1912 United States presidential election
531 members of the Electoral College
266 electoral votes needed to win
|Turnout||58.8% 6.6 pp|
Presidential election results map. Blue denotes those won by Wilson/Marshall, light green denotes those won by Roosevelt/Johnson, red denotes states won by Taft/Butler. Numbers indicate the number of electoral votes allotted to each state.
The 1912 United States presidential election was the 32nd quadrennial presidential election, held on Tuesday, November 5. Democratic Governor Woodrow Wilson unseated incumbent Republican President William Howard Taft and defeated former President Theodore Roosevelt, who ran under the banner of the new Progressive or "Bull Moose" Party. As of 2020, this is the most recent presidential election in which a top two finisher was neither a Democrat nor a Republican.
Roosevelt served as president from 1901 to 1909 as a Republican, and Taft succeeded him with his support. However, Taft's actions as President displeased Roosevelt, and Roosevelt challenged Taft for the party nomination at the 1912 Republican National Convention. When Taft and his conservative allies narrowly prevailed, Roosevelt rallied his progressive supporters and launched a third party bid. At the Democratic Convention, Wilson won the presidential nomination on the 46th ballot, defeating Speaker of the House Champ Clark and several other candidates with the support of William Jennings Bryan and other progressive Democrats. The Socialist Party renominated its perennial standard-bearer, Eugene V. Debs.
The general election was bitterly contested by Wilson, Roosevelt, and Taft. Roosevelt's "New Nationalism" platform called for social insurance programs, reduction to an eight-hour workday, and robust federal regulation of the economy. Wilson's "New Freedom" platform called for tariff reduction, banking reform, and new antitrust regulation. With little chance of victory, Taft conducted a subdued campaign based on his own platform of "progressive conservatism." Debs claimed the three candidates were financed by trusts and tried to galvanize support behind his socialist policies.
Wilson took advantage of the Republican split, winning 40 states and a large majority of the electoral vote with just 41.8% of the popular vote, the lowest support for any President after 1860. Wilson was the first Democrat to win a presidential election since 1892 and one of just two Democratic presidents to serve between 1861 (the American Civil War) and 1932 (the onset of the Great Depression). Roosevelt finished second with 88 electoral votes and 27% of the popular vote. Taft carried 23% of the national vote and won two states Vermont and Utah. He was the first Republican to lose the Northern states. Debs won no electoral votes, but took 6% of the popular vote, which remains the highest ever for a Socialist candidate as of 2020. With Wilson's decisive win, he became the first presidential candidate to receive over 400 electoral votes in a presidential election.
Republican President Theodore Roosevelt had declined to run for re-election in 1908 in fulfillment of a pledge to the American people not to seek a third term.[a] Roosevelt had tapped Secretary of War William Howard Taft to become his successor, and Taft defeated William Jennings Bryan in the 1908 general election.
Republican Party split
During Taft's administration, a rift developed between Roosevelt and Taft, and they became the leaders of the Republican Party's two wings: progressives led by Roosevelt and conservatives led by Taft. Progressives favored labor restrictions protecting women and children, promoted ecological conservation, and were more sympathetic toward labor unions. They also favored the popular election of federal and state judges over appointment by the President or governors. Conservatives supported high tariffs to encourage domestic production, but favored business leaders over labor unions and were generally opposed to the popular election of judges.
Cracks in the party began to show when Taft supported the Payne–Aldrich Tariff Act in 1909. The Act favored the industrial Northeast and angered the Northwest and South, where demand was strong for tariff reductions. Early in his term, President Taft had promised to stand for a lower tariff bill, but protectionism had been a major policy of the Republican Party since its founding.
Taft also abandoned Roosevelt's antitrust policy[dubious ] and fired popular conservationist Gifford Pinchot as head of the Bureau of Forestry in 1910. By 1910, the split within the party was deep, and Roosevelt and Taft turned against one another despite their personal friendship. That summer, Roosevelt began a national speaking tour in which he outlined his progressive philosophy and the New Nationalist platform, which he introduced in a speech in Osawatomie, Kansas on August 31. In the 1910 midterm elections, the Republicans lost 57 seats in the House of Representatives as the Democrats gained a majority for the first time since 1894. These results were a large defeat for the conservative wing of the party. James E. Campbell writes that one cause may have been a large amount of progressive voters choosing third-party candidates over conservative Republicans. Nevertheless, Roosevelt continued to reject calls to run for president into the year 1911. In a January letter to newspaper editor William Allen White, he wrote, "I do not think there is one chance in a thousand that it will ever be wise to have me nominated." However, speculation continued, further harming Roosevelt and Taft's relationship. After months of continually increasing support, Roosevelt changed his position, writing to journalist Henry Beach Needham in January 1912 that if the nomination "comes to me as a genuine public movement of course I will accept."
