1908 Republican Convention - History

1908 Republican Convention - History

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1908 republican Convention

Chicago, IL

June 16 to 19, 1908

Nominated: William H Taft of Ohio for President

Nominated: James S Sherman of New York for Vice President

Taft who was Secretary of War was Roosevelt's appointed successor. Despite some opposition within the party he was nominated on the first ballot. The convention approved a platform however, that was more conservative than Roosevelt and other progressive Republicans would have liked.


Photo, Print, Drawing Republican National Convention, Coliseum, Chicago, June 16, 1908

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1912 Republican Convention

William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt had once been friends. But when the Republican Party met in Chicago to choose its presidential candidate in June 1912, the nomination battle between the two men was brutal, personal—and ultimately fatal to the party's chances for victory in November. Taft declared Roosevelt to be "the greatest menace to our institutions that we have had in a long time." Roosevelt saw Taft as the agent of "the forces of reaction and of political crookedness." The resulting floor fight in the aptly named Chicago Coliseum lived up to the prediction of the Irish-American humorist Finley Peter Dunne that the convention would be "a combynation iv th' Chicago fire, Saint Bartholomew's massacree, the battle iv th' Boyne, th' life iv Jesse James, an' th' night iv th' big wind."

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For years, the tensions within the Grand Old Party had been building over the issue of government regulation. During his presidency, Roosevelt had advocated a "Square Deal" between capital and labor in American society. By the time he left the White House in March 1909, Roosevelt believed that the federal government must do more to supervise large corporations, improve the lot of women and children who worked long hours for low wages in industry, and conserve natural resources. "When I say that I am for the square deal, I mean not merely that I stand for fair play under the present rules of the game, but that I stand for having those rules changed so as to work for a more substantial equality of opportunity and of reward for equally good service," he said in August 1910. Roosevelt was especially critical of the state and federal courts for overturning reform legislation as unconstitutional, and he said that such decisions were "fundamentally hostile to every species of real popular government."

Roosevelt's burgeoning crusade for more active government reflected his loss of faith in William Howard Taft, whom the former Rough Rider had chosen as his successor. As president, Taft had sided with the conservative wing of the party, which had opposed Roosevelt's reforms at every turn. For his part, Taft believed Roosevelt had stretched the power of the executive branch too far. As a lawyer and former federal judge, Taft had nothing but disdain for his predecessor's jaundiced view of the judiciary. "The regret which he certainly expressed that the courts had the power to set aside statutes," wrote the president, "was an attack upon our system at the very point where I think it is the strongest."

Tensions deepened in 1912, when Roosevelt began advocating the recall of judicial decisions through popular vote. With the courts tamed as an enemy to reform, Roosevelt then would press forward "to see that the wage-worker, the small producer, the ordinary consumer, shall get their fair share of the benefit of business prosperity." To enact his program, Roosevelt signaled that he would accept another term as president and seek the nomination of the Republican Party.

These ambitions revealed, Taft and his fellow conservatives deemed Roosevelt a dangerous radical. Once in power for a third term, they said, Roosevelt would be a perpetual chief executive. Roosevelt had become the most dangerous man in American history, said Taft, "because of his hold upon the less intelligent voters and the discontented." The social justice that Roosevelt sought involved, in Taft's opinion, "a forced division of property, and that means socialism."

Taft dominated the Republican Party machinery in many states, but a few state primaries gave the voters a chance to express themselves. The president and his former friend took to the hustings, and across the country in the spring of 1912 the campaign rhetoric escalated. Roosevelt described Taft as a "puzzlewit," while the president labeled Roosevelt a "honeyfugler." Driven to distraction under Roosevelt's attacks, Taft said in Massachusetts, "I was a man of straw but I have been a man of straw long enough every man who has blood in his body and who has been misrepresented as I have is forced to fight." A delighted Roosevelt supporter commented that "Taft certainly made a great mistake when he began to ‘fight back.' He has too big a paunch to have much of a punch, while a free-for-all, slap-bang, kick-him-in-the-belly, is just nuts for the chief."

Roosevelt won all the Republican primaries against Taft except in Massachusetts. Taft dominated the caucuses that sent delegates to the state conventions. When the voting was done, neither man had the 540 delegates needed to win. Roosevelt had 411, Taft had 367 and minor candidates had 46, leaving 254 up for grabs. The Republican National Committee, dominated by the Taft forces, awarded 235 delegates to the president and 19 to Roosevelt, thereby ensuring Taft's renomination. Roosevelt believed himself entitled to 72 delegates from Arizona, California, Texas and Washington that had been given to Taft. Firm in his conviction that the nomination was being stolen from him, Roosevelt decided to break the precedent that kept the candidates away from the national convention and lead his forces to Chicago in person. The night before the proceedings Roosevelt told cheering supporters that there was "a great moral issue" at stake and he should have "sixty to eighty lawfully elected delegates" added to his total. Otherwise, he said, the contested delegates should not vote. Roosevelt ended his speech declaring: "Fearless of the future unheeding of our individual fates with unflinching hearts and undimmed eyes we stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord!"

The convention was not Armageddon, but to observers it seemed a close second. Shouts of "liar" and cries of "steamroller" punctuated the proceedings. One pro-Taft observer said that "a tension pervaded the Coliseum breathing the general feeling that a parting of the ways was imminent." William Allen White, the famous Kansas editor, looked down from the press tables "into the human caldron that was boiling all around me."

On the first day, the Roosevelt forces lost a test vote on the temporary chairman. Taft's man, Elihu Root, prevailed. Roosevelt's supporters tried to have 72 of their delegates substituted for Taft partisans on the list of those officially allowed to take part in the convention. When that initiative failed, Roosevelt knew that he could not win, and had earlier rejected the idea of a compromise third candidate. "I'll name the compromise candidate. He'll be me. I'll name the compromise platform. It will be our platform." With that, he bolted from the party and instructed his delegates not to take part in the voting Taft easily won on the first ballot. Roosevelt, meanwhile, said he was going "to nominate for the presidency a Progressive on a Progressive platform."

In August, Roosevelt did just that, running as the candidate of the Progressive Party. Both he and Taft lost to the Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson, that November. Yet, for Republicans who supported Taft, the electoral defeat was worth the ideological victory. As a Republican observed during the campaign: "We can't elect Taft & we must do anything to elect Wilson so as to defeat Roosevelt."

That outcome would resonate for decades. In its week of controversy and recrimination in Chicago, the Republican Party became the party of smaller government and less regulation—and it held to these convictions through the New Deal of the 1930s and beyond.

Lewis L. Gould is the author of Four Hats in the Ring: The 1912 Election and the Birth of Modern American Politics.

1908 Republican Platform

Once more the Republican Party, in National Convention assembled, submits its cause to the people. This great historic organization, that destroyed slavery, preserved the Union, restored credit, expanded the national domain, established a sound financial system, developed the industries and resources of the country, and gave to the nation her seat of honor in the councils of the world, now meets the new problems of government with the same courage and capacity with which it solved the old.

Republicanism Under Roosevelt

In this greatest era of American advancement the Republican party has reached its highest service under the leadership of Theodore Roosevelt. His administration is an epoch in American history. In no other period since national sovereignty was won under Washington, or preserved under Lincoln, has there been such mighty progress in those ideals of government which make for justice, equality and fair dealing among men. The highest aspirations of the American people have found a voice. Their most exalted servant represents the best aims and worthiest purposes of all his countrymen. American manhood has been lifted to a nobler sense of duty and obligation. Conscience and courage in public station and higher standards of right and wrong in private life have become cardinal principles of political faith capital and labor have been brought into closer relations of confidence and interdependence, and the abuse of wealth, the tyranny of power, and all the evils of privilege and favoritism have been put to scorn by the simple, manly virtues of justice and fair play.

The great accomplishments of President Roosevelt have been, first and foremost, a brave and impartial enforcement of the law, the prosecution of illegal trusts and monopolies, the exposure and punishment of evil-doers in the public service the more effective regulation of the rates and service of the great transportation lines the complete overthrow of preferences, rebates and discriminations the arbitration of labor disputes the amelioration of the condition of wage-workers everywhere the conservation of the natural resources of the country the forward step in the improvement of the inland waterways and always the earnest support and defence of every wholesome safeguard which has made more secure the guarantees of life, liberty and property.

These are the achievements that will make for Theodore Roosevelt his place in history, but more than all else the great things he has done will be an inspiration to those who have yet greater things to do. We declare our unfaltering adherence to the policies thus inaugurated, and pledge their continuance under a Republican administration of the Government.

