Unlike today’s conventions, which are little more than multi-day campaign rallies, at the 1912 affair in Chicago, 1,000 policemen stood by to make sure the delegates didn’t get out of hand. Strands of barbed wire lay concealed beneath the bunting on the speaker’s platform to keep disgruntled delegates from charging the stage.
On a speaking tour for the American Opinion Speakers Bureau in the 1980s I often made reference to the three-way race for President that led to the victory of Woodrow Wilson, our second “progressive” president (Teddy Roosevelt was the first). But William Schambra’s lengthy essay, seen here, is worth a read. Here’s a quick summary:
In the Republican convention of 1912, two candidates with diametrically opposed views of what sovereignty of the people meant were pitted against each other. On one side, incumbent President William Howard Taft defended the Founders’ constitutionally limited republicanism.
On the other, Theodore Roosevelt espoused a populist program of reform aimed at making the government more democratic.
Between them was Elihu Root, chairman of the convention, who succeeded in denying TR the nomination. In so doing, he kept out of his hands the party’s magnificent electoral machinery, which would almost certainly have returned him to office committed to a platform of radical constitutional reform.
As authors Shaw and Payne noted, by denying Teddy Roosevelt the nomination, they guaranteed the election of the progressive Wilson. Taft won only two states in the national election, and Wilson pushed ahead with the progressive agenda.
But the battle continues today: limited versus unlimited government. Unfortunately the Republican Party has long been co-opted into another progressive party, barely recognizable to the one in 1912, and scarcely indistinguishable from the Democrat Party today.