Thursday, November 19, 2009

Out of the Past: Promises of 1912 Deferred

In 1912, former Presdient Theodore Roosevelt campaigned for the presidency promising national health insurance along with women's suffrage, safe conditions for industrial workers, a federal minimum wage, and an old-age pension.

In many ways, the election of 1912 was a pivotal moment in American politics, inspiring fundamental changes still influencing society today.

Originally a candidate for the Republican Party in 1912, Roosevelt won a series of primaries that gave him a lead in party delegates going into the Republican Convention. But the incumbent president, William Howard Taft, controlled the convention floor and his backers excluded most of the Roosevelt delegates by not recognizing their credentials.

Enraged by these actions, Roosevelt consequently refused to allow himself to be nominated, allowing Taft to win on the first ballot.

Roosevelt and his supporters abandoned the G.O.P. two weeks later and formed the Progressive Party, under which he contended for the presidency against Taft, labor leader Eugene Debs of the Socialist Party ticket, and Democrat Woodrow Wilson.

The Progressives won 27.4% of the popular vote and 88 electoral votes from six states, an unprecedented achievement for a third party, but the presidency went to Wilson.

Although it took a new generation to accomplish them, most of the key elements of Roosevelt's social platform were achieved and became keystones in American society. National health insurance remains an exception.

Out of the Past

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