Equality of Opportunity

Under the guidance of Republican principles the American people have become the richest nation in the world. Our wealth to-day exceeds that of England and all her colonies, and that of France and Germany combined. When the Republican Party was born the total wealth of the country was $16,000,000,000. It has leaped to $110,000,000,000 in a generation, while Great Britain has gathered but $60,000,000,000 in five hundred years. The United States now owns one-fourth of the world's wealth and makes one-third of all modern manufactured products. In the great necessities of civilization, such as coal, the motive power of all activity iron, the chief basis of all industry cotton, the staple foundation of all fabrics wheat, corn and all the agricultural products that feed mankind, America's supremacy is undisputed. And yet her great natural wealth has been scarcely touched. We have a vast domain of 3,000,000 square miles, literally bursting with latent treasure, still waiting the magic of capital and industry to be converted to the practical uses of mankind a country rich in soil and climate, in the unharnessed energy of its rivers and in all the varied products of the field, the forest and the factory. With gratitude for God's bounty, with pride in the splendid productiveness of the past and with confidence in the plenty and prosperity of the future, the Republican party declares for the principle that in the development and enjoyment of wealth so great and blessings so benign there shall be equal opportunity for all.

The Revival of Business

Nothing so clearly demonstrates the sound basis upon which our commercial, industrial and agricultural interests are founded, and the necessity of promoting their continued welfare through the operation of Republican policies, as the recent safe passage of the American people through a financial disturbance which, if appearing in the midst of Democratic rule or the menace of it, might have equalled the familiar Democratic panics of the past. We congratulate the people upon this renewed evidence of American supremacy and hail with confidence the signs now manifest of a complete restoration of business prosperity in all lines of trade, commerce and manufacturing.

Recent Republican Legislation

Since the election of William McKinley in 1896, the people of this country have felt anew the wisdom of intrusting to the Republican party, through decisive majorities, the control and direction of national legislation.

The many wise and progressive measures adopted at recent sessions of Congress have demonstrated the patriotic resolve of Republican leadership in the legislative department to keep step in the forward march toward better government.

Notwithstanding the indefensible filibustering of a Democratic minority in the House of Representatives during the last session, many wholesome and progressive laws were enacted, and we especially commend the passage of the emergency currency bill the appointment of the national monetary commission the employer's and Government liability laws, the measures for the greater efficiency of the Army and Navy the widow's pension bill the child labor law for the District of Columbia the new statutes for the safety of railroad engineers and firemen, and many other acts conserving the public welfare.

Republican Pledges for the Future

The Republican party declares unequivocally for a revision of the tariff by a special session of Congress immediately following the inauguration of the next President, and commends the steps already taken to this end in the work assigned to the appropriate committees of Congress, which are now investigating the operation and effect of existing schedules.

In all tariff legislation the true principle of protection is best maintained by the imposition of such duties as will equal the difference between the cost of production at home and abroad, together with a reasonable profit to American industries. We favor the establishment of maximum and minimum rates to be administered by the President under limitations fixed in the law, the maximum to be available to meet discriminations by foreign countries against American goods entering their markets, and the minimum to represent the normal measure of protection at home the aim and purpose of the Republican policy being not only to preserve, without excessive duties, that security against foreign competition to which American manufacturers, farmers and producers are entitled, but also to maintain the high standard of living of the wage-earners of this country, who are the most direct beneficiaries of the protective system. Between the United States and the Philippines we believe in a free interchange of products with such limitations as to sugar and tobacco as will afford adequate protection to domestic interests.

We approve the emergency measures adopted by the Government during the recent financial disturbance, and especially commend the passage by Congress, at the last session of the law designed to protect the country from a repetition of such stringency. The Republican party is committed to the development of a permanent currency system, responding to our greater needs and the appointment of the National Monetary Commission by the present Congress, which will impartially investigate all proposed methods, insures the early realization of this purpose. The present currency laws have fully justified their adoption, but an expanding commerce, a marvellous growth in wealth and population, multiplying the centres of distribution, increasing the demand for the movement of crops in the West and South, and entailing periodic changes in monetary conditions, disclose the need of a more elastic and adaptable system. Such a system must meet the requirements of agriculturists, manufacturers, merchants and business men generally, must be automatic in operation, minimizing the fluctuations of interest rates, and above all, must be in harmony with that Republican doctrine, which insists that every dollar shall be based upon, and as good as, gold.

Postal Savings

We favor the establishment of a postal savings bank system for the convenience of the people and the encouragement of thrift.

The Republican party passed the Sherman Antitrust law over Democratic opposition, and enforced it after Democratic dereliction. It has been a wholesome instrument for good in the hands of a wise and fearless administration. But experience has shown that its effectiveness can be strengthened and its real objects better attained by such amendments as will give to the Federal Government greater supervision and control over, and secure greater publicity in, the management of that class of corporations engaged in interstate commerce having power and opportunity to effect monopolies.

We approve the enactment of the railroad rate law and the vigorous enforcement by the present administration of the statutes against rebates and discriminations, as a result of which the advantages formerly possessed by the large shipper over the small shipper have substantially disappeared and in this connection we commend the appropriation by the present Congress to enable the Interstate Commerce Commission to thoroughly investigate, and give publicity to, the accounts of interstate railroads. We believe, however, that the interstate commerce law should be further amended so as to give railroads the right to make and publish tariff agreements, subject to the approval of the Commission, but maintaining always the principle of competition between naturally competing lines and avoiding the common control of such lines by any means whatsoever. We favor such national legislation and supervision as will prevent the future over-issue of stocks and bonds by interstate carriers.

Railroad and Government Employees

The enactment in constitutional form at the present session of Congress of the employer's liability law the passage and enforcement of the safety appliance statutes, as well as the additional protection secured for engineers and firemen the reduction in the hours of labor of trainmen and railroad telegraphers the successful exercise of the powers of mediation and arbitration between interstate railroads and their employes, and the law making a beginning in the policy of compensation for injured employes of the Government, are among the most commendable accomplishments of the present administration. But there is further work in this direction yet to be done, and the Republican party pledges its continued devotion to every cause that makes for safety and the betterment of conditions among those whose labor contributes so much to the progress and welfare of the country.

Wage-Earners Generally

The same wise policy which has induced the Republican party to maintain protection to American labor to establish an eight hour day in the construction of all public works to increase the list of employes who shall have preferred claims for wages under the bankruptcy laws to adopt a child labor statute for the District of Columbia to direct an investigation into the condition of working women and children, and later, of employes of telephone and telegraph companies engaged in interstate business to appropriate $150,000 at the recent session of Congress in order to secure a thorough inquiry into the causes of catastrophes and loss of life in the mines and to amend and strengthen the laws prohibiting the importation of contract labor, will be pursued in every legitimate direction within Federal authority to lighten the burdens and increase the opportunity for happiness and advancement of all who toil. The Republican party recognizes the special needs of wage-workers generally, for their well-being means the well-being of all. But more important than all other considerations is that of good citizenship and we especially stand for the needs of every American, whatever his occupation, in his capacity as a self-respecting citizen.

Court Procedure

The Republican party will uphold at all times the authority and integrity of the courts, State and Federal, and will ever insist that their powers to enforce their process and to protect life, liberty and property shall be preserved inviolate. We believe, however, that the rules of procedure in the Federal Courts with respect to the issuance of the writ of injunction should be more accurately defined by statute, and that no injunction or temporary restraining order should be issued without notice, except where irreparable injury would result from delay, in which ease a speedy hearing thereafter should be granted.

The American Farmer

Among those whose welfare is as vital to the welfare of the whole country as is that of the wage-earner, is the American farmer. The prosperity of the country rests peculiarly upon the prosperity of agriculture. The Republican party during the last twelve years has accomplished extraordinary work in bringing the resources of the National Government to the aid of the farmer, not only in advancing agriculture itself, but in increasing the conveniences of rural life. Free rural mail delivery has been established it now reaches millions of our citizens, and we favor its extension until every community in the land receives the full benefits of the postal service. We recognize the social and economical advantages of good country roads, maintained more and more largely at public expense, and less and less at the expense of the abutting owner. In this work we commend the growing practice of State aid, and we approve the efforts of the National Agricultural Department by experiments and otherwise to make clear to the public the best methods of road construction.

Rights of the Negro

The Republican party has been for more than fifty years the consistent friend of the American Negro. It gave him freedom and citizenship. It wrote into the organic law the declarations that proclaim his civil and political rights, and it believes to-day that his noteworthy progress in intelligence, industry and good citizenship has earned the respect and encouragement of the nation. We demand equal justice for all men, without regard to race or color we declare once more, and without reservation, for the enforcement in letter and spirit of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments to the Constitution which were designed for the protection and advancement of the negro, and we condemn all devices that have for their real aim his disfranchisement for reasons of color alone, as unfair, un-American and repugnant to the Supreme law of the land.

Natural Resources and Waterways

We indorse the movement inaugurated by the administration for the conservation of natural resources we approve all measures to prevent the waste of timber we commend the work now going on for the reclamation of arid lands, and reaffirm the Republican policy of the free distribution of the available areas of the public domain to the landless settler. No obligation of the future is more insistent and none will result in greater blessings to posterity. In line with this splendid undertaking is the further duty, equally imperative, to enter upon a systematic improvement upon a large and comprehensive plan, just to all portions of the country, of the waterways, harbors, and Great Lakes, whose natural adaptability to the increasing traffic of the land is one of the greatest gifts of a benign Providence.

