Features

TR: Bullets and ballots (1912-1916)

Politics

Issue: "Campaign 2000," July 29, 2000

In 1912 Theodore Roosevelt's successor, William Howard Taft, disappointed him. Roosevelt also disliked Woodrow Wilson, calling him a "Byzantine logothete" (by which he meant that Wilson's speeches had little substance). If Roosevelt could wait until 1916, the Republican nomination and probably more time in the White House were well within reach. But a fight with Taft seemed likely to split the Republicans and elect Wilson.

Roosevelt's reasons for not waiting seem to have been personal rather than political: He wanted to be president again, and he worked himself into a rage against both Taft and Wilson. Roosevelt's greatest triumph of the campaign came when he was shot in the chest on his way to an auditorium to give a speech. Coughing and putting a hand to his mouth to see if there was any blood, he saw no red and decided the bullet had not hit a lung. He then walked onto the stage, raised his hand to silence the crowd, and announced he had just been shot. He even held up the metal eyeglasses case and the folded manuscript that had slowed down the bullet on its way to his chest and probably kept it from killing him. Then he spoke, and spoke, and spoke, tiring out his listeners before he finally headed to the hospital, and electoral defeat.

Wilson won with 42 percent of the vote. After watching Wilson's first term Roosevelt called him "the worst President by all odds since Buchanan, at heart neither a gentleman nor a real man ... always utterly and coldly selfish ... a silly doctrinaire at all times and an utterly selfish and cold-blooded politician always." But Roosevelt, now disliked by many Republicans as a party-breaker, had little support to run for president in 1916, when Americans were debating whether to enter the World War that had already raged in Europe for two years.

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At the 1916 Democratic convention, keynote speaker Martin H. Glynn argued that neutrality was part of the American tradition, along with motherhood and apple pie. He cited examples of presidents who maintained peace even when provoked. After each mention he said-and the delegates, with uproarious enthusiasm, began chanting along-"But we didn't go to war." That became the theme of the Wilson campaign and its most effective slogan: "He kept us out of war." Wilson made numerous speeches to that effect, while privately telling Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels that the United States would enter the war.

Roosevelt had to watch helplessly as a man he despised was reelected.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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