Republican Party nomination
|William Howard Taft||James S. Sherman|
|for President||for Vice President|
President of the United States
Vice President of the United States
For the first time, many convention delegates were elected in presidential preference primaries. Progressive Republicans advocated primary elections as a way of breaking the control of political parties by bosses. Altogether, twelve states held Republican primaries.
Senator Robert M. La Follette won two of the first four primaries (North Dakota and his home state of Wisconsin), but Taft won a major victory in Roosevelt's home state of New York and continued to rack up delegates in more conservative, traditional state conventions.
However, on March 28, Roosevelt issued an ultimatum: if Republicans did not nominate him, he would run as an independent. Beginning with a runaway victory in Illinois on April 9, Roosevelt won nine of the last ten presidential primaries (including Taft's home state of Ohio), losing only Massachusetts.
Taft also had support from the bulk of the Southern Republican organizations. Delegates from the former Confederate states supported Taft by a 5 to 1 margin. 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.
The Republican Convention convened in Chicago from June 18 to 22. In the weeks leading up to the convention, many delegates remained uncommitted to a candidate, but by the time the convention formally opened, Taft had won the support of almost every unbound delegate. Roosevelt accused Taft of stealing votes and attempted to have delegates from Arizona, California, Texas, and Washington — all states in favor of Taft — removed from the convention, but he was unsuccessful. The delegates chose Taft supporter Elihu Root to serve as chairman of the convention, a move that signaled that Taft was likely to win the nomination.
Roosevelt broke with tradition and attended the convention in person, where he was welcomed with great support from voters. Despite Roosevelt's presence in Chicago and his attempts to disqualify Taft supporters, the incumbent ticket of Taft and James S. Sherman was renominated on the first ballot. Sherman was the first sitting Vice President re-nominated since John C. Calhoun in 1828. After losing the vote, Roosevelt announced the formation of a new party dedicated "to the service of all the people." This would later come to be known as the Progressive Party. Roosevelt announced that his party would hold its own convention in Chicago and that he would accept their nomination if offered. Meanwhile, Taft decided not to campaign before the election beyond his acceptance speech on August 1.
Not since the 1884 election had there been a major schism in the Republican Party, when the Mugwump faction repudiated nominee James G. Blaine and broke with the party. The schism, in which Roosevelt had nearly participated after fighting Blaine's nomination, was a major factor in Blaine's loss to Grover Cleveland.
|William Howard Taft||561|
|Robert M. La Follette||41|
|Albert B. Cummins||17|
|Charles Evans Hughes||2|
|Present, not voting||344|
|Vice Presidential Ballot|
|James S. Sherman||596|
|Charles Edward Merriam||20|
|Herbert S. Hadley||14|
|Albert J. Beveridge||2|
Democratic Party nomination
|Woodrow Wilson||Thomas R. Marshall|
|for President||for Vice President|
Governor of New Jersey
Governor of Indiana
The Democratic Convention was held in Baltimore from June 25 to July 2.
Clark's chances were hurt when Tammany Hall, the powerful New York City Democratic political machine, threw its support behind him. The Tammany endorsement caused William Jennings Bryan, three-time Democratic presidential candidate and leader of the party's progressives, to turn against Clark. Bryan shifted his support to reformist Governor of New Jersey Woodrow Wilson and decried Clark as the candidate of Wall Street. Wilson had consistently finished second in balloting.
Wilson had nearly given up hope and was on the verge of freeing his delegates to vote for another candidate. Instead, Bryan's defection from Clark to Wilson led many other delegates to do the same. Wilson gradually gained strength while Clark's support dwindled, and Wilson finally received the nomination on the 46th ballot.
|Vice Presidential Ballot|
|Thomas R. Marshall||389||644.5||1,088|
|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|
Progressive Party nomination
|1912 Progressive Party ticket|
|Theodore Roosevelt||Hiram Johnson|
|for President||for Vice President|
President of the United States
Governor of California
Progressives reconvened in Chicago and endorsed the formation of a national Progressive Party. The party was funded by publisher Frank Munsey and businessman George Walbridge Perkins, who served as executive secretary. At their convention on August 5, the new party chose Roosevelt as its presidential nominee and Governor Hiram Johnson from California as his vice presidential running mate.