The Army and Navy

The 60th Congress passed many commendable acts increasing the efficiency of the Army and Navy making the militia of the States an integral part of the national establishment authorizing joint manoeuvres of army and militia fortifying new naval bases and completing the construction of coaling stations instituting a female nurse corps for naval hospitals and ships, and adding two new battleships, ten torpedo boat destroyers, three steam colliers, and eight submarines to the strength of the Navy. Although at peace with all the world, and secure in the consciousness that the American people do not desire and will not provoke a war with any other country, we nevertheless declare our unalterable devotion to a policy that will keep this Republic ready at all times to defend her traditional doctrines, and assure her appropriate part in promoting permanent tranquillity among the nations.

Protection of American Citizens Abroad

We commend the vigorous efforts made by the administration to protect American citizens in foreign lands, and pledge ourselves to insist upon the just and equal protection of all our citizens abroad. It is the unquestioned duty of the Government to procure for all our citizens, without distinction, the rights of travel and sojourn in friendly countries, and we declare ourselves in favor of all proper efforts tending to that end.

Extension of Foreign Commerce

Under the administration of the Republican party, the foreign commerce of the United States has experienced a remarkable growth, until it has a present annual valuation of approximately $3,000,000,000, and gives employment to a vast amount of labor and capital which would otherwise be idle. It has inaugurated, through the recent visit of the Secretary of State to South America and Mexico a new era of Pan-American commerce and comity, which is bringing us into closer touch with our twenty sister American republics, having a common historical heritage, a republican form of government, and offering us a limitless field of legitimate commercial expansion.

Arbitration and the Hague Treaties

The conspicuous contributions of American statesmanship to the great cause of international peace so signally advanced in the Hague conferences, are an occasion for just pride and gratification. At the last session of the Senate of the United States eleven Hague conventions were ratified, establishing the rights of neutrals, laws of war on land, restriction of submarine mines, limiting the use of force for the collection of contractual debts, governing the opening of hostilities, extending the application of Geneva principles and, in many ways, lessening the evils of war and promoting the peaceful settlement of international controversies. At the same session twelve arbitration conventions with great nations were confirmed, and extradition, boundary and neutralization treaties of supreme importance were ratified. We indorse such achievements as the highest duty a people can perform and proclaim the obligation of further strengthening the bonds of friendship and good-will with all the nations of the world.

Merchant Marine

We adhere to the Republican doctrine of encouragement to American shipping and urge such legislation as will revive the merchant marine prestige of the country, so essential to national defence, the enlargement of foreign trade and the industrial prosperity of our own people.

Veterans of the Wars

Another Republican policy which must ever be maintained is that of generous provision for those who have fought the country's battles, and for the widows and orphans of those who have fallen. We commend the increase in the widows' pensions, made by the present Congress, and declare for a liberal administration of all pension laws, to the end that the people's gratitude may grow deeper as the memories of heroic sacrifice grow more sacred with the passing years.

Civil Service

We reaffirm our former declarations that the civil service laws, enacted, extended, and enforced by the Republican party, shall continue to be maintained and obeyed.

Public Health

We commend the efforts designed to secure greater efficiency in National Public Health agencies and favor such legislation as will effect this purpose.

Bureau of Mines and Mining

In the interest of the great mineral industries of our country, we earnestly favor the establishment of a Bureau of Mines and Mining.

Cuba, Porto Rico, Philippines, and Panama

The American Government, in Republican hands, has freed Cuba, given peace and protection to Porto Rico and the Philippines under our flag, and begun the construction of the Panama Canal. The present conditions in Cuba vindicate the wisdom of maintaining, between that Republic and this, imperishable bonds of mutual interest, and the hope is now expressed that the Cuban people will soon again be ready to assume complete sovereignty over their land.

In Porto Rico the Government of the United States is meeting loyal and patriotic support order and prosperity prevail, and the well-being of the people is in every respect promoted and conserved.

We believe that the native inhabitants of Porto Rico should be at once collectively made citizens of the United States, and that all others properly qualified under existing laws residing in said island should have the privilege of becoming naturalized.

In the Philippines insurrection has been suppressed, law is established and life and property made secure. Education and practical experience are there advancing the capacity of the people for government, and the policies of McKinley and Roosevelt are leading the inhabitants step by step to an ever-increasing measure of home rule.

Time has justified the selection of the Panama route for the great Isthmian Canal, and events have shown the wisdom of securing authority over the zone through which it is to be built. The work is now progressing with a rapidity far beyond expectation, and already the realization of the hopes of centuries has come within the vision of the near future.

New Mexico and Arizona

We favor the immediate admission of the Territories of New Mexico and Arizona as separate States in the Union.

Centenary of the Birth of Lincoln

February 12, 1909, will be the 100th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, an immortal spirit whose fame has brightened with the receding years, and whose name stands among the first of those given to the world by the great Republic. We recommend that this centennial anniversary be celebrated throughout the confines of the nation, by all the people thereof, and especially by the public schools, as an exercise to stir the patriotism of the youth of the land.

Democratic Incapacity for Government

We call the attention of the American people to the fact that none of the great measures here advocated by the Republican party could be enacted, and none of the steps forward here proposed could be taken under a Democratic administration or under one in which party responsibility is divided. The continuance of present policies, therefore, absolutely requires the continuance in power of that party which believes in them and which possesses the capacity to put them into operation.

Fundamental Differences Between Democracy and Republicanism

Beyond all platform declarations there are fundamental differences between the Republican party and its chief opponent which make the one worthy and the other unworthy of public trust.

In history, the difference between Democracy and Republicanism is that the one stood for debased currency, the other for honest currency the one for free silver, the other for sound money the one for free trade, the other for protection the one for the contraction of American influence, the other for its expansion the one has been forced to abandon every position taken on the great issues before the people, the other has held and vindicated all.

In experience, the difference between Democracy and Republicanism is that one means adversity, while the other means prosperity one means low wages, the other means high one means doubt and debt, the other means confidence and thrift.

In principle, the difference between Democracy and Republicanism is that one stands for vacillation and timidity in government, the other for strength and purpose one stands for obstruction, the other for construction one promises, the other performs, one finds fault, the other finds work.

The present tendencies of the two parties are even more marked by inherent differences. The trend of Democracy is toward socialism, while the Republican party stands for a wise and regulated individualism. Socialism would destroy wealth, Republicanism would prevent its abuse. Socialism would give to each an equal right to take Republicanism would give to each an equal right to earn. Socialism would offer an equality of possession which would soon leave no one anything to possess, Republicanism would give equality of opportunity which would assure to each his share of a constantly increasing sum of possessions. In line with this tendency the Democratic party of to-day believes in Government ownership, while the Republican party believes in Government regulation. Ultimately Democracy would have the nation own the people, while Republicanism would have the people own the nation.

Upon this platform of principles and purposes, reaffirming our adherence to every Republican doctrine proclaimed since the birth of the party, we go before the country, asking the support not only of those who have acted with us heretofore, but of all our fellow citizens who, regardless of past political differences, unite in the desire to maintain the policies, perpetuate the blessings and make secure the achievements of a greater America.

Tag: First Republican Convention

Henry S. Lane was the consummate politician for the turbulent times that spurred him into action. He regularly put party before personal ambition and was modest enough to affect change from behind the scenes with little glory. He was, perhaps more than any of the other political players involved, the prescient architect responsible for creating the Indiana Republican Party in the 1850s. But he is often overlooked and overshadowed by more dramatic characters. He did not make bold and controversial decisions like Oliver P. Morton. He did not bravely stand in opposition to slavery like George Washington Julian. Instead, he was a discerning compromiser and a shrewd political operative, essential qualities in a period marked by division and the gathering clouds of Civil War. Perhaps no man except Lane could have united the disparate factions squabbling over an array of issues to create a stalwart party able to challenge the Southern-sympathizing Indiana Democrats.

Henry S. Lane, circa 1850. Image accessed from Crawfordsville District Public Library Image Database, Montgomery Count Historical Society Collection.

From such a grand description, one might picture Lane as a stately figure in the vein of peers such as Thomas A. Hendricks or Schuyler Colfax. However, Lane’s outward appearance did not reflect his astute political brain. He was tall, skinny, and pale. He was missing his front teeth and, in donning a blue denim suit, he did nothing to craft the appearance of a statesman. On top of everything, he chewed tobacco, a custom associated with the antebellum South.

Geo. A. Ogle & Co., Standard Atlas of Montgomery County, Indiana, 1917, Indiana Historic Atlases Collection, Ball State University Digital Media Repository.

This seemingly unimpressive figure, however, delivered some of the finest speeches ever orated by a Hoosier politician. For example, the Fort Wayne Standard described his 1854 keynote address at the People’s Party Convention as “soul-stirring and eloquent” and lamented their inability to describe his language sufficiently. His political savvy and oratory skills played no small part during one of the most exciting and tempestuous periods of Indiana political history.

