Dickinson College, Spring 2024

Author: andrewfink

The Election of 1912: Progressivism

The election of 1912 was the classic battle of Republicans versus Democrats but with an added twist known as Progressives, led by disgruntled former President Theodore Roosevelt.  Incumbent President William Taft and Gov. Woodrow Wilson represented the Republicans and Democrats, respectively.  Progressive reform revolved around this period in time from laborto environmental issues and proved to be the major question presented to these three candidates.

Theodore Roosevelt broke away from the Republican party after failing to receive the nomination for the Republican ticket to William Taft, his previously chosen successor.  This party became known as the Progressive Party or “Bull Moose Party”.  They were composed up of more radical Republicans who supported government restrictions on big businesses, backed labor unions as another matter to regulate the growing American industries.  Roosevelt’s reformist attitude has connections to the working man within New York City where he was born and raised as well as to the frontiers men of “Missouri and North Dakota” who hunt.

The Republican Party was headed by William Taft, who originally was endorsed by Roosevelt after his previous terms in the presidency.  Taft gradually began to shift to a more conservative approach than Roosevelt had expected leading to the forming of a rift eventually splitting the party into two seperate factions; Conservatives and Radicals.  Taft held many contradicting views in respect to Roosevelt, he favored individual business leaders holding the power in large businesses. 

As the other two parties battled one another the Democrats stood in the background with their candidate Woodrow Wilson.  With his greatest opposition factioned and fighting amonst themselves it left for a much simpler election process for Wilson that one had seen in years past.  At the news of his victory Wilson had successfully reunified the Democratic party after decades of hardship and anguish following the Civil War. 

While the major concept of reform in the 1912 election was crafted and pushed into the spotlight by Roosevelt and his fellow Progressives  it ended up being Woodrow Wilson and the Democrats who took on this challenge.  Democrats became strong supporters of pro labor reform while Republicans stood by large individually owned businesses.  This transformation of political parties has continued to be upheld throughout the decades that followed.                    

The Election of 1876: Compromise vs Truce

The election of 1876 is one of the most contested elections in American history.  As election day drew to a close on November 7, 1876 it seemed to be clear that the Democratic candidate for office, Governor Samuel J. Tilden of New York had been victorious over his Republican counterpart, Gov. Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio.  Tilden had won roughly 51 percent of the popular vote while garnering 184 electoral college votes compared to Hayes who only recieved 165.  Where the election began to get murky was the fact that neither candidate had won the majority of electoral votes, and four states were still up in the air as far as who their votes would be counted towards.

Hayes and his fellow Republicans accused Tilden and many southern Democrats of voter fraud and intimidation, especially with the recently empowered african american population in southern states.  The drastic unrest between these two sides led some to speculate that the beginning of another Civil War was on the horizon. 

Tilden was a man of reform and embodied the movement that many Democrats within the south were looking for.  While he his popularity grew he also exposed his greatest weakness, his secretiveness.  Hayes on the other hand was proclaimed by his supporters as, “open…and..he utters aloud and in the presence of others his opinions on all proper subjects of discussion.”

The states of Florida, Louisiana, Oregon and South Carolina held the key to the election as all four of these states electoral votes were being disputed.  The reconstruction governments of Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina went and threw out Democrat votes to allow Hayes to receive the states electoral votes, allowing him to possess the majority.  This led to the what is now know as the Compromise of 1877.  In exchange for the presidency Rutherford Hayes  had to remove all federal troops from the south thus leaving african americans exposed to southern law and order and he had to name name a southerner as Postmaster General which he did by appointing David M. Key of Tennessee. 

Finally after months of heated debates Rutherford B. Hayes was inaugerated on March 5, 1877.  The election of 1876 almost pushed our already battered nation to the breaking point again.  It did however mark the end of Reconstruction and the new beginning of the nation as one.

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