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The Bull Moose years
Written by the late Dr. John A. Gable, a recognized expert on the Bull Moose years. Dr. Gable included extensive discussion of the period in his doctoral thesis, and continued that passion during his long tenure with the TRA.
First of all, there were of course both Democratic Party and Republican Party primaries. The results of the Democratic primaries were inconclusive. There was no clear mandate. The winner of the Republican primaries was without question former President Theodore Roosevelt, contesting the renomination of President William Howard Taft. Both TR and Taft were opposed by the militant reformer Senator Robert M. LaFollette of Wisconsin, who saw both of his opponents as too conservative.
In 1912 there were 12 states with Republican direct presidential primaries. Bob LaFollette won North Dakota and his uncontested home state, Wisconsin. President Taft won Massachusetts by a small margin. Theodore Roosevelt won in California, Illinois, Maryland, Nebraska, Oregon, South Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, nine out of 12 primaries. Roosevelt's victories in the nine states were landslides , except in Maryland. TR carried California over Taft by a margin of almost two to one. He swept Illinois by more than two to one, and his margins in South Dakota and Nebraska were more than three to one. In Taft's home state of Ohio, the vote was LaFollete 15,570, Taft 118,362, TR 165,809. The total vote cast in all primaries was LaFollete 351,043, Taft 761,716, Roosevelt 1,157,397. Senator LaFollette won a total of 36 delegates in the primaries; the voters awarded President Taft 48 delegates; and Theodore Roosevelt won 278 delegates in the primaries.
"The voice of the people" was clear in the Republican primaries. But the voters were not allowed to "speak" in most states.This was the first year in which there were presidential primaries. The primary system had developed on the state level for state offices from the 1890s on, and in 1912 presidential primaries were introduced, often promoted by supporters of TR. But some 36 states had no direct popular Republican primary. In these states delegates were chosen by state conventions, and delegates to state conventions were usually chosen in local conventions. It was a system easily dominated by professional politicians, particularly in the South where there were few Republicans but many delegates. Republicans in the South were often simply federal officeholders, such as postmasters and revenue collectors. Rough politics was nothing new , but in 1912 records were set for riot, rough house, fraud, and dispute. The end result was that in many states contesting delegates claimed the same seats. Some 254 delegate seats to the Republican convention were contested.
The Republican National Committee, dominated by President Taft's supporters, had the power to decide the delegate disputes. Incidentally, of the 53 members of that committee, 15 had not been elected delegates to the convention in 1912, and four came from US territorial possessions and 10 from Southern states, areas where GOP politics was completely controlled by presidential patronage. these three groups accounted for 29 members of the Republican National Committee-- a majority. Of the 254 contested seats, TR was awarded 19 and President Taft was given 235. About the best that could be said for the GOP adjudication process was that Taft had stolen a majority "fair and square." That is to say, what was done was probably legal , if barely so in many delegate cases. But there were no law suits and trials. The courts seldom got involved in party disputes in those days.
A loss of 22 delegates would have denied Taft the nomination on the first ballot. The conclusion seemed obvious to Roosevelt's supporters at the Republican national convention in Chicago in June 1912. The Chicago Tribune printed a banner headline: "THOU SHALT NOT STEAL."
Most of Roosevelt's delegates walked out of the Republican convention and held a mass meeting, where it was decided to bolt the Republican Party and found a new party. Roosevelt agreed to lead a new party if nominated . In August 1912 the national convention of the new Progressive Party met in Chicago, and nominated TR for President and Governor Hiram W. Johnson of California for Vice President. In November the Republicans for the first and only time in history came in third in both the popular and electoral vote for President. TR came in second, and because of the split in the normal Republican vote, Democrat Woodrow Wilson was elected.
Never again would any political party decline to nominate the clear winner of the presidential primaries, and by the 1970s the primary system entirely controlled the nominating process. Theodore Roosevelt won the Republican primaries in 1912, and then lost the nomination and the election. Wilson won the election in November. But the real winner in 1912 was democracy in the form of the presidential primaries. By running and losing, by refusing to be counted out by party leaders when the voters had spoken first, Theodore Roosevelt had firmly established the new primary system. "..Are the American people fit to govern themselves, to rule themselves, to control themselves? " TR asked in March. "I believe they are. My opponents do not." It was democracy that was on trial in the contest for the nomination that year, and in the long run democracy won.
