1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft, and Debs-The Election That Changed the Country

In This Review

1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft, and Debs-The Election That Changed the Country

By James Chace
Simon & Schuster, 2004
336 pp. $25.95
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As the United States heads into a bitter presidential election, Chace provides an elegant and useful overview of one of the most crucial such contests in our history: the 1912 race in which Theodore Roosevelt ran as a Progressive, William Howard Taft as a Republican, Eugene V. Debs as a Socialist, and Woodrow Wilson as a Democrat. Wilson won and went on to become the first Democrat since Andrew Jackson to serve two consecutive terms in the White House. For Chace, this was a tragedy. On both foreign and domestic policy, Roosevelt would have made a stronger, more effective leader and, in Chace's view, many of the achievements of the New Deal would have been realized a generation earlier. One is struck, however, by the enduring conservatism of the American electorate. Taking the Taft vote and combining it with the conservative white Southerners who supported Wilson, it is not clear that even the 1912 election, often taken as a high-water mark in Progressive politics, showed a solid electoral majority for radical change.