(Editor's note: This is the first segment in a multi-part series under title of A Blueprint for America's Future. The underlying series theme highlights the iconic presidential election of 1912, which some believe serves as the true blueprint for America's future.)
2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, the first woman nominated by a major national political party for the American presidency, has invested her campaign with the slogan: “Stronger Together: A Blueprint for America’s Future.”
Some students of US history do well to trace this blueprint to the platform of the Democratic Party in 1964. Others may take it back further to 1932 and Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” agenda. Still others link the blueprint to its genesis in the iconic three-way presidential election of 1912, Theodore Roosevelt challenging the democratic process to higher ideals.
Several twists and turns bring America to the place it is then situated, as the political calendar turns to 1912. By the end of his presidency in 1908, T.R. is the Republican heir to Abraham Lincoln’s grand old party and champion of Progressive Era reform. But against this responsibility he views with consternation the presidency of his hand-picked successor, President Taft, who has ominously transformed into the nation’s top reactionary in the ensuing period between 1908 and 1912.
A series of articles which can be reviewed here traces T.R.’s political transformation to a more spiritual basis during Mr. Taft’s presidency. Alarmed by Mr. Taft’s passiveness and political about-face, T.R. is compelled to renew the contest, seeking the Republican Party nomination once again in the 1912 election.
The 1912 Republican primary contest is vicious on every level. It pits President Taft, the conservative, whose powerful base champions the status quo, against T.R., the upstart, whose base favors the continuation of progressive change.
T.R finishes the Republican primary contest in strong fashion, about as well as can be hoped for. He sweeps through and wins each of the last five voter primaries, including Mr. Taft’s home state of Ohio. But T.R. finds, as is typically the case, that it is nearly impossible to wrest the nomination from an incumbent president. At the nominating convention in Chicago, the Republican Party wages an epic, internal civil war battle, whose effects reverberate to the present day.
T.R. concludes his speech at the Republican national convention in an attempt to sway the delegates with the following language:
Assuredly the fight will go on whether we win or lose. What happens to me is not of the slightest consequence; I am to be used, as in a doubtful battle any man is used, to his hurt or not, so long as he is useful and then cast aside or left to die. … We fight in honorable fashion for the good of mankind; fearless for the future; unheeding of our individual fates; with unflinching hearts and undimmed eyes; we stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord.
Never before has T.R. used such evangelical language, or dared to present himself as a holy warrior. It is also said that never before has he heard such cheering. Intended or not, he invests progressivism with a divine aura.
But obtaining the Republican Party’s nomination is not to be, coming as no surprise when President Taft’s conservative base carries the day to secure the nomination, beating back the progressive tide. But the Republican Party that T.R. knew has lost the liberal conscience of Abraham Lincoln’s party. And everyone knows that the Republican National Committee has decided to field a losing candidate (Mr. Taft) in November (1912), rather than gamble on one (T.R.) who would “radicalize” its “traditional” platform.
In turn, T.R. makes a monumental decision. He precipitously bolts from the Republican National Convention --- and the Republican Party --- to form the new Progressive Party or “Bull Moose” Party. The decision is occasioned by what T.R. sees as his compelling sense of duty, his conscience and his station. Progressive would now contain a capital “P.”
(Editor's note: The second segment in this multi-part series covers the 1912 Progressive Party --- or "Bull Moose" --- National Convention and the drafting of its historic progressive platform for the ensuing general election.)