Henry Smith Lane was born February 24, 1811 in Kentucky. By 1834, he settled in Crawfordsville, Montgomery County, Indiana, where he would maintain his permanent residence for the rest of his life. He quickly rose to prominence in Crawfordsville. He gained admission to the Indiana bar soon after arriving in the community. In 1837, at the age of twenty-six, he won a seat in the Indiana House of Representatives as a member of the Whig Party.

“Henry Clay” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed June 2, 2017.

On August 3, 1840, as the result of a special election, Lane won an open seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. In Congress, he caucused with fellow Whigs such as former President John Quincy Adams, future president Millard Fillmore, fellow Hoosiers Richard W. Thompson, and ex-governor David Wallace. Lane won re-election to a full term on May 3, 1841 and served until August 6, 1843. Historian Walter Rice Sharp described Lane’s time in the U.S. House: “He delivered few speeches and introduced no measures of his own. But upon occasion he would launch forth with an impromptu outburst of feeling which indicated a depth of conviction.” Apparently, Lane’s limited but impassioned participation was enough to earn the respect of his idol and Whig Party leader Henry Clay.

Evansville Journal, June 6, 1844, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles

When Clay won the Whig Party’s presidential nomination in 1844, Lane took to the campaign trail. Although he recently considered dropping out of politics due to a personal tragedy, Lane consented to be named as a candidate for state elector on the Whig ticket. He traveled across Indiana, and delivered public speeches in support of Clay for president. For example, the Evansville Journal reported on a June meeting to ratify Clay’s nomination at Tippecanoe Battle Ground: “Hon. Henry S. Lane of Montgomery, being loudly called for, took the stand and addressed the immense multitude in exposition of the principles and aims of the Whig party.” After Lane enthusiastically praised Clay and the party, the Indiana Whigs heartily ratified the nomination. He increased his efforts on behalf of Clay in the fall and one can follow his speaking trail through the newspapers using Hoosier State Chronicles. From August through October the (Brookville) Indiana American reported on Lane’s appearances at “Whig Mass Meetings” in Rockville, Lafayette, Logansport, Goshen, Fort Wayne, LaPorte, and Terre Haute.

The Democratic Party, however, was re-gaining dominance in Hoosier politics. The Whigs lost major ground in the 1844 state elections. In the presidential election, Hoosiers reflected the national choice of Democrat James K. Polk over Clay. Among other issues, the Whig Party failed to sense a changing economic climate. The country was in an expansionist mindset and the Democrats catered to this hunger for land and the imagined opportunities associated with it. Polk advocated for the addition of Texas and Oregon into the Union, satisfying the public’s desire for expansion, but also rocking the delicate balance of Slave and Free states that would soon lead to the Civil War. Lane had thought little about slavery thus far, and it would have been hard to imagine at this point in time, that he would one day unite the anti-slavery factions in Indiana.

Frank M. Hohenberger, “Lane Place, 212 South Water Street, Crawfordsville, Indiana,” Frank M. Hohenberger Collection, Lilly Library, Indiana University. Mexican War Broadside,1846-1848, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution,

Clay’s defeat reinforced Lane’s earlier desire to withdraw from politics. In 1845, he re-married (after being widowed) and focused his efforts on building a large white house in Crawfordsville which he named Lane Place. It was built to last – it still stands – and to serve as a quiet retreat from the national stage. His country, however, soon needed him. According to Lane biographer Michael Hall, Lane objected to Polk’s declaration of war on Mexico in 1846 on partisan political grounds. Yet as a patriot, he felt called to serve. He organized a group of volunteers who assembled outside Lane Place in June of 1846 and left home for war.

Over a month later, Major Lane and the First Infantry Regiment of Indiana Volunteers arrived at the Texas-Mexico border. The camp they found there was “hell upon earth,” according to Lane. The regiment waited in vain for months to be ordered into battle. Meanwhile, Lane and the other officers watched as their troops contracted and succumbed to malaria, dysentery, yellow fever, and other diseases. Lane wrote in his journal, “We shall bury a great many of our best men before we leave this miserable camp.” Despite repeated requests for an active assignment, Lane (now a lieutenant colonel) and his men returned to Indiana after ten months of inaction, disillusioned by their experiences. According to Hall, this event also embittered Lane to both the Whig and Democratic parties and “the bureaucratic bungling that caused the inefficiency he witnessed and had contributed to the war’s cause.” By 1847, Henry S. Lane anticipated the need for a new political party, but the climate would not be ripe for another seven years.

Zachary Taylor was the last Whig to win the presidency when he defeated Democrat Lewis Cass in the 1848 election. The new president was also a slaveholder. Hall claims that Lane “constantly criticized” Taylor, and thus further distanced himself from the Whig Party. However, a search through Indiana newspapers using Hoosier State Chronicles shows that Lane, putting party before personal sentiment, offered half-hearted support for Taylor. For example, the Indiana State Sentinel reported in February 1848, that Lane spoke to an audience of “Taylorites” in Crawfordsville. Lane described Taylor as “an American of capacity, of honesty, and merit” and reported that he offered his support for the obscure reason that “as the people are all going for him, I wish to keep out of the crowd.” However, Lane seemed more enthusiastic about his party that fall. The (Brookville) Indiana American reported on a gathering of many leading Midwestern Whigs and a large audience “who had left their shops, farms, and daily occupations to spend a day of two in honor of Zachary Taylor – the people’s candidate for the Presidency.” The paper described Lane, one of the main speakers at the event: “[T]hat gallant Whig champion and eloquent orator of our own State, Henry S. Lane, of Montgomery [County], was called for, and mounting a table at the door, he poured forth a flood of political truths which elicited shouts of applause! The old Whig fire seemed to be rekindled anew upon every altar, and not until a late hour, was he permitted to leave the stand.”

“Fort Harrison Meeting,” (Brookville) Indiana American, September 15, 1848, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Political defeat, however, soon doused Lane’s fire. His 1848 loss to Joseph E. McDonald for the U.S. House of Representatives made clear that, much like the Whig Party itself, his political and moral stances were in flux. He was a Whig “in name only,” according Hall, but newspapers such as the Indiana State Sentinel recognized him as “the most prominent member of that body.” More importantly, he had yet to take a clear position on slavery. While the Montgomery (County) Journal called him a “champion of human rights and freedom” who would check the expansion of slavery, the Sentinel noted that he had made no anti-slavery promises on the campaign trail. The paper reported that they hoped he would “define his position . . . and . . . openly declare whether he will support Taylor’s bidding or not.” Lane lost the election, and by this point in history, Indiana was solidly Democratic.

Clay Defending the Compromise of 1850, New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Lane’s response to the Compromise of 1850 epitomized his ambivalent stance on slavery. Like most Whigs, Lane supported this set of bills that temporarily eased tensions between pro and anti-slavery interests at the expense of actually solving the problem of slavery. Like Clay, Lane was morally opposed to the institution of slavery but politically only opposed the extension of slavery into new U.S. states and territories. (This is a marked contrast to George Washington Julian, for example, a staunch abolitionist who fought to rid the nation of slavery completely.) Also like Clay, Lane did not imagine the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which put limits on slavery’s expansion in the U.S. Territories, would ever be repealed. All Whigs, however, did not see the issues the same way as Lane and Clay. The Compromise of 1850 highlighted the sectional divisions in the Whig Party, while at the same time creating an uneasy peace. Henry Clay’s death in 1852 served as a harbinger of the Whig Party’s fate. A few short years thereafter, the party membership fractured over a piece of legislation that destroyed the tentative sectional truce.

“A New Map of Nebraska, Kansas, New Mexico, and Indian Territories,” 1856, Digital Commonwealth Massachusetts Collections Online.

In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act which repealed the Missouri Compromise. The bill was sponsored by Illinois Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas (who would later run for president against Abraham Lincoln) and signed into law by Democratic President Franklin Pierce. While initially a huge setback for the anti-slavery movement, opposition to this law and to the Democratic administration worked to mobilize disparate political groups against a common cause. This was the perfect climate to organize the new party that Lane and others had envisioned years earlier.

Among those Americans who were united against the extension of slavery into new territories their opinions on slavery itself varied widely. Many anti-slavery adherents opposed the western spread of slavery, but had little interest in the fate of enslaved peoples in the South. Whites who worked in agriculture and industry opposed slavery’s expansion because they did not want to compete with slave labor in the North or in new territories. For the anti-slavery politicians and electorate who favored emancipation, there were debates on how to accomplish this. Some groups favored emancipation only over an extended period of time. Even within this “gradual emancipation” position there were debates as to whether or not slaveholders should be compensated or not as a result of their loss of “property.” Even if an anti-slavery faction favored emancipation they often advocated that the freed African Americans should be removed from America and colonized in Africa. Only a small percentage of anti-slavery supporters abhorred the institution as an affront to God and labored for its immediate abolition and citizenship rights for African Americans. Despite these sometimes vastly different positions, the desire to stop slavery’s spread was a unifying aim, and in July 1854, former Whigs, anti-slavery Democrats, Free Soilers, and others organized to form a new national party: the Republican Party.

