The Bull Moose
Roosevelt's New Party in His Own Image and Likeness
I'll name the compromise candidate. He'll be me. I'll name the
compromise platform. It will be our platform.
—Theodore Roosevelt, 1912 Republican Convention
[I]t may be concluded, that a pure Democracy, by which I mean a Society
consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer
the Government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of
faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be
felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from
the form of Government itself; and there is nothing to check the
inducements to sacrifice the weaker party, or an obnoxious individual.
—Publius (James Madison), Federalist No. 10
The Constitution makes no mention of political parties. In fact, when
drafting the Constitution, our Founding Fathers were very weary of the
creation of political factions. They knew that political parties would
get in the way of pragmatism and rational thinking. Having political
parties would cause party loyalists to cling steadfastly to their party
lines and keep the government from protecting freedom. But on another
level, they liked the fact that factions in a democracy could clog the
government's mechanisms and keep it from doing anything rash. Alexander
Hamilton and James Madison mentioned in Federalist No. 9 and No.
10 how detrimental political parties would be for the nation, but the
factions quickly reared their ugly heads all the same.
Early Political Parties
Over the course of American history, there have been several
incarnations of the two-party political system. Initially, during the
Constitution's drafting phase there were the Federalists, who were in
favor of a strong federal government, and the anti-Federalists, or
Democratic-Republicans, who wanted more rights to be retained by the
states and a smaller federal government. Even Hamilton and Madison, who
wrote No. 9 and No. 10 of the Federalist Papers—a two-part
exploration of political parties—quickly became factionalized.
The Federalists were led by the nation's first secretary of the
Treasury, Alexander Hamilton. He was a strong advocate for a central
national bank, tariffs, and muscular foreign relations. Both modern
Republican and Democratic parties support all these ideas, each of which
has become manifest in extremes far beyond anything Hamilton ever wrote
or publicly spoke about.
America's first opposition party was originally born as the
anti-Federalists, led by the nation's first secretary of state, Thomas
Jefferson. He tried to limit the power of the federal government in the
Constitution itself and championed the drafting and inclusion of the
Bill of Rights. His party quickly grew into the Democratic-Republicans.
That name may sound funny to readers abreast of modern politics, but not
to history. Our modern two parties were born out of the same party name.
The Constitution establishes the federal government of the United States
of America as a form of government known as a federal democratic
republic. A republic is a nation run by leaders chosen by the
people and not solely based on birth; a democracy is a type of
government where the people have a direct say in who will lead them and
what actions those leaders take; and federal connotes the union
of sovereign entities (those would be our once sovereign states).
The first heads of the Democratic-Republicans were Thomas Jefferson and
James Madison. They both understood that having a federal government was
necessary to keep commerce regularly flowing between the states, but
they also wanted to make sure that it did not jeopardize the rights of
the people and the states. It is from the Democratic-Republicans that
the modern Democrats claim their heritage, feeling that the nation
should always be more of a democracy than a republic, and calling
themselves the party of Jefferson, who no doubt would reject the Nanny
State that the Democrats have built.
The Federalists were the first major American political party to die
off. Their original leaders, in addition to Hamilton, were George
Washington and John Adams. They met their demise during the eight-year
so-called Era of Good Feelings from about 1816 to about 1824. The nation
turned on the Federalists when they did not support the War of 1812, and
for that brief period only the Democratic-Republicans were relevant in
But that honeymoon wouldn't last. The Democratic-Republicans quickly
split in 1824 and 1828 into the Democrats led by Andrew Jackson and the
Whigs led by Henry Clay.
The Democrats favored the strong presidential power of their leader,
Andrew Jackson, and strongly opposed the Bank of the United States. The
Whigs took the name of the common British opposition party and were
formed to oppose the principal policies of the Jacksonian Democrats. The
Whigs thought that Congress—some of whose members at the time
still wore actual wigs—should be supreme over the president, and
they favored the strong national bank.
The Whigs were replaced in the 1850s by the Republican Party. This new
party continued the economic policies of the Whigs, such as supporting
the bank, supporting the railroads, raising tariffs, furthering the
nation's homestead policy (making free western land available to
Americans who agreed to improve it for a period of five years), and
providing further funding for the nation's land grant colleges.
Unfortunately for the Democrats, this period in American history did not
serve them well. The first victorious presidential candidate of the new
Republican Party was, of course, Abraham Lincoln. He would undoubtedly
be happy with the Regulatory State, the Warfare State, and the Welfare
State that the Republicans have built.
Andrew Jackson hailed from the South, as did much of the Democratic
bloc. When the southern states seceded from the Union, they took with
them many Democratic states. The setup of strong anti-slavery
Republicans and weakened pro-slavery (until the Civil War) Democrats
lasted through the nation's reconstruction and was coming to a close
when the Progressive Era began.
