August 7 -
TR takes on the establishment

August 7 -
TR takes on the establishment

What do you do when your choices are bad - or worse?

In the election of 1912, Theodore Roosevelt had a number of difficult choices to make. His friend and Presidential successor William Howard Taft had been disappointing the more Progressive Republicans during his first term. Roosevelt had determined to give Taft some distance, and remain "as silent as an oyster" to the press.

Pop Culture Parallel

" Elaine:    Well, we had a choice, steak or fish.

Dr. Rumack:  Yes, yes I remember, I had lasagna. 

​Airplane, ​1980.​​​

​But that was becoming more and more difficult to do. TR felt that Taft was abandoning Progressive reforms like conservation, and not listening to the voice of the people.

And so, to borrow from the movie quote above, when faced with the options of the steak or fish (Taft and the Republicans or a Democratic challenger) - TR chose the lasagna. He joined with his fellow Progressives and entered the 1912 election as a "third party candidate." I'll let the man himself tell you more about it.

​It was no small task to campaign against William Howard Taft - not only was Taft a good friend, he was also Roosevelt's Secretary of War. Knowing Taft's desire to be on the bench, TR tried to appoint his friend Will to the Supreme Court twice. (Neither came to fruition.)  And most evident of all, Roosevelt had hand-picked Taft to be his successor to the White House.

After his time abroad on safari in Africa, and serving as a sort of diplomat in Europe, Roosevelt returned to hear more at home of what he had already read about while away. Taft's leadership was wanting. He was more administrator than leader. Progressive issues such as conservation, anti-trust regulation and the like, were not being dealt with in the manner TR felt best.

After ​Taft had altered or dismantled many efforts and initiatives Roosevelt had put forward in his administration, the breaking point came. As he put it in an interview with John J. Leary, "The break in our relations was due to no one thing, but to the cumulative effect of many things - the abandonment of everything my Administration had stood for, and other things."*

1912 was a contentious year for TR, from convention to election, and it certainly cost him some of his reputation, as well as many friendships. But his determination would not let him sit idly by and let the issues he had fought for go by the wayside. It was worth all that it could cost him. To quote President Roosevelt from the video:

"Nothing in this world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort,  pain, difficulty.  No kind of life is worth leading if it is always an easy life." (American Ideals in Education Speech, November 4, 1910​)​​​

*Fortunately, 1912 was not the end of Roosevelt and Taft - but that's another post for another time.

About the Author

The "founding father" of Historic Experience. Peyton is an actor-historian with over 15 years experience as a John Adams and Theodore Roosevelt interpreter, impersonator, speaker, or whatever descriptor speaks to you. Peyton Dixon is based in central New Jersey and travels across the country bringing American history to life.