“The People’s Convention,” Indiana Journal, reprinted in Evansville Daily Journal, July 15, 1854, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

In Indiana, Lane and other prominent ex-Whigs called for a state convention to be held July 13, 1854 for the purpose of organizing a new party. Historian Walter Sharp wrote that “Lane, with his wealth of persuasive eloquence and his unblemished character, was clearly the prime mover of this inner council.” That day, ten thousand people reportedly rallied at Indianapolis to protest the Kansas-Nebraska Act. These included Hoosiers favoring political issues that ranged from alcohol-adverse temperance advocates to anti-Catholic, xenophobic Know-Nothings to defecting Democrats to staunch abolitionists. It was clear to Lane that the new party must include all of these diverse political voices, and unite them against slavery’s expansion. Thus, Indiana’s arm of what would in ensuing years become the Republican Party, had to be more moderate in order to be more inclusive. Lane and other leaders chose to call it the People’s Party. They reasoned that by avoiding the name “Republican” they could avoid the association with the eastern abolition movement that many Hoosiers saw as too radical.

“Preliminary Meeting of the Great Mongrel Convention,” (Indianapolis) Indiana State Sentinel, July 15, 1854, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Democratic newspapers had their own, more colorful names, for the new party. The Indiana State Sentinel referred to the July meeting as the “Isms Convention” and the “Great Mongrel Convention,” criticizing the sheer number of different ideologies that the party was attempting to reconcile. Another Democratic paper, the Worcester (Massachusetts) Transcript, called it “a Free Soil Convention in disguise.” The Sentinel also hyperbolized, calling the People’s Party the “Abolition Free Soil Party” in an attempt to scare off the conservative Know-Nothings and defecting Democrats.

Despite the efforts of detractors, the convention was a success. This was due in large part to Lane’s unifying speech where he outlined the platform of the new party. He appeased the prohibitionists by calling for a liquor ban and the Know-Nothings by calling for a “lengthy citizenship” process, all without offending the German immigrant members in their midst. Mostly, however, he set the party in opposition to the detested Kansas-Nebraska Act and the expansion of slavery into the territories. Lane biographer Hall explained that his speech, “Molded the various confederations of political doctrine into one shaky, but significant movement.” The (Huntington) Indiana Herald praised Lane’s speech and delighted over his criticism of Democratic U.S. Senator John Pettit who recently spoke in Indianapolis in support of the reviled Kansas-Nebraska Act and famously stated during the Senate debate on the act that Jefferson’s statement included in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” was “a self-evident lie.” The paper reported:

[Lane’s] address was of the most soul-stirring and eloquent character. We cannot pretend to give his language, and if we could, no one, unless they heard him, could form an idea of his style oratory. His defense of the glorious Declaration of Independence from the foul aspirations of Petit [sic], was the finest specimen of terrible denunciations that we have listened to for many years. Had that individual been present, as brazenfaced as he is, he must have wilted down under the Atlas load of scorn piled upon him by the eloquent Lane.

Of course, the Democratic Indiana State Sentinel had a different view of Lane’s speech. The paper complained that Lane’s stance was simply to oppose anything the Democrats advocated. The Sentinel also made fun of Lane’s folksy, rustic manner of speaking:

If a set of Democratic resolutions were to embody the Ten Commandments, Henry S. Lane would be “agin ’em”. . . If he knows which side the Democrats are on, he is always on the other side, and his only guide has ever been opposition to Democracy.

“Preliminary Meeting of the Great Mongrel Convention,” (Indianapolis) Indiana State Sentinel, July 15, 1854, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

In a way, the Sentinel was right. Lane knew that perhaps the only thing this heterogeneous group of Hoosiers had in common, was opposition to the Democratic Party and the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The official platform set forth by the People’s Party was simple. First, they opposed the extension of slavery. Second, they advocated for laws to “suppress the traffic in ardent spirits as a beverage.” And third, they opposed everything laid out by the Indiana Democratic Party during their recent convention. One example of the platform’s moderation was seen when the abolitionist George Washington Julian introduced a minority report calling for a stronger stance against slavery and the Fugitive Slave Law. The convention quickly tabled Julian’s request. Nonetheless, the Indiana People’s Party rode their non-traditional platform to success in the 1854 elections statewide they took nine out of eleven congressional races and gained a majority in the lower house of the Indiana General Assembly.

“Hon. Henry S. Lane,” Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, National Archives.

Lane exerted great influential in steering the new party toward a moderate stance on slavery. He recognized that most of Indiana’s electorate saw the abolition movement as too radical. At this delicate time, he was careful to speak only against the extension of slavery, and did not advocate for its abolition. In 1855, he wrote to Indiana Congressman Schuyler Colfax, “We must resist the encroachment of Slavery, if we would preserve the rights of Freedom.” Despite his moderation, Democratic papers charged Lane with being an abolitionist. While Lane was certainly not an abolitionist, his views on slavery were shifting towards opposing the institution itself, not just its extension.

During the 1856 election year Lane remained a key figure in the Indiana party and began making waves nationally as well. In 1856, Lane chaired the People’s Party Convention in Indianapolis and the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia that nominated John C. Frémont for president (and had the crafty campaign slogan: “Free labor, free soil, free men, Frémont”). In his 1856, Lane addressed the Republican National Convention, and reiterated that the party opposed only extension of slavery, not its abolition, but added that he believed the Declaration of Independence to be “an anti-slavery document.” He described the Republican Party as representing “every shade of Anti-slavery sentiment in the United States” and that the party hoped to see a time when God would “look upon no slave North or South.” He continued:

Freedom is national. Freedom is the general rule. Slavery is the exception. It exists by sufferance. Where it does exist under the sanction of the law, we make no war upon it. Does that constitute us Abolitionists, simply because we are opposed to the extension of slavery? If that makes an Abolitionist, write ‘Abolitionist’ all over me.

The Crawfordsville Journal reprinted Lane’s speech. The only editorial comment the Journal provided was this: “We give it to our readers without note of comment, as it was reported for that paper. We consider it, however, a master stroke of Western eloquence. Let everybody read it.”

“Col. H. S. Lane’s Speech at the Philadelphia Convention,” Crawfordsville Weekly Journal, July 3, 1856, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Back home in Indiana, Lane again demonstrated his political savvy and ability to put party before personal ambitions in an attempt to strengthen it for the 1856 election. Lane was the preferred pick for gubernatorial nominee among some party leaders for his skill, experience, and unifying effect. However, Lane knew Oliver P. Morton would be the candidate with a better chance of winning. Morton had been a Democrat until just before the People’s Party’s organization and had no record of anti-slavery rhetoric. A former Democrat was likely to draw the support moderate and disillusioned Democrats as well as former Know-Nothings, who were not thrilled with the participation of Lane and others in the Republican National Convention (as they still considered the national party too radical). Despite this creative maneuver, Morton lost the election. Democrats won the state and the national election making James Buchanan, supporter of strict fugitive slave laws and the rights of states to decide the slavery issue, the leader of a divided nation.

Over the next four years, the People’s Party aligned itself with the national platform and adopted the name “Republican.” As the Indiana party looked toward the 1860 election year, Lane looked toward Washington and a Senate seat. He also applied what he knew about offering the voters moderate candidates who could appeal to various factions. He used this knowledge when he threw the Indiana delegation’s support behind Abraham Lincoln’s nomination at the 1860 Republican National Convention. Check back for a second post on Lane and his role in Lincoln’s 1860 presidential nomination and scheme to win both the governorship and a Senate seat for his party.

Michael Hall, The Road to Washington: Henry S. Lane, The Rise of an Indiana Politician, 1842-1860 (Crawfordsville: Montgomery County Historical Society, 1990).

Walter Rice Sharp, “Henry S. Lane and the Formation of the Republican Party in Indiana,” Mississippi Valley Historical Review 7:2 (September 1920): 93-112.

William Taft: Campaigns and Elections

After his 1904 electoral victory, Theodore Roosevelt promised publicly not to seek the presidency again in 1908. While he later regretted that decision, he felt bound by it and vigorously promoted William Howard Taft as his successor. Both Nellie Taft and Roosevelt had to persuade Taft to make the race. Even with the presidency in his reach, Taft much preferred the U.S. Supreme Court chief justice appointment.

