531 members of the Electoral College
266 electoral votes needed to win
|Turnout||58.8% 6.6 pp|
Presidential election results map. Blue denotes those won by Wilson/Marshall, light green denotes those won by Roosevelt/Johnson, red denotes states won by Taft/Butler. Numbers indicate the number of electoral votes allotted to each state.
The 1912 United States presidential election was the 32nd quadrennial presidential election, held on Tuesday, November 5, 1912. Democratic Governor Woodrow Wilson of New Jersey unseated incumbent Republican President William Howard Taft and defeated former President Theodore Roosevelt, who ran as the Progressive Party ("Bull Moose") nominee. This was the last presidential election in which one of the top-two finishers did not come from either the Democratic or Republican parties, signifying the primacy of these two parties in modern American politics.
Roosevelt had served as President from 1901 to 1909 as a Republican, and Taft had won the 1908 Republican presidential nomination with his support. However, following Taft's election, his actions as President displeased Roosevelt, who challenged him for the nomination at the 1912 Republican National Convention. After Taft and his conservative allies narrowly prevailed at the convention, Roosevelt rallied his progressive supporters and launched a third party bid. Roosevelt's Progressive Party was nicknamed the Bull Moose Party after journalists quoted Roosevelt saying that he was "feeling like a bull moose" on the campaign trail shortly after the new party was formed. On the Democratic side, Wilson won the presidential nomination on the 46th ballot, defeating Speaker of the House Champ Clark and several other candidates with the support of William Jennings Bryan and other progressive Democrats. Meanwhile, the Socialist Party renominated its perennial standard-bearer, Eugene V. Debs.
The 1912 election was bitterly contested by three individuals, Wilson, Roosevelt, and Taft, who all had or would serve as President. Roosevelt's "New Nationalism" platform called for social insurance programs, an eight-hour workday, and a strong federal role in regulating the economy. Wilson's "New Freedom" platform called for tariff reform, banking reform, and a new antitrust law. Knowing that he had little chance of victory, Taft conducted a subdued campaign based on his own platform of "progressive conservatism." Debs claimed that the other three candidates were largely financed by trusts and tried to galvanize support behind his socialist policies.
Wilson carried 40 states and won a large majority (435 out of 531) of the electoral vote, taking advantage of the split in the Republican Party. He was the first Democrat to win a presidential election since 1892, and would be one of just two Democratic presidents to serve between the American Civil War and the onset of the First World War. Roosevelt won 88 electoral votes, while Taft carried only Vermont and Utah, taking 8 electoral votes. Wilson won 41.8% of the national popular vote, while Roosevelt won 27%, Taft 23%, and Debs 6%.
Republican President Theodore Roosevelt had declined to run for re-election in 1908 in fulfillment of a pledge to the American people not to seek a third term. Though he had acceded to the role of president upon the assassination of incumbent William McKinley, rendering his first term incomplete, only eight months had elapsed; thus, in effect, Roosevelt had served nearly a full eight years. Roosevelt had tapped his Secretary of War, William Howard Taft, to become his successor, and Taft defeated Democrat William Jennings Bryan in the general election.
During Taft's administration, a rift developed between Roosevelt and Taft, as they became the leaders of the Republican Party's two wings: the progressives (led by Roosevelt) and the conservatives (led by Taft). The progressive Republicans favored restrictions on the employment of women and children, promoted ecological conservation, and were more sympathetic toward labor unions. They also favored the popular election of federal and state judges and opposed the appointing of judges by the President or state governors. The conservative Republicans supported high tariffs on imported goods to encourage consumers to buy American-made products (as were most progressive Republicans), but favored business leaders over labor unions and were generally opposed to the popular election of judges.
By 1910 the split between the two wings of the party was deep, and this in turn caused Roosevelt and Taft to turn against one another, despite their personal friendship. The 1910 midterm elections proved to be rather rough for the Republicans, seeming to further cement the growing divide within the party. Taft's popularity among progressives collapsed when he supported the Payne–Aldrich Tariff Act in 1909, abandoned Roosevelt's antitrust policy, and fired popular conservationist Gifford Pinchot as head of the Bureau of Forestry in 1910.