The Progressives promised to increase federal regulation and protect the welfare of ordinary people. At the convention, Perkins blocked an antitrust plank, shocking reformers who thought of Roosevelt as a true trust-buster. The delegates to the convention sang the hymn "Onward, Christian Soldiers" as their anthem. In his 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."
Most of progressive politicians remained in the Republican Party.
Socialist Party nomination
|1912 Socialist Party ticket|
|Eugene V. Debs||Emil Seidel|
|for President||for Vice President|
|Former Indiana State Senator
Mayor of Milwaukee
- Eugene V. Debs, former State Senator from Indiana
- Emil Seidel, Mayor of Milwaukee, Wisconsin
- Charles Edward Russell, journalist from Iowa
The Socialist Party of America was a highly factionalized coalition of local parties based in industrial cities and rooted in ethnic, especially German and Finnish, communities. It had some support in formerly 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 V. Debs had run for president in 1900, 1904, and 1908, primarily to encourage the local effort, and he did so again in 1912 with little challenge to his nomination.
The party was divided into two main factions. The conservative faction led by Congressman Victor L. Berger of Milwaukee promoted pragmatic democratic reform, fought corruption, and opposed immigration as both a wage suppressant and drain on public resources. The radical faction sought to overthrow capitalism, tried to infiltrate labor unions, and sought to cooperate with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or "Wobblies"). It supported immigration as a means to increase ranks for the war on capitalism. With few exceptions, the party had weak or nonexistent links to local labor unions.
Many of these issues had been debated at the First National Congress of the Socialist Party in 1910 and again at the 1912 national convention in Indianapolis. At the convention, the radicals won an early test by seating IWW leader Bill Haywood on the Executive Committee and passed a resolution favoring industrial unionism. Conservatives responded by amending the party constitution to expel any who favored industrial sabotage or syndicalism (both being positions of the IWW) and who refused to participate in American elections. The convention adopted a conservative platform calling for cooperative organization of prisons, a national bureau of health, and abolition of the Senate and of the presidential veto.
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.
|Eugene V. Debs||165|
|Charles Edward Russell||54|
|Vice Presidential Ballot|
|John W. Slayton||24|
The 1912 presidential campaign was bitterly contested.
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 chastising bad corporations. Roosevelt rallied progressives with speeches denouncing the political establishment. He promised "an expert tariff commission, wholly removed from the possibility of political pressure or of improper business influence."
Though Wilson's rhetoric paid homage to the traditional skepticism of government and "collectivism" in the Democratic Party, after his election he would embrace some of the progressive reforms which Roosevelt campaigned on.
Taft campaigned quietly, and spoke of the need for judges to be more powerful than elected officials. The departure of the progressives left the conservative even more firmly in control of the Republican Party. Much of the Republican effort was designed to discredit Roosevelt as a dangerous radical, but this had little effect. Many of the nation's pro-Republican newspapers depicted Roosevelt as an egotist running only to spoil Taft's chances and feed his vanity.
The Socialists had little funding. Debs' campaign spent only $66,000, mostly on 3.5 million leaflets and travel to locally organized rallies. His biggest event was a speech to 15,000 supporters in New York City. The crowd sang "La Marseillaise" and "The Internationale." Debs's running mate Emil Seidel 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 insisted that Democrats, Progressives, and Republicans alike were financed by the trusts and 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." However, labor unions largely rejected Debs and supported Wilson.
Attempted assassination of Theodore Roosevelt
At a campaign stop in Milwaukee on October 14, John Flammang Schrank, a saloonkeeper from New York, shot Roosevelt in the chest. The bullet penetrated his steel eyeglass case and a 50-page single-folded copy of his speech Progressive Cause Greater Than Any Individual and became lodged in his chest. Schrank was immediately disarmed and captured. Schrank had been stalking Roosevelt. He was demented and said the ghost of President McKinley ordered him to kill Roosevelt to prevent a third term.
Roosevelt shouted for Schrank to remain unharmed and assured the crowd he was all right, then ordered police to take charge of Schrank and ensure no violence was done to him. Roosevelt, an experienced hunter and anatomist, correctly concluded that since he was not coughing blood, the bullet had not reached his lung. He declined suggestions to go to the hospital and instead delivered his scheduled speech with blood seeping into his shirt. His opening comments to the gathered crowd were, "Ladies and gentlemen, I don't know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot, but it takes more than that to kill a bull moose." He spoke for 90 minutes before completing his speech and accepting medical attention.
