Four years before the subject, Theodore Roosevelt said he would not seek another term in the White House. He had won election in his own right in 1904 and was a certain winner in 1908. Vice President Roosevelt became President after the assassination of William McKinley in 1901. Roosevelt hand picked his successor, Secretary of War William Howard Taft. WHT easily defeated William Jennings Bryan in the Presidential Election. After the inauguration, Roosevelt left for an African Game adventure. Some say he did this just to help forget passing up another term in the White House.
William Howard Taft as President generally followed and in some cases exceeded Roosevelt’s progressive policies. These included laws relating to trust busting, conservation, and tariff reduction. We all know, however, that sometimes in history form is better than substance and any malfeasance becomes a big incident. Taft simply lacked the charisma and showmanship of President Roosevelt.
Making matters worse was his clumsy handling of a dispute between his Secretary of the Interior Richard Ballinger and Gifford Pinchot, the Chief of the Forest Service. The news media and Members of Congress accused Ballinger of collaborating with coal interests to plunder federal reserves in Alaska. Taft stood by Ballinger, fired Pinchot, and did keep the coal in reserve. A congressional investigation cleared Richard Ballinger of any wrongdoing but the publicity sparked a spit with the Republican Party.
After returning from Africa via Europe, Teddy Roosevelt saw this fracture and wanted to wrestle the nomination from Taft. His home at Sagamore Hill in Long Island must looked like it had revolving doors. Roosevelt met and visited with various Republicans across the nation. While this was going on, the Democrats met in Baltimore and nominated Woodrow Wilson. In just two years, Wilson had transformed New Jersey from deep corruption to a measure of efficiency.
In Chicago, Roosevelt had some firm support. Even so, Taft had the power of incumbency. He easily won the nomination. Undaunted, Roosevelt called for a third party. Dubbed the Progressive Party, it held a hastily organized but well directed convention also in Chicago. Roosevelt obviously was the nominee and he chose Hiram Johnson of California as his running mate. This was the beginning of the Eastern and Western Factions within the Republican Party. Let’s talk about the three way campaign later.