Democratic Party nomination
|Democratic Party Ticket, 1912|
|Woodrow Wilson||Thomas R. Marshall|
|for President||for Vice President|
Governor of New Jersey
Governor of Indiana
- Woodrow Wilson, Governor of New Jersey
- Champ Clark, Speaker of the House from Missouri
- Judson Harmon, Governor of Ohio
- Oscar Underwood, House Majority Leader from Alabama
- Eugene Foss, Governor of Massachusetts
- Thomas R. Marshall, Governor of Indiana
- Simeon E. Baldwin, Governor of Connecticut
The Democratic Convention was held in Baltimore, Maryland, from June 25 to July 2. It proved to be one of the more memorable presidential conventions of the twentieth century. Initially, the front-runner appeared to be House Speaker Champ Clark of Missouri, and Clark did receive the largest number of delegate votes early in the balloting. However, he was unable to get the two-thirds majority required to win the nomination. Clark's chances were hurt when Tammany Hall, the powerful and corrupt Democratic political machine in New York City, threw its support behind him, causing William Jennings Bryan, the former three-time Democratic presidential candidate and leader of the party's progressives, to turn against Clark as the candidate of "Wall Street." Bryan shifted his support to New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson, who had consistently finished second to Clark on each ballot and was regarded as a moderate reformer. Wilson had nearly given up hope, and was on the verge of having a concession speech read for him at the convention that would free his delegates to vote for someone else. Instead, Bryan's defection from Clark to Wilson led many other delegates to do the same, and Wilson gradually gained strength while Clark's support dwindled. Wilson finally received the nomination on the 46th ballot.
|Vice Presidential Ballot|
|Thomas R. Marshall||389||644.5||1,088|
|George E. Chamberlain||157||12.5|
|Elmore W. Hurst||78||0|
|James H. Preston||58||0|
|Martin J. Wade||26||0|
|William F. McCombs||18||0|
|John E. Osborne||8||0|
Republican Party nomination
|Republican Party Ticket, 1912|
|William Howard Taft||James S. Sherman|
|for President||for Vice President|
President of the United States
Vice President of the United States
- William Howard Taft, President of the United States
- Theodore Roosevelt, former President of the United States from New York
- Robert M. La Follette, Senator from Wisconsin
For the first time, significant numbers of delegates to the national conventions were elected in presidential preference primaries. Progressive Republicans advocated primary elections as a way of breaking the control of political parties by bosses. Altogether, twelve states held Republican primaries. Senator Robert M. La Follette won two of the first four primaries (in North Dakota and Wisconsin), but beginning with his runaway victory in Illinois on April 9, Roosevelt won nine of the last ten presidential primaries (in order, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, Oregon, Maryland, California, Ohio, New Jersey, and South Dakota), losing only Massachusetts to Taft. As a sign of his great popularity, Roosevelt even carried Taft's home state of Ohio.
The Republican Convention convened in Chicago from June 18 to 22. Taft, however, had begun to gather delegates earlier, and the delegates chosen in the primaries were a minority. He had the support of the bulk of the party organizations in the Southern states; these states had voted solidly Democratic in every presidential election since 1880, and Roosevelt objected that they were given one-quarter of the delegates when they would contribute nothing to a Republican victory (as it turned out, delegates from the former Confederate states supported Taft by a 5 to 1 margin). When the convention gathered, Roosevelt challenged the credentials of nearly half of the delegates. By that time, however, it was too late. The delegates chose Elihu Root — once Roosevelt's top ally — to serve as chairman of the convention. Afterwards, the delegates seated Taft delegations in Alabama, Arizona, and California on tight votes of 597–472, 564–497, and 542–529, respectively. After losing California, where Roosevelt had won the primary, the progressive delegates gave up hope. They voted "present" on most succeeding roll calls. Not since the 1872 election had there been a major schism in the Republican Party. Now, with the Democrats holding about 45% of the national vote, any schism would be fatal. Roosevelt's only hope at the convention was to form a "stop-Taft" alliance with La Follette, but Roosevelt had alienated La Follette, and the alliance could not form.
