United States presidential election, 1912
|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 United States presidential election of 1912 was the 32nd quadrennial presidential election, held on Tuesday, November 5, 1912. The election was a rare four-way contest. Incumbent President William Howard Taft was renominated by the Republican Party with the support of its conservative wing. 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 finally 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. It is the last election in which a former, or incumbent, President (Roosevelt) ran for the office without being nominated as either a Democrat or Republican. It is also the last election in which an incumbent President running for re-election (Taft) failed to finish either first or second in the popular vote count.
Wilson won the election, gaining a large majority in the Electoral College and winning 42% of the popular vote, while Roosevelt won 27%, Taft 23% and Debs 6%. Wilson became the only elected president from the Democratic Party between 1896 and 1932, and the second of only two Democrats to be elected president between 1860 and 1932. This was 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 in which all current 48 states of the contiguous United States participated.
- 1 Background
- 2 Nominations
- 3 General election
- 4 Consequences
- 5 See also
- 6 Notes
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
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 second full term. Roosevelt's first term as president (1901–1905) was incomplete, as he succeeded to the office upon the assassination of William McKinley; it was only his second term (1905–1909) that encompassed four full years. He had tapped Secretary of War William Howard Taft to become his successor, and Taft defeated 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, promoted ecological conservation, and were more sympathetic toward labor unions. 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 were in support of high tariffs on imported goods to encourage consumers to buy American-made products (as were most progressives), 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. Taft's popularity among progressives collapsed when he supported the Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act in 1909, abandoned Roosevelt's anti-trust policy and fired popular conservationist Gifford Pinchot as head of the Bureau of Forestry in 1910.
Republican Party nomination
- William Howard Taft, President of the United States
- Theodore Roosevelt, former President of the United States from New York
- Robert M. La Follette, Senator from Wisconsin
For the first time, significant numbers of delegates to the national conventions were elected in presidential preference primaries. Primary elections were advocated by the progressive faction of the Republican Party, which wanted to break the control of political parties by bosses. Altogether, twelve states held Republican primaries. Robert M. La Follette won two of the first four primaries (North Dakota and Wisconsin). 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 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 the 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, delegates from the former Confederate states supported Taft by a 5 to 1 margin). When the convention gathered, Roosevelt challenged 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 votes 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 La Follette, but Roosevelt had alienated La Follette, 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 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 sitting vice-president to be nominated for re-election since John C. Calhoun in 1828.
|Robert La Follette||19|
|Albert J. Beveridge||5|
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 Governor Hiram Johnson from California as his vice presidential running mate. Questioned by reporters, Roosevelt said he felt as strong as a "bull moose." Henceforth 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 Munsey and its executive secretary George Walbridge 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 hymn "Onward, Christian Soldiers" as their anthem. 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 feed his vanity. Many of these newspapers' political cartoons portrayed Roosevelt in this fashion; the anti-Roosevelt cartoon below was drawn by Edward Windsor Kemble for the January 1912 edition of Harper's Weekly.
Democratic Party nomination
- Woodrow Wilson, Governor of New Jersey
- Champ Clark, Speaker of the House from Missouri
- Judson Harmon, Governor of Ohio
- Oscar Underwood, House Majority Leader from Alabama
- Eugene Foss, Governor of Massachusetts
- Thomas R. Marshall, Governor of Indiana
- Simeon E. Baldwin, Governor of Connecticut
The Democratic Convention was held in Baltimore, Maryland, 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, and Clark did receive the largest number of delegate votes early in the balloting. However, he was unable to get the two-thirds majority required to win the nomination. His chances were hurt when Tammany Hall, the powerful and corrupt Democratic political machine in New York City, threw its support behind Clark. Instead of helping him, this led William Jennings Bryan, the three-time Democratic presidential candidate and still the leader of the party's progressives, 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. 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 that would free 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 strength while Clark's support dwindled. Wilson finally received the nomination on the 46th ballot.
|Thomas R. Marshall||31||31||31||31||31||31||31||31||31||31||30||30||30||30||30||30||30||30||30||30||30||30||30||30|
|Simeon E. Baldwin||22||14||14||14||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|William J. Bryan||1||2||1||0||0||1||1||1||1||1||1||1||1||2||2||1||1||1||7||1||1||1||1||1|
|John W. Kern||0||0||1||2||2||1||1||1||1||1||1||1||0||2||2||2||4.5||3.5||1||1||1||1||0||0|
|Ollie M. James||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||3||0||0||0||0|
|William J. Gaynor||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||1||0|
|J. Hamilton Lewis||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Thomas R. Marshall||30||30||30||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Simeon E. Baldwin||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|William J. Bryan||1||1||1||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0.5||1||0||0||0|
|John W. Kern||0||0||0||1||4||2||2||2||2||2||1||1||1||1||1||1||1||1||1||0||0||0|
|Ollie M. James||3||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||0||0|
|William J. Gaynor||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||1||0||0||0||0|
|J. Hamilton Lewis||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||0||0|
|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|
Socialist Party nomination
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 V. Debs had run for president in 1900, 1904, and 1908, primarily to encourage the local effort, and he did so again in 1912 and from prison in 1920.
The conservatives, led by Victor L. Berger from Milwaukee, 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, sending encouragement to western "Wobblies", and passed 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. 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.
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.
While Roosevelt was campaigning in Milwaukee on October 14, 1912, a saloonkeeper named John Flammang 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. Had either Roosevelt or Taft stayed out of the race, a Republican victory would have been assured.
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 supporters 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.
