The bitter race of 1912
Yes, it is an election year and you’d better get used to TV programs filled with negative advertisements. In fact, if you watch the ads, you would probably thing skipping voting. Anyway you look at the voting process it will be a long, noisy and angry fall. The negative ads have already started and, in my opinion, will only get worse.
I have said this before, but the way we elect our president is an outdated and archaic process. It was devised in a time before mass communications and roughly patterned after the parliamentary system used in England, Canada and Australia to name a few. We vote for an “elector” who attends the “electoral college” and officially votes for president. It was designed in a time when many felt the common man was unable or not well informed enough to select a president.
What’s even worse, we all know that Mitt Romney will be the Republican standard bearer and President Obama, a Democrat, will lead his party. Why do we go through the waste of time called a “convention”? Personally, I believe that the president should be elected by direct vote. The candidate who gets the most popular votes is the winner. That’s how all other elections work.
Of course, angry and bitter elections are nothing new. In fact, they have gone on throughout most of our history. I recently read that the Republican Party has faced the conservative-moderate battle since 1880. Other than a few times – namely during the Eisenhower and Reagan presidential years – has the Republican Party been unified. The Democrats have also faced an on-going split between the liberals and moderates.
Probably the election of 1912 was one of the most contentious and displayed the split among U.S. voters. There were four major candidates on ballots for the election. That was the biggest field of presidential hopefuls in recent history and is a good example of the conservative-modern split in the Republican Party.
Let’s look at the background. Theodore Roosevelt became president in 1901 following the murder of William McKinley. Now in those days, the term “moderate” was not used that much. President Roosevelt wasn’t well liked by the conservative wing of the party, but he was extremely popular with the average American. Certainly, he worked tirelessly for major social changes in the country and was successful. He was easily elected again in 1904, but said he would not seek another term. Instead, in 1908 he backed William Howard Taft who won the election.
After four years of retirement and adventures throughout the world, he became both bored and unhappy with the conservatism of the Taft administration. He was a man with tremendously restless energy and enthusiasm for the United States. So he decided to seek the Republican nomination and wrest it from Taft. This caused a major fight between the conservatives who backed Taft and the progressives who supported Roosevelt. Even though Roosevelt won the primary elections, the conservatives packed the convention and nominated Taft. Sen. J. S. Sherman was nominated for vice president.
Roosevelt’s supporters walked out and held their own convention in Chicago and formed the progressive Party commonly known as the “Bull Moose” Party. In Kansas, the Progressives had candidates for virtually every state office.
The Democrats had their major fight, too. The leading candidate for President was Champ Clark, Missouri, who was speaker of the house. Clark simply couldn’t get the two-thirds majority needed due to liberal opposition and the convention drug on for 46 ballots before Gov. Woodrow Wilson, New Jersey, was nominated due to the support of William Jennings Bryan.
Certainly this had to be the most unusual election in more modern history. In addition to the three main parties, there was a strong push to elect the Socialist Party candidate, Eugene Debs. At that time in U. S. history there was a strong element of unrest in the United States and a shocking number of votes were cast for Debs.
The election was unusual and historic for another reason, too. In mid-October, J. S. Sherman, the Republican vice-presidential candidate died due to a heart attack, leaving the party without a candidate. As might be expected, it was a “dirty” campaign with bitter rhetoric. Bonner Springs’ voters strongly supported Roosevelt, although there were a large number of Socialist votes.
When the dust settled, Wilson was elected with 435 electoral votes and Roosevelt had just 88. The incumbent president, William Howard Taft, received just eight electoral votes. While Debs got a large number of popular votes, the Socialist Party didn’t carry a state.
I don’t know how the election will turn out in 2012, but I’ll bet it won’t be as unique and wild as the 1912 version.