Unable to tolerate the personal humiliation he suffered at the hands of Taft and the Old Guard, and refusing to entertain the possibility of a compromise candidate, Roosevelt struck back hard. On the evening of June 22, 1912, Roosevelt asked his supporters to leave the convention, maintaining that Taft had allowed fraudulent seating of delegates to capture the presidential nomination from progressive forces within the party. Thus, with the support of convention chairman Root, Taft's supporters outvoted Roosevelt's men, and the convention renominated the incumbent ticket of Taft and James S. Sherman. Sherman became the first sitting Vice President to be nominated for re-election since John C. Calhoun in 1828.
|Robert La Follette||41|
|Albert B. Cummins||17|
|Charles Evans Hughes||2|
|Present, not voting||344|
|Vice Presidential Ballot|
|James S. Sherman||596|
|Charles Edward Merriam||20|
|Herbert S. Hadley||14|
|Albert J. Beveridge||2|
Progressive Party nomination
|Progressive Party Ticket, 1912|
|Theodore Roosevelt||Hiram Johnson|
|for President||for Vice President|
President of the United States
Governor of California
Republican progressives reconvened in Chicago and endorsed the formation of a national progressive party. When formally launched later that summer, the new Progressive Party chose Roosevelt as its presidential nominee and Governor Hiram Johnson from California as his vice presidential running mate. Questioned by reporters, Roosevelt said he felt as strong as a "bull moose". Henceforth known as the "Bull Moose Party," the Progressives promised to increase federal regulation and protect the welfare of ordinary people.
The party was funded by publisher Frank Munsey and its executive secretary George Walbridge Perkins, an employee of banker J. P. Morgan and International Harvester. Perkins blocked an antitrust plank, shocking reformers who thought of Roosevelt as a true trust-buster. The delegates to the convention sang the hymn "Onward, Christian Soldiers" as their anthem. In a famous acceptance speech, Roosevelt compared the coming presidential campaign to the Battle of Armageddon and stated that the Progressives were going to "battle for the LORD." However, many of the nation's newspapers, which tended to be pro-Republican, harshly depicted Roosevelt as an egotist who was only running for president to spoil Taft's chances and feed his vanity.
Socialist Party nomination
|Socialist Party Ticket, 1912|
|Eugene V. Debs||Emil Seidel|
|for President||for Vice President|
|Former Indiana State Senator
Mayor of Milwaukee
The Socialist Party of America was a highly factionalized coalition of local parties based in industrial cities and usually was rooted in ethnic communities, especially German and Finnish. It also had some support in old Populist rural and mining areas in the West, especially Oklahoma. By 1912, the party claimed more than a thousand locally elected officials in 33 states and 160 cities, especially the Midwest. Eugene V. Debs had run for president in 1900, 1904, and 1908, primarily to encourage the local effort, and he did so again in 1912 and from prison in 1920.
The conservatives, led by Victor L. Berger from Milwaukee, promoted progressive causes of efficiency and an end to corruption, nicknamed "gas and water socialism." Their opponents were the radicals who wanted to overthrow capitalism, tried to infiltrate labor unions, and sought to cooperate with the Industrial Workers of the World ("the Wobblies"). With few exceptions, the party had weak or nonexistent links to local labor unions. Immigration was an issue—the radicals saw immigrants as allies for the war with capitalism, while conservatives complained that they lowered wage rates and absorbed too many city resources. Many of these issues had been debated at the First National Congress of the Socialist Party in 1910, and they were debated again at the national convention in Indianapolis in 1912. At the latter, the radicals won an early test by seating Bill Haywood on the Executive Committee, sending encouragement to western "Wobblies", and passed a resolution seeming to favor industrial unionism. The conservatives counterattacked by amending the party constitution to expel any socialists who favored industrial sabotage or syndicalism (that is, the IWW), and who refused to participate in American elections. They adopted a conservative platform calling for cooperative organization of prisons, a national bureau of health, abolition of the Senate and the presidential veto. Debs did not attend; he saw his mission as keeping the disparate units together in the hope that someday a common goal would be found.