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. Wilson supported a policy called "The New Freedom". This policy was based mostly on individualism instead of a strong government. Taft campaigned quietly, and spoke of the need for judges to be more powerful than elected officials. The departure of the more progressive Republicans left the conservative Republicans even more firmly in control of their party until 1916, when many progressives returned. Much of the Republican effort was designed to discredit Roosevelt as a dangerous radical, but this had little effect.
The impact of the third-party vote is indicated by the fact that few states were carried by a majority of the popular vote. Taft carried two states (Utah and Vermont), Roosevelt six, and Wilson forty. Taft carried no state with a popular majority, Roosevelt one (South Dakota, where there was no Republican ticket), and Wilson eleven, all of them states of the former Confederacy. More than two-thirds of Wilson’s total vote was cast in the 37 states that he did not carry by majority vote.
Wilson’s vote, 6,296,919, was less than William Jennings Bryan totaled in any one of his campaigns, and over 100,000 less than Bryan received in 1908, when Bryan won only 162 electoral votes. Wilson fell behind the Bryan strength in most of the country, and notably so in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska, Kansas, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Arkansas. In only two sections was Wilson’s vote greater than the greatest Bryan vote: New England and the Pacific. Wilson led the poll in 1,969 counties, but he had a majority of the vote in only 1,237 counties, less than Bryan had had in any of his campaigns. Taft had a majority in only 35, and "Other(s)" in only 305. These small figures clearly reveal the result of the division of the normal Republican vote, as does the fact that in a plurality of counties (1,396) no candidate obtained a majority. Taft had a lead over the field in only 232 counties. In addition to South Dakota and California, where there was no Taft ticket, and seven “Solid South” states in which he carried no county, Taft also carried no counties in Maine, New Jersey, Minnesota, Nevada and Arizona. 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.
The split in the Republican vote made it possible for Wilson to carry a number of states that had been reliably Republican for decades. For the first time since 1852, a majority of the New England states were carried by a Democrat (in this case, Vermont was the only holdout). In fact, Wilson was the first Democratic presidential candidate ever to carry the state of Massachusetts, whilst Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine had not been carried by a Democrat since 1852. In the Midwest, Ohio and Iowa had also not been carried by a Democrat since 1852. On the West Coast, Oregon had not been carried by a Democrat since 1868.
Minnesota was carried by Roosevelt, the first time that it was not carried by the regular Republican candidate for president since it joined the Union in 1858. It would not be carried by a Democrat until 1932.
The split in the Republican vote resulted in the weakest Republican effort in history. Winning only eight electoral votes, Taft suffered a worse defeat than any other president defeated for re-election. (Vice President Sherman, who had been renominated along with Taft, died shortly before the election, and Nicholas Murray Butler was selected to receive the electoral votes that would have gone to Sherman.)
The 772 counties not carried by Wilson or by Taft were distributed in 38 states, 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), and almost without exception were carried by Roosevelt. Debs carried four counties in Minnesota (Lake and Beltrami), North Dakota (Burke County), and Kansas (Crawford County), the only counties ever to vote socialist in a presidential election.
The largest non-Democratic, non-Republican vote of the Fourth Party System was polled in the election of 1912. It amounted to roughly 5,250,000 votes and represented 1/3 of the votes cast. Approximately four-fifths of it (4,125,000) was cast for Theodore Roosevelt, but the Socialist vote was larger than it ever had been or ever would be in American history except for 1920. Eugene Debs, the nominee of the Socialist Party, polled nearly 1,000,000 votes, more than doubling his vote of 1908.
1912 marked the first and last election since 1860 in which four candidates each cleared five percent of the popular vote. 1912 was also the only election in which a third-party candidate received more popular votes and electoral votes than one of the major-party candidates.
This was the last election in which the Democrats won Maine until 1964, the last in which the Democrats won Connecticut and Delaware until 1936, the last in which the Democrats won Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, West Virginia, and Wisconsin until 1932, and the last in which the Democrats won Massachusetts and Rhode Island until 1928. After the 2016 presidential election, 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.
|Presidential candidate||Party||Home state||Popular vote||Electoral
|Count||Pct||Vice-presidential candidate||Home state||Elect. vote|
|Woodrow Wilson||Democratic||New Jersey||6,296,284||41.84%||435||Thomas R. Marshall||Indiana||435|
|Theodore Roosevelt||Progressive||New York||4,122,721||27.40%||88||Hiram W. Johnson||California||88|
|William Howard Taft (Incumbent)||Republican||Ohio||3,486,242||23.17%||8||Nicholas Murray Butler||New York||8|
|Eugene V. Debs||Socialist||Indiana||901,551||5.99%||0||Emil Seidel||Wisconsin||0|
|Eugene W. Chafin||Prohibition||Illinois||208,156||1.38%||0||Aaron S. Watkins||Ohio||0|
|Arthur E. 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.
Geography of Results
Cartogram (county sizes adjusted proportionate to 1910 census populations) of presidential election results by county.
Results by state
|States won by Wilson/Marshall|
|States won by Roosevelt/Johnson|
|States 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%
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%
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 from 1912 to 1928, and thus some Progressives like Harold L. Ickes joined the steadily more liberal Democratic party.
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- History of the United States (1865–1918)
- United States House of Representatives elections, 1912
- United States Senate elections, 1912 and 1913
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to United States presidential election, 1912.|
- Presidential Election of 1912: A Resource Guide from the Library of Congress
- editorial cartoons
- Sound recording of TR speech
- Woodrow Wilson Suspends Campaign After TR Assassination Attempt Shapell Manuscript Foundation
- 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
- Booknotes interview with James Chace on 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft & Debs—The Election That Changed the Country, August 29, 2004.
- Election of 1912 in Counting the Votes