The 1912 Presidential Campaign: The Republicans, the Democrats and the Bull Moose Party

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Tuesday, September 3, 1912: Nothing doing today.

Willaim Howard Taft
President William Taft (Republican)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Since nothing much happened in Grandma’s life a hundred years ago today, I’m going tell you a little about the 1912 presidential race.

(Somehow with the Republican convention last week and the Democratic one this week, this seems like an appropriate time to step back and take a look at the big picture.)

Lots of economic, social, and environmental issues dominated the campaign rhetoric in 1912:

  • How much power should corporations have?
  • Should tariffs be high or low?
  • Was the government corrupt?
  • Did political machines have too much power?
  • How important were environmental issues?
  • What role should government play in developing social welfare policies?
  • Should woman have the right to vote?
  • What role should Blacks have in the political process?
  • Should children be allowed to work?

In 1912, William Taft was the current president, but there was a three-way race between Taft (Republican), Theodore Roosevelt (Bull Moose Party), and Woodrow Wilson (Democratic).

Theodore Roosevelt
Former President Theodore Roosevelt (Bull Moose)

There had been a schism in the Republican Party between Taft and Roosevelt, which led to Roosevelt breaking away to form the Bull Moose Party.

Roosevelt had been president early in the 20th century. He was part of the progressive wing of the Republican party, but in 1908 he decided that he did not want to run for re-election and supported Taft as the Republican nominee.

However, by 1912 Roosevelt felt that Taft had not appropriately continued the progressive path he’d begun, and ran against him for the Republican nomination. When Roosevelt lost the nomination he founded the Bull Moose Party.

(Roosevelt said that he was as fit as a bull moose—and somehow it ended up being the party name.)

This split basically ensured that Woodrow Wilson would win.

Wilson was the governor of New Jersey when he received the Democratic nomination. He’d previously been president of Princeton University—but in 1910 ran for governor because he was frustrated by the infighting within the university over issues such where the graduate school building should be located, and whether or not there should be eating clubs on the campus.

woodrow wilson
Woodrow Wilson (Democrat)

Wilson stayed out of the brawl between Taft and Roosevelt, and easily won the election.

Many of the campaign issues soon seemed less important. . .

. . . . in 1914, World War I would  break out in Europe.


How aware was Grandma of the national issues? Did she listen to any campaign speeches supporting one or another of the candidates? Did her father talk about who he planned to vote for? Did she hope that within a few years that she’d be able to vote?

10 thoughts on “The 1912 Presidential Campaign: The Republicans, the Democrats and the Bull Moose Party

  1. Interesting issues of the day. I looked at their portraits and thought about how people with money were heavy in the day..their affluence often an influence on their wasteline. Now, it’s seems opposite. People who struggle economically, tend to be heavier because they eat more processed or fast food. With so many struggling to make ends meet, it’s no wonder such a large percentage of society is overweight. Just an observation.

    1. Ladies Home Journal regularly featured fashions for stout women a hundred years ago. You comment makes me think that I should do a post on fashions for stout women sometime soon.

  2. This is a wonderful history lesson. I know my Greatgrandmother was very aware of things like war since so many of her brothers had been involved in the Civil War. Your Grandmother seems to be in a time and space where peace allowed people to think more about getting the chores done each day and the mind numbing everyday social issues since there were so many changes occurring in every day life. You mention that in two years WWI breaks out… and with so many of the issues that caused that war taking place in Europe at the moment I’ve had a bit of a worry that we’d better be aware of our history if we don’t want to relive it.

    1. This would have been written 47 years after the Civil War ended. My sense is that many of the soldiers in the Civil War were in their late teens or early 20’s–so it seem like there would have been lots of men in the 65+ age range around who were veterans.

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