It was generally expected that Taft would be Roosevelt's man in the White House, and Taft himself vowed to continue Roosevelt's progressive policies. Still, up to the last minute before Taft's nomination at the Republican Party convention in Chicago, Nellie Taft feared that Roosevelt might announce his bid for a second elected term. It almost happened on the second day of the convention, when a spontaneous and wild demonstration produced a forty-nine minute stampede for Roosevelt—the longest-lasting demonstration that had ever occurred at a national political convention. Only when Roosevelt sent word via Senator Henry Cabot Lodge that he was not available did the convention nominate Taft on the first ballot. The final count gave Taft 702 votes (491 votes were needed to win) in a field of seven nominees. The Democrats once again nominated William Jennings Bryan, the twice-defeated candidate who still personified the populist politics of the Democratic Party and the moral fervor of its "silverite" wing.

At Nellie's urging, Taft announced that he intended to drop thirty pounds off his 300 pound plus weight for the campaign fight ahead. He retreated to the golf course at a resort in Hot Springs, Virginia, where he stayed for much of the next three months. His campaign, once it started, depended heavily upon Roosevelt for speechmaking, advice, and energy. Journalists bombarded the public with jokes about Taft being a substitute for Roosevelt. One columnist explained that T.A.F.T. stood for "Take Advice From Theodore." Nothing could hide Taft's dislike for campaigning and politics. His handlers tried to turn his sluggish style into a positive asset by describing Taft as a new kind of politician—one who refuses to say anything negative about his opponent. For most voters it was enough, however, that Taft had pledged to carry on Roosevelt's policies. His victory was overwhelming. He carried all but three states outside the Democratic Solid South and won 321 electoral votes to Bryan's 162. In the final tally for the popular vote, Taft won 7,675,320 (51.6 percent) to Bryan's 6,412,294 (43.1 percent). Socialist candidate Eugene V. Debs won just 2.8 percent of the popular vote, or 420,793.

The Campaign and Election of 1912

After four years in the White House, Taft agreed to run for a second term, principally because he felt compelled to defend himself against Roosevelt's attacks on him as a traitor to reform. The former friends and allies had become bitter opponents. Roosevelt saw Taft as betraying his promise to advance Roosevelt's agenda. He was especially bitter over Taft's antitrust policy, which had targeted one of Roosevelt's personally sanctioned "Good Trusts," U.S. Steel. The former President also felt personally betrayed by Taft's firing of Gifford Pinchot, head of the U.S. forest service and Roosevelt's old friend and conservation policy ally. Certain that Taft would take the party down with him in 1912, Roosevelt was determined to replace him as the 1912 Republican candidate.

After his return to America in 1910 from a big game hunting safari in Africa and a European tour, Roosevelt began to criticize Taft obliquely in speeches which sketched out his "New Nationalism" policies. He argued for the elimination of special interests from politics, direct primaries, and graduated income and inheritance taxes. Roosevelt's platform also advocated a downward revision of the tariff schedule, open publicity about corporate business practices and decisions, and laws prohibiting the use of corporate funds in politics. Additionally, he supported the initiative and referendum process, as well as the conservation and use of national resources to benefit all the people. In contrast to what would become Woodrow Wilson's 1912 political agenda, New Nationalism promised active government supervision and regulation of giant corporations rather than their dissolution. Monopolies would be made to operate in the public interest rather than solely in the interest of their stockholders. Taft considered Roosevelt's ideas hopelessly radical and listened to his conservative supporters—and especially his wife—who vilified Roosevelt as a man bent on destroying the nation and the President.

In the year before the Republican convention, Roosevelt attacked Taft mercilessly and at every opportunity. Several states had established direct primaries, which allowed the people to vote their opinion on a preference ballot for party candidates (though in most of those states, the convention delegates would still be selected by party leaders). By 1912, thirteen states had primary laws: South Dakota, Wisconsin, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oregon, Illinois, California, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Ohio. Roosevelt's no-holds-barred attack on Taft finally reached a sore point when the former President spoke in favor of the popular recall of judges and judicial decisions on constitutional questions. Taft responded in a speech on April 25, 1912, declaring that a Roosevelt victory would institute a reign of terror similar to that following the French Revolution. Thereafter, the fight became a free-for-all, with Taft hitting back at Roosevelt constantly. The resulting campaign to win the Republican nomination was the first in which a sitting President campaigned in state primaries.

The primary elections showed Roosevelt to be the people's clear choice. Senator Robert LaFollette won North Dakota and Wisconsin while Taft carried New York. Roosevelt, however, carried all other primaries. When the convention opened in Chicago on June 7, Roosevelt had 271 delegates pledged to him compared to Taft's 71—just 80 votes short of a majority. Taft's major advantage as President then came into play: his control of federal patronage. Consequently, he was able to hold the delegates from southern states. In addition, he controlled the Republican National Committee, which decided on any challenges of delegates from the primaries. Most of the states sent two sets of delegates to the convention, and the Republican National Committee—dominated by Taft Republicans—seated all but a few of the Taft-pledged delegates. Three days of confusion followed on the convention floor. The party bosses handed the nomination to Taft with 561 votes to Roosevelt's 187. Forty-one delegate votes were cast for Senator LaFollette.

Having lost the nomination, Roosevelt led his followers out of the convention and formed the Progressive Party. It was quickly nicknamed the Bull Moose Party, in honor of Roosevelt's comparison of himself to a raging bull moose ready for a fight. The new party nominated Roosevelt as its presidential candidate on August 6 in the Chicago Coliseum. The progressive governor of California, Hiram Johnson, was selected as Roosevelt's running mate.

Sensing victory because of the Republican fratricide, the Democrats, nearly delirious with confidence over the mess in the Republican Party, had nominated Woodrow Wilson, the progressive governor of New Jersey, on the forty-third ballot at their convention in Baltimore. They pegged Indiana Governor Thomas Marshall as his running mate. In the campaign that followed, Taft became more conservative as he ran against two challengers, both identified as progressives. In the face of strong criticism from the challengers, Taft tended to retreat to the golf links where he hid away from the public. Understanding that Taft had essentially given up the fight, Roosevelt and Wilson slugged it out in the popular media. Wilson presented his "New Freedom" ideas, which were similar to Roosevelt's "New Nationalism," except that Wilson favored the dismantling of all giant monopolies. Roosevelt visited thirty-four states and won significant public sympathy from a bravura act following an assassin's attack in Milwaukee. After being shot in the chest, the healthy "bull moose" survived to make a scheduled campaign appearance. The bullet had entered his chest but had been deflected from its full force by a fifty page speech in Roosevelt's coat pocket.

On election day, Wilson beat the split Republicans decisively in the Electoral College. Taft carried only two minor states, Utah and Vermont. Wilson compiled 435 electoral votes to 88 for Roosevelt and 8 for Taft. Gauging from the election results, had the Republicans united behind Roosevelt, he probably would have won the election in view of the fact that Taft and Roosevelt won a larger combined popular vote than Wilson. Moreover, when the Roosevelt, Wilson, and Debs votes are combined, the election of 1912 represents a stunning victory for progressivism, or reform, at the national level. Taft's policies had been decisively repudiated by the end of his term.

The Republican Convention Is a Political Ponzi Scheme

August 26, 2020

US National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow addresses the Republican National Convention on August 25, 2020. (Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via Getty Images)

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Donald Trump is a persistent liar. But some of his lies are bigger than others, and the biggest of them all is the one he repeated at the opening of this week’s Republican National Convention.

Over disembodied mumbles of “four more years,” the president served up a heaping helping of xenophobia and economic nonsense as he claimed that he was presiding over a “historic” economic recovery before the coronavirus pandemic messed everything up.

“We have to win. Our country is counting on it. This is the biggest, this is it,” Trump said of the race he’s been nominated to run against former vice president Joe Biden.

Our country can go in a horrible, horrible direction or in an even greater direction—and before the plague came in from China, that’s where we were going. We were going in a direction like we had never seen—the most successful economy in the history of our country, the best unemployment numbers in history, for African American, Asian American, Hispanic American, women, college students. Bad students, good students, everybody. If you had a diploma if you didn’t have a diploma, it didn’t matter—you were doing well, everybody was doing well.

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“The most successful economy in the history of our country”? No. It wasn’t that before the pandemic, and it isn’t that now. Not even close.

Yet Trump is spreading the lie. And speaker after speaker at this convoluted sometimes in-person, sometimes virtual convention is amplifying it.

The big lie is so vital to the president’s reelection run that Larry Kudlow, the director of the United States National Economic Council, was dispatched to open the second night of the convention with false claims that Trump inherited a “stagnant economy” and that the “economy was rebuilt in three years.”

Why? Republicans have staked their political future on a plan to get Americans who are fed up with the president to vote for him anyway. At the heart of that plan is the fantasy that Trump is the essential man of American renewal—and the even bigger fantasy that the president who failed to respond effectively to the pandemic or to mass unemployment this year will somehow get it right next year.

What’s unfolding is a political Ponzi scheme. Inflated claims are being made about Trump’s economic “accomplishments” in order to persuade frightened and uncertain Americans to invest their votes in the scandal-plagued businessman’s reelection run.

Current Issue

If voters will just reelect the president, Trump and his willing co-conspirators claim, the payoff will come in the form of a booming economy.

