Who would have ever except the 1912 election was going to be the most crucial election ever known in American History. It shaped the way our economic world works today. All four men who were nominated for election had the desire for change and knew there was a cry for help. So in the end, there was a need for change that they all agreed upon.
In 1912, Presidential candidates Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Eugene Debs, and Howard Taft all had similar goals of progressivism but definitely had different ways of accomplishing it. Brett Flehinger stated “ Although Roosevelt, Taft, Wilson, Debs, and others disagreed fundamentally on a number of issues, their debates focused on a central question: How should American Society respond to the swift and sweeping social and political changes brought on by corporate economy.”(pg.21)
Theodore Roosevelt political views were conflicting. He was a member of the Republican party and yet became a part of the Progressive movement. He transformed the role of a President, remained faithful to the Republicans, and is known to be a reformer.
President Roosevelt had chosen Taft to help him in the election. Taft was important for continuing Roosevelt’s antitrust actions. Taft was nominated by the Republicans and since Roosevelt did not accept the Republicans nomination, he and his supporters formed their own Progressive Party and gave it the nickname “Bull Moose Party.” Debs was a part of the Socialist party and Wilson was Democratic. The election was basically between two friends Roosevelt and Wilson. They struggled with the issues of women suffrage, trust, and tariffs.
In the first two decades of the 20th century reform were the political scene reflecting upon ideas of the Progressive movement. The movement encouraged fundamental social and economic reforms. Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson were both Presidents during the Progressive Era, and competed against each other for presidency. Both men saw the problems caused by industrialization and Big Businesses.
Debs believed he was the real Progressivism, and the power was to the people and unions. Some of his political demands included absolute freedom of press, speech, reduction of tariff duties, unrestricted and equal suffrage for men and women. This shows he was fighting for the working people and unions, since he once was part of a union himself.
Woodrow Wilson was quite different from the other opponents. He believed that if the economy is made up of small, independent economic producers it would direct them to a efficient and democratic social and economic system. He wanted to break up the monopolies and set regulations to them. They relied and focused on the Sherman Antitrust Act and its amendments.
Wilson took a social angle when he approached the issues of trusts and corporations. His approach was a little different than the other candidates. Roosevelt said there were “good” and “bad” trusts, whereas Wilson said all monopolies were harmful to the nation. Wilson was all for restoring competition that would benefit consumers and lowering the power of corporations wealth.
Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt adopt two different approaches to progressive reform. Roosevelt saw the benefits of increased efficiency brought on by Big Business and stressed the need to legislate against its abuse of power while Wilson saw all monopoly as inherently unproductive and stressed how important it was to get rid of it.
Roosevelt supported tariffs and taxes on goods because he believed it protected wages. He wanted to strengthen Federal Regulations over commerce, 8 hour work day, ban on child labor, and Government to watch big business so they won’t harm the society they were expected to serve.
New Nationalism was Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressive political philosophy during the election. He made the case for what he called the New Nationalism in a speech he gave in Osawatomie, Kansas, in August 1910. His argument were human welfare versus property rights. He insisted that only powerful federal government could regulate the economy and guarantee social justice.
Roosevelt believed that the concentration in industry was not bad. He wanted executive agencies (not the courts) to regulate business. The federal government should be used to protect the laboring men, women, and children from what he believed to be exploitation. The New Nationalism supported child labor laws and a minimum wage law for women.
Roosevelt pointed out that special interests were using their power to manipulate politics into misrepresenting the common will. He stressed the importance of getting rid of politics of this manipulation through measures such as prohibiting political contributions and corporations and implementation of the Australian ballot.
Roosevelt also pointed out that the power of big business exploited the small ones and prevented their advancement through society. He wanted corporations and the people who run them to be responsible for maintaining legal behavior and to disclose their economic status to the public in order to prevent corruption. He also stressed that governments should maintain complete control over industries that were vital to the welfare of the nation.
Although Wilson and Roosevelt agreed that economic power was being abused by the American government, Wilson’s ideas split with Roosevelt on how the government should handle the restraint of private power with corporations that had too much economic power.
When problems started in Europe in 1914, President Wilson decided the United States would remain neutral and not get involved. Wilson won reelection two years later and used the slogan, “He Kept Us Out of War.” This kept Americans happy since they considered this to be a European issue. In the end, Wilson could not keep his promise and declared war against Germany in 1917 saying,” The world must be safe for democracy.”
In the end both presidents had the same general idea but with different ways of approaching it. Some views worked and some did not. Whether it was good or bad the country moved forward because of attributions that these two men worked and fought for
There were a lot to be done and Wilson succeeded in what he proposed to do after winning the election. Although Roosevelt did not accomplish everything that he was set out to do, he accomplished a majority of what he had planned on doing.
Presently, a lot of Americans say politicians as liars because they never do what they say, and they only campaign for selfish reasons. If we only had the same drive and motivation as the candidates of 1912, in my opinion, things can be a lot different.
- Flehinger, B. (2003). The 1912 Election and the Power of Progressivism: A Brief History with Documents. St. Martin. Bedford.
- US History.Org. The Election of 1912. U.S History online Textbook. Retrieved from: http://www.ushistory.org/us/43f.asp