The 1912 presidential campaign was bitterly contested. Vice President James S. Sherman died in office on October 30, 1912, less than a week before the election, leaving President Taft without a running mate. (Nicholas M. Butler was designated to receive electoral votes that would have been cast for Sherman.) With the Republican Party divided, Wilson captured the presidency handily on November 5.
While Roosevelt was campaigning in Milwaukee on October 14, 1912, a saloonkeeper from New York, John Flammang Schrank, shot him, penetrated both his steel eyeglass case and a 50-page single-folded copy of his speech titled "Progressive Cause Greater Than Any Individual", that he was carrying in his jacket pocket and was about to deliver, got lodged in his chest. Schrank was immediately disarmed, captured and might have been lynched had Roosevelt not shouted for Schrank to remain unharmed. Roosevelt assured the crowd he was all right, then ordered police to take charge of Schrank and to make sure no violence was done to him. Roosevelt, as an experienced hunter and anatomist, correctly concluded that since he was not coughing blood, the bullet had not reached his lung, and he declined suggestions to go to the hospital immediately. Instead, he delivered his scheduled speech with blood seeping into his shirt. He spoke for 90 minutes before completing his speech and accepting medical attention. His opening comments to the gathered crowd were, "Ladies and gentlemen, I don't know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot, but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose." Afterwards, probes and an x-ray showed that the bullet had lodged in Roosevelt's chest muscle, but did not penetrate the pleura. Doctors concluded that it would be less dangerous to leave it in place than to attempt to remove it, and Roosevelt carried the bullet with him for the rest of his life. In later years, when asked about the bullet inside him, Roosevelt would say, "I do not mind it any more than if it were in my waistcoat pocket."
Both Taft and Democratic nominee Woodrow Wilson suspended their own campaigning until Roosevelt recovered and resumed his. When asked if the shooting would affect his election campaign, he said to the reporter "I'm fit as a bull moose", which inspired the party's emblem. He spent two weeks recuperating before returning to the campaign trail.
The election of 1912 is considered the high tide of progressive politics. Had either Roosevelt or Taft stayed out of the race, a Republican victory would have been assured.
The Socialists had little money; Debs' campaign cost only $66,000, mostly for 3.5 million leaflets and travel to rallies organized by local groups. His biggest event was a speech to 15,000 supporters in New York City. The crowd sang "La Marseillaise" and "The Internationale" as Emil Seidel, the vice- presidential candidate, boasted, "Only a year ago workingmen were throwing decayed vegetables and rotten eggs at us but now all is changed... Eggs are too high. There is a great giant growing up in this country that will someday take over the affairs of this nation. He is a little giant now but he is growing fast. The name of this little giant is socialism." Debs said that only the socialists represented labor. He condemned "Injunction Bill Taft" and ridiculed Roosevelt as "a charlatan, mountebank, and fraud, and his Progressive promises and pledges as the mouthings of a low and utterly unprincipled self seeker and demagogue." Debs insisted that the Democrats, Progressives, and Republicans alike were financed by the trusts. Party newspapers spread the word—there were five English-language and eight foreign-language dailies along with 262 English and 36 foreign-language weeklies. The labor union movement, however, largely rejected Debs and supported Wilson.
Roosevelt conducted a vigorous national campaign for the Progressive Party, denouncing the way the Republican nomination had been "stolen". He bundled together his reforms under the rubric of "The New Nationalism" and stumped the country for a strong federal role in regulating the economy and chastising bad corporations. Wilson supported a policy called "The New Freedom". This policy was based mostly on individualism instead of a strong government. Taft campaigned quietly, and spoke of the need for judges to be more powerful than elected officials. The departure of the more progressive Republicans left the conservative Republicans even more firmly in control of their party until 1916, when many progressives returned. Much of the Republican effort was designed to discredit Roosevelt as a dangerous radical, but this had little effect.
