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National Progressive Convention, 1912

In the United States, the Progressive Party of 1912 was a political party created by a split in the Republican Party in the presidential election of 1912. It was formed by Theodore Roosevelt when he lost the Republican nomination to William Howard Taft and pulled his delegates out of the convention. The party is colloquially also known as the Bull Moose Party, after the party's emblem and after Roosevelt's boast that he was "as strong as a bull moose".

Birth of a new party

"To destroy this invisible Government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day." - 1912 Progressive Party Platform, attributed to Theodore Roosevelt and quoted again in his autobiography where he connects Trusts and monopolies (sugar interests, Standard Oil, etc.) to Woodrow Wilson and William Howard Taft, and consequently both major political parties.

16-page campaign booklet with party platform
The great majority of Republican governors, congressmen, editors and local leaders refused to join the new party, even if they had supported Roosevelt before. Johnson, the Vice-Presidential nominee, who had been elected Governor in California in 1910, remained a member of the Republican Party (GOP) because his supporters took control of the GOP in California. However, many independent reformers signed up. Two important activists were Gifford Pinchot and his brother Amos Pinchot. The Progressive Party also endorsed a number of sympathetic candidates from the Republican and Democratic parties in state and federal elections from 1912 to 1916.

Only five of the 15 most prominent progressive Republicans in the Senate endorsed the new party and Roosevelt's candidacy for President; three came out for Wilson. Many of Roosevelt's closest political allies supported Taft, including his son-in-law, Nicholas Longworth. Roosevelt's daughter Alice Roosevelt Longworth stuck with her father, causing a permanent chill in her marriage. For men like Longworth, expecting a future in politics, bolting the Republican party ticket was simply too radical a step. Progressives who did not aspire to elective office often went with Woodrow Wilson.

The party was funded by publisher Frank A. Munsey and its executive secretary George W. Perkins, a leading financier. The platform called for women's suffrage, recall of judicial decisions, easier amendment of the U.S. Constitution, social welfare legislation for women and children, workers' compensation, limited injunctions in strikes, farm relief, revision of banking to assure an elastic currency, required health insurance in industry, new inheritance taxes and income taxes, improvement of inland waterways, and limitation of naval armaments. Pacifist Jane Addams, a leading supporter, was stunned to discover she had to endorse a platform that called for the building of two new battleships a year. Perkins, a board member of U.S. Steel, was blamed for blocking an anti-trust plank, thus shocking reformers like Gifford Pinchot who saw Roosevelt as a true trust-buster. The result was a deep split in the new party that was never resolved.Roosevelt's philosophy for the Progressive Party was based around New Nationalism, which was the belief in a strong government to regulate industry and protect the middle and working classes. New Nationalism was paternalistic in direct contrast to Woodrow Wilson's individualistic philosophy of "New Freedom".

Election of 1912

Pro-Roosevelt cartoon contrasts the Republican Party bosses in back row and Progressive party reformers in front
Roosevelt had the satisfaction of outpolling Taft in the popular vote and by a large margin of 88–8 in the electoral vote, but some believe the split engendered in the Republican vote allowed Woodrow Wilson to win the presidency. Some historians argue that even without the split, Wilson would have won (as he did in 1916). The Progressive party did poorly in the 1914 elections and faded away. Most members, including Roosevelt returned to the Republican Party after the Republicans nominated the more progressively-minded Charles Evans Hughes for President in 1916. From 1916 to 1932 the Taft wing controlled the Republican party and refused to nominate any prominent 1912 Progressives to the Republican national ticket. Finally, Frank Knox was nominated for Vice President in 1936.

Historians speculate that if the Bull Moose Party had run only the Roosevelt presidential ticket, it might have attracted many more Republicans willing to split their ballot. But the progressive movement was strongest at the state level, and, therefore, the new party had to field candidates for governor and state legislature. In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvaniamarker, the local Republican boss, at odds with state party leaders, joined Roosevelt's cause.

The central problem faced by the Progressive Party was that the Democrats were more united and optimistic than they had been in decades. The Bull Moosers fancied they had a chance to elect Roosevelt by drawing out progressive elements from both the Republican and Democratic parties. That dream evaporated in July, when the Democrats nominated their most articulate and prominent progressive, Woodrow Wilson. As a leading educator and political scientist, he qualified as the ideal "expert" to handle affairs of state. At least half the nation's independent progressives flocked to Wilson's camp, both because of Wilson's policies and the expectation of victory. Roosevelt haters, such as LaFollette, also voted for Wilson instead of wasting their vote on Taft who could never win. The most serious problem faced by Roosevelt's third party was money. The business interests who usually funded Republican campaigns distrusted Roosevelt and either did notvote or supported Taft. Lacking a strong party press, the Bull Moosers had to spend most of their money on publicity.