Afterwards, probes and an x-ray showed that the bullet had lodged in Roosevelt's chest muscle, but did not penetrate the pleura. Doctors concluded that it would be less dangerous to leave it in place than to attempt to remove it, and Roosevelt carried the bullet with him for the rest of his life.
Taft was not campaigning and focused on his presidential duties. Wilson briefly suspended his own campaigning. By October 17, Wilson was back on the campaign trail but avoided any criticism of Roosevelt or his party. He spent two weeks recuperating before returning to the campaign trail with a major speech on October 30, designed to reassure his supporters he was strong enough for the presidency.
Death of Vice President Sherman
Vice President James S. Sherman died on October 30, less than one week before the election, leaving Taft without a running mate. (Nicholas M. Butler was designated to receive electoral votes that would have been cast for Sherman.)
On November 5, Wilson captured the presidency handily by carrying a record 40 states.
As of 2020, this is the only presidential election since the Civil War in which a third party candidate outperformed a Republican or Democrat in the general election. Taft's result remains the worst performance for any incumbent president, both in terms of electoral votes (8) and share of popular votes (23.17%). His 8 electoral votes remain the fewest by a Republican or Democrat, matched by Alf Landon's 1936 campaign.
|Presidential candidate||Party||Home state||Popular vote||Electoral
|Count||Percentage||Vice-presidential candidate||Home state||Electoral vote|
|Thomas Woodrow Wilson||Democratic||New Jersey||6,296,284||41.84%||435||Thomas Riley Marshall||Indiana||435|
|Theodore Roosevelt Jr.||Progressive||New York||4,122,721||27.40%||88||Hiram Warren Johnson||California||88|
|William Howard Taft (Incumbent)||Republican||Ohio||3,486,242||23.17%||8||Nicholas Murray Butler||New York||8|
|Eugene Victor Debs||Socialist||Indiana||901,551||5.99%||0||Emil Seidel||Wisconsin||0|
|Eugene Wilder Chafin||Prohibition||Arizona||208,156||1.38%||0||Aaron Sherman Watkins||Ohio||0|
|Arthur Elmer Reimer||Socialist Labor||Massachusetts||29,324||0.19%||0||August Gillhaus||New York||0|
|Needed to win||266||266|
Source (Popular Vote): Leip, David. "1912 Presidential Election Results". Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. Retrieved July 28, 2005.
Wilson's raw vote total was less than William Jennings Bryan totaled in any of his three campaigns. In only two regions, New England and the Pacific, was Wilson's vote greater than the greatest Bryan vote.
Results by state
The 1912 election was the first to include all 48 of the current contiguous United States.
Few states were carried by any candidate with a majority of the popular vote. Wilson won a majority in eleven former Confederate states. Only South Dakota, where Taft did not appear on the ballot, gave Roosevelt a majority. Taft won only two states, Vermont and Utah, each with a plurality.
This was the first time since 1852 that Iowa, Maine, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Rhode Island voted for a Democrat, and the first time in history that Massachusetts voted Democratic.
Democrats would not win Maine again until 1964, Connecticut and Delaware until 1936, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, West Virginia, and Wisconsin until 1932, and Massachusetts and Rhode Island until 1928.
|States/districts won by Wilson/Marshall|
|States/districts won by Roosevelt/Johnson|
|States/districts won by Taft/Butler|
|William H. Taft
|Eugene V. Debs
Margin of victory less than 1% (13 electoral votes):
- California, 0.03%
Margin of victory less than 5% (142 electoral votes):
- Idaho, 1.05%
- Illinois, 1.62%
- Wyoming, 1.77%
- Vermont, 1.91%
- Maine, 2.02%
- New Hampshire, 2.04%
- Connecticut, 3.28%
- Rhode Island, 3.48%
- Massachusetts, 3.58%
- Pennsylvania, 4.04%
- North Dakota, 4.42%
- Iowa, 4.77%
- Utah, 4.91%
Margin of victory between 5% and 10% (73 electoral votes):
- New Mexico, 5.48%
- Minnesota, 5.81%
- Kansas, 6.42%
- Montana, 6.87%
- Oregon, 6.91%
- New Jersey, 7.60%
- Washington, 8.32%
- Wisconsin, 8.41%
- South Dakota, 8.48%
Tipping point state:
- New York, 12.6% (for a Wilson victory)
- Ohio, 18.9% (for a Roosevelt victory)
In a plurality of 1,396 counties, no candidate obtained a majority.
Wilson won 1,969 counties but held a majority in only 1,237, less than Bryan had had in any of his campaigns.