“If you’re looking for hope,” chirped Donald Trump Jr. on Monday night, “look to the man who did what the failed Obama-Biden administration never could do and built the greatest economy our country has ever seen.”

“Who better to lead us out of these times than the president who already built the strongest economy our country has ever seen?” bubbled House majority whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana. “Donald Trump did it before. Donald Trump will deliver for us again.”

Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley claimed that “the President is the clear choice on jobs and the economy.”

The truth is that Trump has never been the clear choice on jobs or the economy.

His economic track record is not a story of “historic” success. That’s been well documented, because, of course, the president’s current lie is one he has told before.

In February, just before the pandemic hit, Trump was busy claiming that he’d built a thriving economy. Multiple media outlets dinged him for rearranging the facts.

Trump inherited a thriving economy. By just about any important measure, the economy under Trump did not do as well as it did under Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson or Bill Clinton. The gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 2.3% in 2019, slipping from 2.9% in 2018 and 2.4% in 2017. But in 1997, 1998 and 1999, GDP grew 4.5%, 4.5% and 4.7%, respectively. Yet even that period paled in comparison against the 1950s and 1960s. Growth between 1962 and 1966 ranged from 4.4% to 6.6%. In 1950 and 1951, it was 8.7% and 8%, respectively. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate reached a low of 3.5% under Trump, but it dipped as low as 2.5% in 1953.

The BBC explained that Trump wasn’t even doing as well as his political nemesis, former President Barack Obama. “For 2019, the data shows an annual average growth of 2.3%, ending the year at 2.1% for the fourth quarter. This is significantly less than the 5.5% peak achieved in the second quarter of 2014 during the Obama presidency. And if you go further back, there were times in the 1950s and 1960s when GDP growth was even higher.” Megan Black, an assistant professor of history at the London School of Economics, told the network, “If you choose to look at the health of the economy based on GDP, Mr. Trump’s claims are suspect when compared to the national economic boom of the post-War years.”

If you choose to look at other measures, these pro-Trump assertions prove to be equally false.

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During the last three years of the Obama administration, 8.1 million jobs were created, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. During the first three years of the Trump administration, only 6.6 million jobs were created.

So Trump was underperforming even before the pandemic. After it hit, he mangled the US response so badly that, while other countries have been getting back on their feet, this one is struggling with a 10.2 percent unemployment rate—higher than the rate Obama wrestled with during the Great Recession. The rate has gone down from where it was in March and April when the Covid-19 crisis unfolded, but there are fears that it could spike anew this fall. There is also the reality that the pandemic and its economic consequences continue to hit Black and brown communities hardest—with ProPublica reporting just this week that “Black workers are more likely to be unemployed but less likely to get unemployment benefits.”

Trump and his backers don’t have anything to brag about. No matter where you look, to federal data, to financial analyses, to business journals, to the fact-checking industry—which has, admittedly, boomed under this president—Trump’s claims do not stand up. He’s not a master of the universe, unless your universe is the Republican National Convention, where Donald Trump is cast as an economic superhero.

It’s the Economy

Can Joe Biden Unrig the Economy?

Don Jr. started the week by claiming that his father’s “policies have been like rocket fuel to the economy.” Kudlow announced that the economy, even with 30 million unemployed, is “roaring back.” And Vice President Mike Pence ambled in to proclaim, “We’ve revived this economy through cutting taxes.” Pence was lying. And it was a dangerous lie at that. According to Forbes, “Trump’s entire premise that the tax cuts are trickling down to families and sparking an economic boom is baseless. His tax cuts have not trickled down to workers, they’ve inflated deficits, and by doing so they have put programs like Social Security and Medicare more at risk. Another Trump tax cut would threaten these programs even more.”

The facts are not on this president’s side.

That is why the 2020 Republican National Convention has been framed around the big lie. And that is why Trump and his hirelings will keep telling the lie right through November 3.

What the Republicans are offering America is not a campaign. It’s a con job.

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Republican Philadelphia

Historians say there was no suspense or excitement surrounding the Republican Convention of 1900.

William McKinley and Garrett A. Hobart

True, there was no doubt that President William McKinley would be nominated for a second term without opposition. But McKinley's vice president, Garrett Hobart, died in 1899.

As the delegates began to arrive in mid-June, Philadelphia newspapers were filled with banner-headlined, front-page stories detailing the ever-shifting list of possible vice presidential candidates. It was delicious reading for those who enjoyed the game of political chess. It was the era of the political "boss-kingmaker." In the selection of a vice presidential candidate, the game pitted the king of all GOP kingmakers, Mark Hanna of Ohio against the bosses of New York, Thomas C. Platt and canny Pennsylvania kingmaker Matthew Quay.

In the end the Platt-Quay candidate, Gov. Theodore Roosevelt of New York, was given the nomination, but more on that contest later.

In order to land the convention, national party chairman Hanna demanded the large sum of $100,000. It was soon raised by a committee composed of business leaders and city officials. The Walton Hotel on Broad Street was the unofficial center of things, but the convention itself was held on the west bank of the Schuylkill River at 34th and Spruce streets.

It was a temporary exhibition hall located where the current abandoned Civic Center Convention Hall (dating to 1931) now stands. Next door was the now-empty Commercial Museum. The meeting hall &mdash which was demolished about two years after the convention &mdash could seat 20,000 and was filled to capacity during the three-day convention. Delegates arrived at the Hall in packed trolley cars, horse-drawn cab or strolled the two miles from Center City.

The city was mobbed. Business streets were decorated. The Inquirer bragged of its sign that stretched across Broad Street composed of 2,000 electric light bulbs spelling out "PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER. LARGEST REPUBLICAN CIRCULATION IN THE WORLD." When the sign was turned on "an involuntary outburst of exclamation of admiration arose from the onlookers," the newspaper declared.

Scalpers were asking $5 to $60 for spectator seats. Swarms of street hawkers peddled souvenirs at hotels and the convention hall. A delegation of black leaders arrived in town to plead for a firm stand against lynchings and seeking support for Negro voting rights in the South.

The credentials committee had to contend with a plethora of disputes. Seven different delegations arrived from Alabama. A "lively fistfight" between two Texans vying for a delegate seat ended when one drew a knife and onlookers separated the combatants.

The GOP staged a huge nighttime parade on Broad Street with 25,000 marchers. A fleet of riverboats provided a cruise on the Delaware River for 20,000 fun-seekers.

At the convention hall, a contingent of graybeards who had attended the party's first national convention in 1856 at Musical Fund Hall sat up front as honored guests.

Party Chairman Mark Hanna opened the convention and turned the gavel over to permanent chairman, Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts.

The convention was competing for newspaper space with two dramatic and exciting international stories: the Boxer Rebellion in China and the Boer War in South Africa.

But local newspaper provided saturation coverage of the convention with many artists' sketches of the action and by adding special convention sections. In addition to its regular staff, The North American hired eight "famous Americans" to comment on the proceedings, including feminist Susan B. Anthony a United State senator the wife of the governor of Kentucky and a noted humorist.

The bulk of the news focused on one hot topic, the vice presidential contest. Hanna had his favorites, and in the beginning it seemed like the Ohio boss would pick whomever he wished. When Hanna arrived in the city, the Inquirer headline declared "Dolliver and Long Lead for Second Place." A couple of days later the North American declared, "Hanna Punctures Many Vice Presidential Booms Leaving Only Bliss and Allison in Race."

The names Hanna floated were considered "administration men," those under control of the boss. Hanna despised Roosevelt. But soon the local headlines read, "Pennsylvania Leads the Roll of the States in Grand Rush to Roosevelt."

Boss Quay was taking great delight in outmaneuvering Boss Hanna. Quay had introduced a resolution that would have the effect of cutting considerably the voting power southern states in the next national GOP convention.

But Quay let frantic southerners know that he would be willing to drop the resolution if they supported Roosevelt. There was soon a Roosevelt stampede.

In part, Quay had engineered the move as a favor to his New York ally Boss Platt. The Rough Rider was one man Platt could not control, and he wanted him out of Albany.

Roosevelt, a hero of the recently concluded Spanish-American War, was extremely popular with the public. As a convention delegate, he was mobbed by cheering fans wherever he went in the city. But he did not want the vice presidential nomination and found himself pressured by the tidal wave of support to accept the dubious honor. When McKinley refused to get involved in the dispute, Hanna realized there was no point continuing his fight. Roosevelt won every delegate vote except for one &mdash his own.

Quay had displayed considerable skill and muscle but before the convention ended, he outwitted himself. During the last session, he had the galleries packed with machine lackeys who would cheer lustily "Quay! Quay!" everytime the boss stood up. And the boss made frequent trips from his seat for refreshment.

But the press caught on to the ruse, and Quay was lampooned with great zest. Quay had the convention "packed by a hired claque," blared the headlines. The cheering section was called "The Quay Claquers" and "The Machine Whoopers."