It may seem strange or ironic that women played such an important role in a party nicknamed the "Bull Moose Party," but the Progressive or Bull Moose Party welcomed women into leadership positions as no major party had before. The high status of women in the Progressive Party reflected the party's strong advocacy of women's suffrage and women's rights, and the emphasis that Theodore Roosevelt, the party's presidential candidate in 1912, gave to women's issues. Up to this time, no male of Theodore Roosevelt's prominence and popularity had endorsed women's suffrage, and in 1912 neither the Republican candidate, President William Howard Taft, running for reelection, or Democrat Woodrow Wilson, endorsed women's suffrage on the national level. In 1912 women had the vote in several Western states, but in no state east of the Mississippi River.
At the first national convention of the Progressive Party, in Chicago in August of 1912, all observers noted the prominence of women, women delegates, women leaders. The Kansas newspaper editor William Allen White recalled: "We were, of course, for woman suffrage, and we invited women delegates and had plenty of them. They were our own kind, too-- women doctors, women lawyers, women teachers, college professors, middle-aged leaders of civic movements, or rich young girls who had gone in for settlement work." "Settlement work" refers to the settlement houses in the cities, places where the poor could obtain basic social services, not then available from government. Many social workers, male and female, supported the Progressive Party in 1912. Indeed, the most famous settlement house leader and social worker in American history, the beloved Jane Addams of Hull House in Chicago, was at the convention, and seconded Theodore Roosevelt's nomination for President. This was said to be the first time that a woman had addressed the national convention of a major party. The rules of the Bull Moose Party, adopted at the Chicago convention, mandated that four women were to be members-at-large on the Progressive National Committee. This was to insure female representation at the highest levels of party leadership.
In November 1912 Theodore Roosevelt carried two states with women's suffrage, Washington and California (he won six states in all); and in the State of Washington, Helen J. Scott was a Progressive elector. It was said in the press at the time that she was the first woman to cast a vote in the electoral college-- and therefore in a real constitutional sense Helen Scott may be said to be the first woman who voted for President! However, some reports list women among the Progressive electors in California, and the matter has not been resolved by historians as yet.
In 1913 the prominent social worker Frances Kellor became the director of the "Progressive Service," which was a division of the national party, housed at party headquarters in New York City, that researched issues, drafted bills for Progressive legislators (state and national), issued publications, and provided witnesses for legislative hearings. It was unprecedented for a woman to have such a prominent role in a national political organization. Jane Addams at this time was serving on the executive committee of the Progressive National Committee. Mrs. Kellogg Fairbank of Illinois, later a member of the Democratic Party's national committee, was a member of the finance committee of the Progressive Party's national organization. The national party also employed Alice Carpenter as a worker for women suffrage and labor issues.
In 1913 Progressive Party state legislators in Illinois, aided by the dynamic Ruth Hanna McCormick, were able to obtain women's suffrage in the state. This was possible because the Bull Moosers held the balance of power in the state legislature. Illinois was the first state east of the Mississippi to give women the vote. Ruth Hanna McCormick was the daughter of Mark Hanna. Her husband Medill McCormick, was in the legislature in 1913. He ended up in the US Senate. Ruth Hanna McCormick later was elected to the US House.
In 1914 Agnes L. Riddle, a two-term member of her state legislature, was the Progressive Party candidate for secretary of state of Colorado.
The Progressive Party went out of business in 1916, but the cause of women's suffrage was surely advanced by four years of Bull Moose campaigning. Women got the vote everywhere at last in 1920. In later years Ruth Hanna McCormick, after serving in the US House, became the first woman nominated in any state for the US Senate by the Republican Party. Though defeated, she remained a power in that party until her death in the 1940s. In 1933 Frances Perkins was appointed Secretary of Labor by Franklin D. Roosevelt, the first women to serve in the cabinet. In 1912 Frances Perkins had supported the Progressive Party. The legacy is clear. The Progressive Party had opened a door to women, a door previously closed to them by Republicans and Democrats alike.