Along Came Teddy
Theodore Roosevelt was an old-money Republican. His family had been
influential for six generations in politics, business, and society. He
grew up in several luxurious Manhattan apartments and a vast country
estate in Oyster Bay, Long Island. At a young age he was drawn into
politics and joined the family's Republican Party. But his party was a
far cry from the Republicans we think of today.
In 1896, as police commissioner of New York City, Roosevelt saved from a
heat wave thousands of poor New Yorkers on the Lower East Side that the
rest of his party had decided to neglect. He pushed for the idea of
giving away free ice to overheated New Yorkers and personally oversaw
the proper distribution and use of the ice. He also advocated reforms
such as universal health care and women's suffrage.
Another difference between Roosevelt and most politicians of either
party of his day was the fact that he was quite the aggressive war hawk.
From his youth, he had a tendency for violence, even once shooting his
neighbor's dog because his girlfriend dumped him. He had long felt that
Americans were the superior race and that the nation was at its
strongest when it was at war. His appetite for blood was whetted on
hunting trips and during the infamous escapades of the Rough Riders in
the Spanish-American War in Cuba in the late nineteenth century.
Roosevelt may have been a Republican, but he wasn't a typical
toe-the-party-line Republican by his day's or our day's definition.
Before being added to President William McKinley's Republican ticket for
McKinley's reelection campaign in 1900, Roosevelt was the very popular
governor of New York. He was popular with the citizens of the state, but
not with Thomas C. Platt, New York State's Republican Party boss.
During that era, both political parties had bosses who may or may not
have held office but were undoubtedly the kingmakers for large and
important states. These bosses held large sway over constituencies of
voters, or worse, over the people counting the votes, and were able to
ensure that their man would be elected. Today, the equivalent of a
political boss on the surface is each party's chairman.
Platt controlled the Republican-dominated New York state government and
saw Roosevelt as too much of a reformer to be controlled by the
political machine of the day. After President McKinley's first vice
president, Garret Hobart of Paterson, New Jersey, died, Platt moved to
get Roosevelt on the ticket in the powerless position of vice president.
Vice president had long been seen as a purely glad-handing position that
did not allow its holder to exercise any actual power or influence.
In Platt's view, putting Roosevelt into that slot would kill two birds
with one stone. Not only would it remove Roosevelt as governor of
Platt's state, New York; it would also silence and neuter Roosevelt.
Little did Platt know that McKinley would die less than a year after the
election, making the traditional Republicans' worst nightmare, the
bellicose Nanny Stater from Oyster Bay, the president of the United
Roosevelt knew throughout his presidency that he had gained his position
despite his party and not because of it. He consistently pushed for and
signed into law measures that he thought were best for the nation and
not necessarily what the Republican Party thought was best for the
nation. He regulated the railroads, regulated what Americans could eat
and drink, personally intervened to resolve a coal strike, kept vast
amounts of public land from private ownership, and dissolved many
corporate giants. And he didn't care much about following the
Roosevelt was one of the first presidents to use the press in his favor.
He gave the press its own room inside the White House (he was actually
the first president to call it officially the White House). He
understood that if he made himself popular enough, it did not matter how
much the old Republican guard hated him; he would be their candidate and
win election to keep his office in 1904.
Early in Roosevelt's first term there was a dump Roosevelt movement,
which put forth Ohio senator Mark Hanna as its candidate. Unfortunately,
Hanna died in February 1904, also killing the movement's shot at
wrestling the Republican nomination away from Roosevelt.
As a compromise in return for allowing a Progressive, Roosevelt, to be
the 1904 Republican candidate, the conservative Republicans were allowed
to pick his vice presidential running mate, Charles Fairbanks. Fairbanks
made his millions as a lawyer for the Indianapolis, Bloomington, and
Western Railroad. Fairbanks then turned to politics, where he was a
member of the U.S. Senate for one term (1897–1905).
Both men were chosen unanimously as the candidates on the first ballot
at the 1904 Republican Convention. Roosevelt won a landslide victory. He
took every northern and western state, 56.4 percent of the popular vote,
and 336 out of 476 electoral votes. He defeated the Democratic
candidate, Alton Parker. Parker was the chief judge of the New York
Court of Appeals (New York's highest court), and he ran on a platform
that primarily supported small government and was sympathetic to the
Wall Street banks. He was nominated primarily because he was seen as an
affable and smart man who would be a popular candidate, but he was not
as popular as Roosevelt.
Upon election to retain his presidency in 1904, Roosevelt vowed that he
was retiring from the presidency when his term ended in 1909, after
serving as president for seven and a half years. Upon his departure,
Roosevelt handpicked his successor, William Howard Taft.
What About Taft?