More Comments:

Jim Klann - 6/23/2008

I don't understand the assertion that LaFollette's failure to back McGovern resulted in the election of Root. Of 41 delegates who voted for LaFollette on the presidential roll call, 26 voted for McGovern, 12 for other candidates, and 3 abstained. Not one voted for Root, but he achieved a majority anyway. How could LaFollette have changed this outcome?

Nancy Unger - 4/24/2008

"Healthy skepticism about La Follette's actions and motives in 1912 is in order." Amen to that. Although La Follette campaigned very tepidly, for Taft, in the end, he couldn't vote for Taft OR Wilson and cast an empty ballot. I am so eager to read this important new book!

Lewis L. Gould - 4/23/2008

Mr. Hamilton: Thanks for the kind words which are much appreciated.

R.R. Hamilton - 4/23/2008

I was a student of yours in the Seventies. I just wanted to say "hello". You are one of the few professors who I recall, and one of the fewer still who I fondly recall. The professoriate is greatly weakened by your retirement (and by the hiring of "professors" who are not fit to hold your chalk eraser -- or whatever is the modern technological equivalent.)

Best wishes to you and yours.

Lewis L. Gould - 4/23/2008

That's part of it but being a one term president between Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, two of the most written about presidents in our history, did not help Taft as far as recognition at the hands of historians goes. You can count the number of Taft biographies on the fingers of one hand. Roosevelt and Wilson are a constant subject for biographical reappraisal as this year demonstrates.

Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 4/22/2008

I've never read much about Taft, but my Black Republican grandparents were all for him.

Taft has probably suffered at the hands of historians because he was a pro-business, conservative Republican. The same can be said of Ulysses Grant and Calvin Coolidge.

Vaughn davis bornet - 4/21/2008

Professor Lewis Gould illuminates each of the various subjects he chooses to focus on. I read this twice. It was a truism in my day, I think, that an understanding of the Election of 1912 was prerequisite to comprehending the New Deal and its aftermath.

Between my readings, I went to Edgar Eugene Robinson's 1924 The Evolution of American Political Parties, which uses the word "Insurgency" and quite naturally focuses on party organization as a major factor in political struggles of that day.

Then I read the knowledgable essay "The Election of 1912" in Encyclopedia of the American Presidency." There, I especially noticed Wilson authority Arthur S. Link's learned final oonclusion, "In defeat, Roosevelt was the real winner in 1912. He did better than any third party candidate in American History. More important, his New Nationalism would live to challenge all administrations until its final enactment--as the New Deal--during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt." (II, 491)

Thinking about all this, and mulling how to conclude, I found myself rejoicing in my lifetime of studying History and thinking, "History is the best Major in the curriculum." So there!

Vaughn Davis Bornet Ashland, Oregon

Lewis L. Gould - 4/21/2008

Of course not, but in the historical literature on TR and in some of the biographical takes on Taft his problems as a politician are emphasized to the point that he seems to have done nothing right in his four years. From there it is a short step to the view that he was not up to the presidency at all. The actual record of the man in office is more complex and nuanced. After his defeat in 1912, he wrote a friend: "This is the only country we have, my dear Nannie, and we have to make the best of it and such popular manifestations as we had the other day [5 November 1912 when he was beaten for reelection] are not to be taken as an evidence of governmental incapacity." Not a bad sentiment to remember in a contentious election year.

Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 4/21/2008

It should be remembered that T.R. judged Wilson's first term to be an utter disaster, and campaigned vigorously for Hughes in 1916. People tend to think of Roosevelt's philosophy as being closer to Wilson than to Taft, but it was not.

And I don't see how anyone who is well-informed can call Taft a "genial boob." His work in the Philippines, as President, and as Chief Justice was carried out successfully and with distinction. He wasn't a fool, and doesn't deserve that "genial boob" slur.

Lewis L. Gould - 4/21/2008

I garbled one sentence which should begin I was interested to see La Follette team up with Boies Penrose..

Lewis L. Gould - 4/21/2008

Professor Unger's book does indeed explore La Follette's decision at the Republican Convention. But of other writers about 1912, George Mowry passes over it in a sentence as does Francis Broderick in his 1989 book on the election and the same is true for other accounts So as a general statement, I think that I am right about the lack of analytic emphasis given to what La Follette did in supporting Root for temporary chair over Francis E. McGovern. And by the convention La Follette was in the race only in the most nominal sense of that phrase. By the time the convention voted on the issue of the temporary chair, La Follette had 36 votes to 411 for TR and around 500 for Taft. If the convention deadlocked, the names being talked about as compromise candidates were Charles Evans Hughes and Herbert Hadley, the governor of Missouri. In essence, La Follette was done. Only one Republican progressive could have gotten the nomination unless TR withdrew (which he was not going to do). So the choice for La Follette came down to TR or Taft, and he went for Taft. I suggest in the 1912 book that this was a fateful decision and I stand by that argument. Though it is beyond the scope of this essay, I was also interesting to see La Follette team up with Boies Penrose in August 1912 to assail Roosevelt about the issue of campaign contributions in 1904. That odd pairing helped disrupt Roosevelt's momentum coming out of the Progressive Convention. Even Taft noted this alliance. In a letter to his wife of 26 August 1912, he said "Penrose proposes to pull down the pillars of the temple, in order to get even with Roosevelt, no matter what happens, and so does La Follette. It is rather interesting and amusing to watch them now working together, Penrose calling La Follette 'Bob' and lunching with him and associating with him in every way."
So I think some healthy skepticism about La Follette's actions and motives in 1912 is in order. Professor Unger's book is a major contribution to such a dialogue about this still fascinating election. Lewis L. Gould

Nancy Unger - 4/21/2008

What a wonderful, timely essay. I look forward to reading the book. I do quibble, however, with the author’s assertion that La Follette’s decision to stay in the race rather than support McGovern, “has not been much analyzed.” In my biography Fighting Bob La Follette: The Righteous Reformer (U. of North Carolina Press, 2000, and available as a pre-order in paperback) I devote considerable space to description and analysis of La Follette’s actions throughout the 1912 campaign.

Max J. Skidmore - 4/21/2008

Thanks for an interesting, and thoughtful, piece. Taft certainly was no fool, and incumbency does carry advantages.

MyPillow founder booted from Republican conference in Nashville after vowing to confront governors on election fraud

The MyPillow founder was booted from a Republican Governors&rsquo Association event in Nashville on Tuesday night, despite being friendly with many of the attendees and insisting he was invited.

&ldquoThese events are for [Republican Governors&rsquo Association] members, and Mike Lindell is not currently an RGA member,&rdquo an anonymous source told Politico on Tuesday, after the political pillow purveyor attempted to collect his credentials at the Nashville gathering.

Lindell had apparently been attempting to attend the event dinner at the Tennessee Governor&rsquos Mansion, accessed via private transportation, the RGA official told Politico.

While it may not have been technically true that Lindell was not a governor, Republican or otherwise, aspiring governors and retired governors - as well as their friends and family, political commenters, and other figures on the Right - regularly show up at such events. Lindell has attended previous RGA events and has even been encouraged to run by fellow attendees, including former president Donald Trump himself.

Commentator Todd Starnes confirmed on Twitter that Lindell&rsquos VIP credentials and attendance pass had been revoked.

Lindell told the Washington Post he was given the boot because of his plans for the night, which included confronting Governors Brian Kemp of Georgia and Doug Ducey of Arizona concerning alleged 2020 voter fraud in their states. Lindell made his intentions clear earlier in the day on former Trump campaign chief Steve Bannon&rsquos radio show.

Neither had come out on his side concerning voter fraud, which Lindell was certain was the cause of Trump&rsquos apparent failure to hold the White House in November.

After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, Arizona's Maricopa County is conducting a third recount including a hand count of the vote, an expensive process whose funding and integrity have both been challenged.

Georgia, too, underwent several recounts across the state, unearthing several hundred votes in favor of Trump but not turning up enough to change the results, according to local elections executives, at least.

Neither state went to Trump in November, leading Lindell to speculate on the theory that they had been victims of a sophisticated voter fraud system devised by Dominion Voting Systems that was capable of switching votes for one candidate to votes for the other &mdash a hypothesis he has not let up on for months.

Lindell was even sued for defamation by Dominion, which demanded he cough up $1.3 billion &mdash only for the MyPillow founder to file a countersuit for $1.6 billion, arguing it was an effort to silence his free speech.

Lindell continues to insist Trump will be back, declaring in a March interview that &ldquoDonald Trump will be back in office in August&rdquo and hinting he has &ldquomassive&rdquo evidence of voter fraud from the 2020 election.

In an apparent effort to buttress his importance and prove he had been invited to the gathering, Lindell shared with Politico a screenshot of an RGA calendar event, including files titled &ldquoNashville Agenda.pdf&rdquo and &ldquoRGA - Nashville meeting&rdquo as well as a schedule for the conference marked &ldquoconfidential.&rdquo

Lindell apparently announced upon learning he was not welcome at the conference that he would be departing that night instead of staying the whole three days.

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