"Other(s)", mostly Roosevelt, won a plurality in 772 counties and a majority in 305 counties. Most of them in Pennsylvania (48), Illinois (33), Michigan (68), Minnesota (75), Iowa (49), South Dakota (54), Nebraska (32), Kansas (51), Washington (38), and California (44).
Taft won a plurality in only 232 counties and a majority in only 35. In addition to South Dakota and California, where there was no Taft ticket, Taft carried no counties in Maine, New Jersey, Minnesota, Nevada, Arizona, and seven "Solid South" states.
Nine counties did not record any votes due to either black disenfranchisement or being inhabited only by Native Americans, who would not gain full citizenship for twelve more years.
As of 2020, 1912 remains the last election in which the key Indiana counties of Hamilton and Hendricks, along with Walworth County, Wisconsin, Pulaski and Laurel Counties in Kentucky and Hawkins County, Tennessee have given a plurality to the Democratic candidate.
Counties with Highest Percent of Vote (Democratic)
- Greenville County, South Carolina 100.00%
- Marlboro County, South Carolina 100.00%
- Hampton County, South Carolina 100.00%
- Jasper County, South Carolina 100.00%
- Reagan County, Texas 100.00%
Counties with Highest Percent of Vote (Other)
- Scott County, Tennessee 82.80%
- Campbell County, South Dakota 80.42%
- Clearwater County, Minnesota 77.35%
- Avery County, North Carolina 72.84%
- Cook County, Minnesota 72.70%
Counties with Highest Percent of Vote (Republican)
- Zapata County, Texas 80.89%
- Valencia County, New Mexico 77.25%
- Kane County, Utah 75.40%
- Clinton County, Kentucky 64.79%
- Huerfano County, Colorado 63.36%
A continuous cartogram of the 1912 United States presidential election
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|New York City||NY||312,426||126,582||188,896||33,239||2,730||663,873|
|Salt Lake City||UT||7,488||8,964||6,587||2,498|
- History of the United States (1865–1918)
- 1912 United States House of Representatives elections
- 1912 and 1913 United States Senate elections
- Progressive Era
- Though he had become President upon the William McKinley assassination in 1901, only eight months of McKinley's term had elapsed. Thus, Roosevelt had served nearly a full eight years, effectively two full terms.
- "Voter Turnout in Presidential Elections". The American Presidency Project. UC Santa Barbara.
- Morris, Edmund. Colonel Roosevelt. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks. pp. 215, 646.
- Morris, Edmund. Colonel Roosevelt. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks. pp. 215, 646.
- Coletta, Presidency of William Howard Taft ch 3
- G. M. Fisk, "The Payne-Aldrich Tariff" Political Science Quarterly, (1910). 25(1), 35-39. doi:10.2307/2141008
- Stanley D. Solvick, "William Howard Taft and the Payne-Aldrich Tariff." Mississippi Valley Historical Review 50.3 (1963): 424-442 online.
- Anderson (1973), p.79
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- Schantz, Harvey L. American Presidential Elections. Albany: State University of New York Press. p. 169.
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- Roosevelt, Theodore (January 24, 1911). "Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to William Allen White". Letter to William Allen White. Retrieved October 12, 2020.
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- The Presidential Vote, 1896–1932, Edgar E. Robinson, pg. 14
- The Presidential Vote, 1896–1932, Edgar E. Robinson, pg. 15
- The Presidential Vote, 1896–1932, Edgar E. Robinson, pg. 17
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- O'Mara, Margaret. Pivotal Tuesdays: Four Elections That Shaped the Twentieth Century (2015), compares 1912, 1932, 1968, 1992 in terms of social, economic, and political history
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- Roosevelt, Theodore. Bull Moose on the Stump: The 1912 Campaign Speeches of Theodore Roosevelt Ed. Lewis L. Gould. (UP of Kansas, 2008).
- Wilson, Woodrow (1956). John Wells Davidson (ed.). A Crossroads of Freedom, the 1912 Campaign Speeches.
- Porter, Kirk H. and Donald Bruce Johnson, eds. National party platforms, 1840-1964 (1965) online 1840-1956
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to United States presidential election, 1912.|
- United States presidential election of 1912 at the Encyclopædia Britannica
- Presidential Election of 1912: A Resource Guide from the Library of Congress
- editorial cartoons
- Sound recording of TR speech
- OurCampaigns.com overview of Republican Presidential Primaries of 1912
- 1912 popular vote by counties
- 1912 State-by-state Popular vote
- The Election of 1912
- How close was the 1912 election? — Michael Sheppard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Election of 1912 in Counting the Votes