Many readers who keep up with the order of the men who ascended to the
post of the presidency may have asked early on when opening this book
the following question: "What about Taft?" Taft served as a one-term
(1909–13) president between the bookends who are the subjects of
this book, Theodore Roosevelt (1901–9) and Woodrow Wilson
(1913–21). He served four short years during the Progressive Era,
but was a clog in the Progressives' gears of change that was quickly
thrown out of office when he ran for reelection.
The conservative Republicans would not forget Taft's presidency, and
when the next conservative Republican, Warren Harding, held the
presidency in 1921, Taft was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme
Roosevelt selected Taft to succeed him because he had served as his
secretary of war and appeared to be the man who would continue his
Progressive agenda, but Taft shortly revealed that he did not have the
stomach for it. He stayed much truer to conservative Republican
principles than Roosevelt had envisioned or enjoyed.
Roosevelt saw the federal government's role as a protector of the people
from big business. But Taft felt it was a good Republican's duty to
protect persons and corporations from the government. When the
time came for Taft's reelection campaign in 1912, Roosevelt—the
man who just three years earlier had retired from the presidency and
sworn never to run again—went back on his word.
Roosevelt felt he had to enter the race because Taft was simply "an
agent of 'the forces of reaction and political crookedness.'" The two
men were then set on a crash course to meet in a battle to the political
death in the Chicago Coliseum for the Republican nomination.
Although it was not a true battle to the death, journalists of the day
used similar hyperbole when describing the gravity of the encounter in
which the two former friends were now to be engaged. Roosevelt had
promised the American people a fair deal, and he felt that Taft was not
giving them their deserved fairness. He felt it was his duty to take
back the presidency or at the very least remove Taft for the good of the
Taft had thought that Roosevelt stretched the powers of the executive
too far, and in a rare move Taft actually reined in those powers and
limited his own powers as a sitting president. (As this book will
explain in a later chapter, sitting presidents almost never lessen their
own powers. The modern Democrats were outraged at the reaches that
President George W. Bush made, but President Barack Obama has only
reached further since he took office.)
Taft and Roosevelt had a distinct disagreement about the role of the
courts. Roosevelt was deeply upset by the fact that the Supreme Court
had overturned several of his key pieces of Progressive legislation,
such as the Lochner v. New York decision, which held that a
baker's natural right to work as many hours as he pleased superseded New
York's maximum work hours law, thus invalidating laws he sought and
signed into law as governor of New York. One of the issues on
Roosevelt's platform as he ran for the Republican nomination was the
recall of judicial decisions through the popular vote.
Roosevelt was a bully and was willing to use the tyranny of the majority
to bully any minority. He felt that if the people wanted something, in a
true democracy, they should be able to have it. This was a key theme of
Progressivism and led to the multiple constitutional amendments that
were enacted during the Progressive Era. A constitutional amendment is
the one way that the people can enact legislation that is
unconstitutional because it changes the actual Constitution.
Taft and the conservative wing of the Republican Party rightfully viewed
Roosevelt as a serious threat to their conservative plans. They feared
that if Roosevelt won a third term, he might become a perpetual
president, running for a fourth term, a fifth term, and so on until
nature or someone more popular took the post from him. He had made the
mistake of relinquishing the presidency once and would likely not make
it again. Oddly enough, that would happen thirty years later with
Theodore Roosevelt's distant cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was
elected to four presidential terms, but only served three.
Taft said that he feared Roosevelt because Roosevelt firmly had the vote
of the "less intelligent voters and the discontented." Taft feared that
to appease his base, Roosevelt would initiate "a forced division of
property, and that means socialism." The campaign became extremely
bitter, with both men calling each other names. Roosevelt called Taft a
"puzzlewit," and Taft called Roosevelt a "honeyfugler." While neither
name has a direct translation to modern politics, "puzzlewit" roughly
meant that Taft was of inferior intelligence, similar to the tactic used
by the modern Left to describe Republican candidates such as George W.
Bush, Sarah Palin, and Michele Bachmann. The name that Taft gave to
Roosevelt, "honeyfugler," has a looser translation. It has the obviously
similar sound to several words that cannot be said on television and was
most likely intended to have a similar effect. It also had the slang
meaning of a person who would stoop to any low in order to get what he
Neither of these men realized that this feud and the principals of the
election of 1912 itself were no accident and were not even in their
control. Although Roosevelt and Taft considered themselves politicians,
the big bankers regarded them as nothing but puppets. Despite the
supposedly anti-trust position of Progressives such as President
Theodore Roosevelt and President Woodrow Wilson, both men allowed
themselves to be used as pawns of the big bankers. The presidential
election of 1912 is a prime example of the unhealthy relationship
between the bankers and the federal government during the Progressive
Excerpted from "Theodore and Woodrow: How Two American Presidents Destroyed Constitutional Freedom" by Andrew P. Napolitano. Copyright © 0 by Andrew P. Napolitano. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.