During the U.S. presidential election of 1912, a rift developed within the Republican party between the Conservatives, led by incumbent President William Howard Taft, and the Progressives, led by former President Theodore Roosevelt. Though the two had been close friends, the Taft-Roosevelt split divided the Republican party and the country and helped Democrat Woodrow Wilson win the election, a move that would have profound consequences for the world.
Theodore Roosevelt became president in 1901 when William McKinley was shot and killed. Though still a Republican, Roosevelt was more progressive than his predecessor, and successfully ensured the passage of the Food and Drug Act. He also tripled the amount of land set aside for national forests and went after trusts with the Sherman Antitrust Act, earning the nickname the "trust buster." Nevertheless, there were some big businesses that Roosevelt liked, such as those owned by banker J.P. Morgan.
William Howard Taft was Roosevelt's Secretary of War, and in 1908, when Roosevelt agreed not to run for a second full term, Taft was tapped as his natural successor and won the election easily. While Taft was in many ways as progressive as Roosevelt, he was more ardent about eliminating trusts, even those that Roosevelt had deemed acceptable, such as the J.P. Morgan-owned U.S. Steel. Additionally, Taft was not as devoted a conservationist as was Roosevelt.
The Progressive Party
In 1912, Roosevelt, dissatisfied with Taft's conservative policies regarding conservation as well his targeting of J.P. Morgan through the Sherman Antitrust Act, declared his intent to run for president. After unsuccessfully attempting to gain the Republican nomination, Roosevelt created a separate Progressive Party, backed by many of his more progressive supporters. This party became known as the Bull Moose Party after Roosevelt successfully avoided an assassination attempt and nicknamed himself a "bull moose."
Roosevelt and Taft split the vote, gaining 27.4 percent and 23.2 percent respectively, and allowing Democrat Woodrow Wilson to enter the White House with only 41.8 percent. Had Roosevelt and Taft, once the best of friends, not feuded in 1912, Wilson would not have been president, an election that had serious consequences. Relenting on his campaign promises to African-Americans, Wilson aggressively pursued a policy of racial segregation in federal jobs. Much more cautious than the war-hawk Roosevelt, Wilson kept the U.S. out of World War I when it broke out in 1914, but in doing so allowed the war to continue for four years and claim a significant number of lives.
Aatif Rashid writes on international politics and culture. His articles have appeared in magazines such as "The Oxonian Globalist" and online at Future Foreign Policy and ThinkPolitic. He holds Bachelor's degrees in English and history from U.C. Berkeley and a Masters degree from the University of Oxford.