of nearly a million cast. The electoral vote was one of the closest in American history - with 266 votes needed to win, Wilson took 30 states for 277 electoral votes, while Hughes won 18 states and 254 electoral votes. If Hughes had carried California and its 13 electoral votes, he would have won the election. In the popular vote Wilson's lead was larger, although it was still narrow - Wilson took 49% of the popular vote to Hughes' 46%. A popular legend from the 1916 campaign states that Hughes went to bed on Election Night thinking that he was the newly-elected president. When a reporter tried to telephone him the next morning to get his reaction to Wilson's comeback, someone (stories vary as to whether this person was his son or a butler or valet) answered the phone and told the reporter that "the President is asleep." The reporter retorted, "When he wakes up, tell him he isn't the President."

Vice President Thomas R. Marshall became the first Vice President elected to a second term since John C. Calhoun in 1828. Woodrow Wilson is only the second person to win the Presidential Election but not win his home state (New Jersey); the first was James Knox Polk, who in 1844 did not carry his home state of Tennessee or his birthplace, North Carolina (George W. Bush did not carry his birth state of Connecticut in 2000 and 2004, but he won his home state of Texas both times). His popular vote margin of victory, 3.1%, was also the smallest percentage margin for a victorious sitting President in history until the 2004 election, in which George W. Bush won the popular vote with 50.7% against John Kerry's 48.2%, producing a margin of 2.4%. Although Wilson won three states he lost in 1912, (California, Utah and Washington), he lost 13 states he carried in his first election. Wilson is the only President in U.S. history to win re-election with fewer electoral votes than in his first election. However, Wilson is not the only President to win re-election with a lower percentage of the electoral vote in his second election than in his first election, as James Madison won re-election with a smaller percentage of the electoral vote than in his first election, but still won more electoral votes in his second election (the number of total electoral votes increased from 175 to 217 between the years 1808 and 1812).

Presidential candidate Party Home state Popular vote Electoral
vote
Running mate Running mate's
home state
Running mate's
electoral vote
Count Pct
Woodrow Wilson Democratic New Jersey 9,126,868 49.2% 277 Thomas Riley Marshall Indiana 277
Charles Evans Hughes Republican New York 8,548,728 46.1% 254 Charles Warren Fairbanks Indiana 254
Allan Louis Benson Socialist New York 590,524 3.2% 0 George Ross Kirkpatrick New Jersey 0
James Franklin Hanly Prohibition Indiana 221,302 1.2% 0 Ira Landrith Tennessee 0
Other 49,163 0.3% Other
Total 18,536,585 100% 531 531
Needed to win 266 266

Source (Popular Vote): Leip, David. 1916 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).

Close states

Business advertising postcard exploiting public interest in the election; parts of Wilson's and Hughes' faces can be seen in this image, with the U.S. Capitol building in the background
  1. Minnesota, 0.1%
  2. New Hampshire, 0.1%
  3. California, 0.3%
  4. Indiana, 0.9%
  5. West Virginia, 1.0%
  6. North Dakota, 1.5%
  7. Delaware, 2.4%
  8. Oregon, 2.6%
  9. Missouri, 2.7%
  10. Connecticut, 3.2%
  11. South Dakota, 3.9%
  12. Massachusetts, 3.9%
  13. Maine, 4.0%
  14. Washington, 4.2%

Bibliography

  • Leary, William M., Jr. (1967). "Woodrow Wilson, Irish Americans, and the Election of 1916". The Journal of American History 54 (1): 57–72. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1900319. 
  • Link, Arthur Stanley (1954). Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910–1917. New York: Harper. 
  • Link, Arthur Stanley (1965). Wilson: Campaigns For Progressivism and Peace 1916–1917. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 
  • Lovell, S. D. (1980). The Presidential Election of 1916. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. ISBN 0809309653. 
  • Pusey, Merlo J. (1951). Charles Evans Hughes. 1. New York: Macmillan. 

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