Tariffs and Republican Party split
Before the ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (1913), the funding of the United States government heavily relied upon tariffs. Tariffs are a direct taxation of raw materials and manufactured goods with regard to trade. This issue was key in fracturing the Republican Party. Early in his term, President Taft had promised to stand for a lower tariff bill. Protectionism was major policy of the business oriented Republican Party.
After Congressional deliberation, the Payne-Aldrich Act (1909) was passed and signed by President Taft. The Payne-Aldrich Act would not satisfy the growing economic sectionalism of the country; the Northwest and South wanted tariff reductions on manufactured goods, as well as more raw materials to be added to the 'free-list' (non-taxed goods) The new tariff policy would increase duties; going against President Taft's promises, it further alienated the progressive wing of the Republican Party. President Taft's inability to satisfy both wings of his party would create a political opening for his predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt, to make a run for the presidency. Theodore Roosevelt would rally progressives with speeches to pressure the political establishment. In regards to the existing tariff policy, Theodore Roosevelt would vouch for "...an expert tariff commission, wholly removed from the possibility of political pressure or of improper business influence.".
The impact of the third-party vote is indicated by the fact that few states were carried by a majority of the popular vote. Taft carried two states (Utah and Vermont), Roosevelt six, and Wilson forty. Taft carried no state with a popular majority, Roosevelt one (South Dakota, where there was no Republican ticket), and Wilson eleven, all of them states of the former Confederacy. More than two-thirds of Wilson's total vote was cast in the 37 states that he did not carry by majority vote.
Wilson's vote, 6,296,919, was less than William Jennings Bryan totaled in any one of his campaigns, and over 100,000 less than Bryan received in 1908, when Bryan won only 162 electoral votes. Wilson fell behind Bryan's results in most of the country, and notably so in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska, Kansas, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Arkansas. In only two sections was Wilson's vote greater than the greatest Bryan vote: New England and the Pacific. Wilson led the poll in 1,969 counties, but he received a majority of the vote in only 1,237 counties, less than Bryan had had in any of his campaigns. Taft had a majority in only 35, and "Other(s)" in only 305. These small figures clearly reveal the result of the division of the normal Republican vote, as does the fact that in a plurality of counties (1,396) no candidate obtained a majority. Taft had a lead over the field in only 232 counties. In addition to South Dakota and California, where there was no Taft ticket, and seven "Solid South" states in which he carried no county, Taft also carried no counties in Maine, New Jersey, Minnesota, Nevada and Arizona. Nine counties did not record any votes due to either black disenfranchisement or being inhabited only by Native Americans who would not gain full citizenship for twelve more years.
The 772 counties not carried by Wilson or by Taft were distributed in 38 states, most of them in Pennsylvania (48), Illinois (33), Michigan (68), Minnesota (75), Iowa (49), South Dakota (54), Nebraska (32), Kansas (51), Washington (38), and California (44), and almost without exception were carried by Roosevelt. Debs carried four counties in Minnesota (Lake and Beltrami), North Dakota (Burke County), and Kansas (Crawford County), the only counties ever to vote socialist in a presidential election.
This was the first time in 60 years (since 1852) that Iowa, Maine, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Rhode Island voted for a Democrat, and the first time in history that Massachusetts voted for a Democratic candidate. This was the last election in which the Democrats won Maine until 1964, the last in which the Democrats won Connecticut and Delaware until 1936, the last in which the Democrats won Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, West Virginia, and Wisconsin until 1932, and the last in which the Democrats won Massachusetts and Rhode Island until 1928. After the 2016 presidential election, 1912 remains the last election in which the key Indiana counties of Hamilton and Hendricks, along with Walworth County, Wisconsin, Pulaski and Laurel Counties in Kentucky and Hawkins County, Tennessee have given a plurality to the Democratic candidate. In post-Civil War America, this is the only presidential election in which a third party candidate outperformed one of the candidates from the two-major parties in the general election.
The 1912 election was the first to include all 48 of the current contiguous United States.