Roosevelt concocted a heady brew in 1912 speeches

Roosevelt succeeded in defeating the conservative Taft with his progressive message that along with Wilson's progressive program totaled 69% of the popular vote. He did win 4.1 million votes (27%), compared to Taft's 3.5 million (23%). However, Wilson's 6.3 million votes (42%) were enough to garner 435 electoral votes. Roosevelt came in second with 88 electoral votes (more than any third party candidate before or since); Pennsylvaniamarker was his only Easternmarker state; in the Midwest he carried Michiganmarker, Minnesotamarker and South Dakotamarker; in the West, Californiamarker and Washingtonmarker; in the South, he did not win any states.

The Democrats gained ten seats in the Senate, just enough to form a majority, and 63 new House seats to solidify their control there. Progressive statewide candidates trailed about 20% behind Roosevelt's vote. Almost all of the Progressive candidates, including Albert Beveridge of Indianamarker, went down to defeat; the only governor elected was Hiram Johnson, who ran on the regular Republican Party ticket. Only seventeen Bull Moosers were elected to Congress, and perhaps 250 to local office. Outside California, there was no real base to the party beyond the personality of Roosevelt himself.

The election of 1916 and afterward

Roosevelt had scored a second-place finish, but he trailed so far behind Wilson that everyone realized his party would never win the White House. With the poor performance at state and local levels in 1912, the steady defection of top supporters, the failure to attract any new support, and a pathetic showing in 1914, the Bull Moose party disintegrated at the national level, although some state parties remained fairly strong. In Washingtonmarker, the party won a third of the seats in the Washington State Legislature.

The Party had its second convention in 1916, and nominated Roosevelt again. This time he refused to accept the nomination and endorsed Charles Evans Hughes. The national party promptly disintegrated.

Some leaders, such as Harold Ickes of Chicago, supported Wilson in 1916. Many followed Roosevelt back into the Republican Party, which in 1916 nominated Hughes. The ironies were many: Taft had been Roosevelt's hand-picked successor in 1908 and the split between the two men was ideological. No compromise was possible on issues like the independence of the judiciary. Roosevelt's schism allowed the conservatives to gain control of the Republican party and left Roosevelt and his followers drifting in the wilderness throughout the 1920s before most joined the New Deal Democratic Party coalition of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Robert M. LaFollette, Sr. broke bitterly with Roosevelt in 1912 but finally got to run for President on his own ticket in 1924. See Progressive Party.

Office holders from the Progressive Party

Name Position State Dates held office
James W. Bryan United States Congressman Washingtonmarker 1913-15
Walter M. Chandler United States Congressman New Yorkmarker 1913-19
Ira Clifton Copley United States Congressman Illinoismarker 1915-17 as a Progressive
John Elston United States Congressman Californiamarker 1915-17 as a Progressive, 1917-1921 as a Republican
John Morton Eshleman Lieutenant Governor of California Californiamarker 1915-17
Jacob Falconer United States Congressman Washingtonmarker 1913-15
William Henry Hinebaugh United States Congressman Illinoismarker 1913-15
Willis J. Hulings United States Congressman Pennsylvaniamarker 1913-15
Hiram Warren Johnson Governor Californiamarker 1911-1917
Melville Clyde Kelly United States Congressman Pennsylvaniamarker 1917-19 as a Progressive, 1919-1935 as a Republican
William MacDonald United States Congressman Michiganmarker 1913-15
Whitmell Martin United States Congressman Louisianamarker 1915-19 as a Progressive, 1919-1929 as a Democrat
Miles Poindexter United States Senator Washingtonmarker 1913-15
William Stephens United States Congressman Californiamarker 1913-17
Henry Wilson Temple United States Congressman Pennsylvaniamarker 1913-15
Roy Woodruff United States Congressman Michiganmarker 1913-15
Homer D. Call New York State Treasurer New Yorkmarker 1914

See also


  • History of the Progressive Party, 1912-1916 by Amos R. E. Pinchot, Helene Maxwell Hooker
  • Benjamin P. De Witt, The Progressive Movement (1915)
  • George E. Mowry, Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive Movement (1946)
  • John A. Gable, The Bullmoose Years: Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive Party (1978).
  • Jensen, Richard. "Theodore Roosevelt: 1912" in Encyclopedia of Third Parties (M E Sharpe, 2000)

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