Despite Teddy Roosevelt's vast popularity, the Rough Rider decided he had enough of the Presidency, and elected to step down in 1908 (before the two term limit Amendment was enacted). He examined his Cabinet carefully, and noticed that despite his inflammatory title, the Secretary of War William Howard Taft was a quiet and unassuming man - perfect for continuing the progressive policies Roosevelt had enacted. 1908's election would thus be hinged on whether Taft could carry the largely conservative Republican party by riding Roosevelt's coattails into office. In the years of Big Business, increasing global tensions, and unseen levels of immigration, it was important that the American system continue to be upheld. The Democrats, who had unsuccessfully ran snooty conservative Alton Parker in 1904, would have to find someone to challenge Roosevelt's legacy and Taft's place as the rightful successor to the ideology of the current administration.
On June 16, the Republican convention was begun at the Chicago Coliseum, and the competition was pretty slim. Noted Wisconsin progressive governor Robert LaFollette and future Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes (then governor of New York) threw their hats in the ring, but it only took three ballots to confirm Taft as the successor. However, there was a mar on his nomination: when Roosevelt had arrived to give a speech on the 18th, the round of applause for him lasted nearly five minutes. This upset Taft, who had not received such a warm welcome upon his arrival. He knew it had been only the most plaintive of refusals by Roosevelt that prevented Teddy from being up for a third term. Still, his agenda was clear: follow Roosevelt to a tee. He did so by selecting another progressive as Vice President, New York Representative James Sherman, over the reactionary Curtis Guild, Jr., a hardnosed conservative who had gathered a swelling of support prior to the convention. Taft's preference led to a unanimous sweep by Sherman.
The Democratic convention was even less controversial than the Republican one. It was held on a quiet July 7 day in Denver, Colorado
- picked by party leaders for its everyman blue collar
appeal - and consisted mostly of speeches by convention chairman and lone Vice Presidential candidate John W. Kern
) and William Jennings Bryan
, who had been the party candidate in 1896
. They pushed out a large amount of rhetoric
, most of which represented their progressive values - a stronger implementation of the silver standard
, bank deposite guarantees
, more crackdowns on antitrust
violations, and a complete overhaul of the railroad system, which they claimed was in shambles. In truth, it was being ramrodded by a few robber barons
, but there was little need for the revamping Bryan insisted upon. Still, Bryan was named the Democratic candidate, becoming the first candidate to be nominated three times by one party. Although the speeches grew plenty of raucous applause from the convention, it would eventually lead to his downfall in November.
In what became known as the "Battle of the Bills" Taft was a stay-at-home candidate, letting his voucher from Roosevelt speak for itself. He made no speeches, and his campaigning was kept to a minimum, with virtually all posters and postcards of Taft also containing either a reference to or picture of Teddy - just for insurance's sake.
On the other side of the fence, Bryan fought hard for proving he, and not Taft, would be better suited as a follower of Teddy Roosevelt. His sloganeers coined the lovely acronym "TAFT - Takes Advice From Theodore" and worked hard to convert voters from the minor third parties (Eugene V. Debs
's Socialist Party
and the Prohibition Party
, created specifically with the intention of banning alcohol
in the states). Bryan himself took to stumping all across the Midwestern United States, making stops in Indianapolis
, and Oklahoma
. Finally, Bryan made a huge blunder in late August, calling for not just an overhaul of the railroads, but a takeover by the federal government. Such socialist leanings were blasphemy even within his own progressive-leaning party, and historians are quick to note that this statement and little else cost him an otherwise relatively mundane and close election.
Electors Total Votes
Taft/Sherman 321 (66.5%) 7.68m (52.9%)
Bryan/Kern 162 (33.5%) 6.41m (44.2%)
Debs/Hanford 0 (0.0%) .42m (2.9%)
As expected, Taft rode the progressive ideas of the otherwise conservative Republican party into the White House. Still, the close race had ensured that some of Bryan's reforms would be enacted, and Roosevelt was certainly pleased with the result. Yet only four years later, he would be running against his former protege, calling him a reactionary, a sneak, and a turncoat. Later described as the "friendship that split the Republican party," it would lead to the end of the Republican domination of American politics in the twentieth century.