Taft's 1912 result was the worst performance for any incumbent president seeking re-election, both in terms of electoral votes (8) and share of popular votes (23.17%). His electoral votes also represented the fewest number of electoral votes by either major parties, matched with Alf Landon's 1936 result. He was also remained the only major party nominee not finished in top two.
|Presidential candidate||Party||Home state||Popular vote||Electoral
|Count||Percentage||Vice-presidential candidate||Home state||Electoral vote|
|Woodrow Wilson||Democratic||New Jersey||6,296,284||41.84%||435||Thomas R. Marshall||Indiana||435|
|Theodore Roosevelt||Progressive||New York||4,122,721||27.40%||88||Hiram W. Johnson||California||88|
|William Howard Taft (Incumbent)||Republican||Ohio||3,486,242||23.17%||8||Nicholas Murray Butler||New York||8|
|Eugene V. Debs||Socialist||Indiana||901,551||5.99%||0||Emil Seidel||Wisconsin||0|
|Eugene W. Chafin||Prohibition||Arizona||208,156||1.38%||0||Aaron S. Watkins||Ohio||0|
|Arthur E. Reimer||Socialist Labor||Massachusetts||29,324||0.19%||0||August Gillhaus||New York||0|
|Needed to win||266||266|
Source (Popular Vote): Leip, David. "1912 Presidential Election Results". Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. Retrieved July 28, 2005.
Geography of results
Cartogram (county sizes based on total votes recorded) of presidential election results by county
Results by state
|States won by Wilson/Marshall|
|States won by Roosevelt/Johnson|
|States won by Taft/Butler|
|William H. Taft
|Eugene V. Debs
Margin of victory less than 1% (13 electoral votes):
- California, 0.03%
Margin of victory less than 5% (142 electoral votes):
- Idaho, 1.05%
- Illinois, 1.62%
- Wyoming, 1.77%
- Vermont, 1.91%
- Maine, 2.02%
- New Hampshire, 2.04%
- Connecticut, 3.28%
- Rhode Island, 3.48%
- Massachusetts, 3.58%
- Pennsylvania, 4.04%
- North Dakota, 4.42%
- Iowa, 4.77%
- Utah, 4.91%
Margin of victory between 5% and 10% (73 electoral votes):
- New Mexico, 5.48%
- Minnesota, 5.81%
- Kansas, 6.42%
- Montana, 6.87%
- Oregon, 6.91%
- New Jersey, 7.60%
- Washington, 8.32%
- Wisconsin, 8.41%
- South Dakota, 8.48%
Counties with Highest Percent of Vote (Democratic)
- Greenville County, South Carolina 100.00%
- Marlboro County, South Carolina 100.00%
- Hampton County, South Carolina 100.00%
- Jasper County, South Carolina 100.00%
- Reagan County, Texas 100.00%
Counties with Highest Percent of Vote (Other)
- Scott County, Tennessee 82.80%
- Campbell County, South Dakota 80.42%
- Clearwater County, Minnesota 77.35%
- Avery County, North Carolina 72.84%
- Cook County, Minnesota 72.70%
Counties with Highest Percent of Vote (Republican)
- Zapata County, Texas 80.89%
- Valencia County, New Mexico 77.25%
- Kane County, Utah 75.40%
- Clinton County, Kentucky 64.79%
- Huerfano County, Colorado 63.36%
- First inauguration of Woodrow Wilson
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|Booknotes interview with Chace on 1912, August 29, 2004, C-SPAN|
|Presentation by Chace on 1912, May 12, 2004, C-SPAN|
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to United States presidential election, 1912.|
- United States presidential election of 1912 at the Encyclopædia Britannica
- Presidential Election of 1912: A Resource Guide from the Library of Congress
- editorial cartoons
- Sound recording of TR speech
- Woodrow Wilson Suspends Campaign After TR Assassination Attempt Shapell Manuscript Foundation
- OurCampaigns.com overview of Republican Presidential Primaries of 1912
- 1912 popular vote by counties
- 1912 State-by-state Popular vote
- The Election of 1912
- How close was the 1912 election? — Michael Sheppard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Election of 1912 in Counting the Votes