One of the Theodore Roosevelt’s many characteristics, as portrayed so many times in this exhibition, was his relationship with the American people. Few presidents undertook extensive speaking tours while in office; and candidates seldom engaged in active campaigning. In 1896 William Jennings Bryan broke the mold; the Democrat countered his obscurity and radical views by speaking at numerous stops from railway cars. Meanwhile, his Republican rival William McKinley seldom left his home’s front porch, as audiences would seek him.
TR, as always, was different. As president, he undertook many whistle-stop campaigns, both to commune with an admiring public, but also to explain his policies, “going over the heads” of opposition politicians. In 1912 he was obliged to criss-cross the country to gain attention for his new policies against the political establishment.
A special factor lent urgency to the fervid speaking schedule of candidate Roosevelt. The election of 1912 was first in American history to feature numerous presidential primaries, the fruition of TR’s longstanding work for greater democratic expressions.
But primaries were also vital to his argument that the GOP rank-and-file preferred him to Taft, and necessary to TR’s hunt for delegates. At the beginning of 1912, only six states had presidential primaries: California, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, Wisconsin, and New Jersey. In the run-up to the conventions, six more added themselves to the list: Illinois, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Maryland, and Ohio. Others were to join, and a pattern emerged: Taft secured delegates in states without primaries (largely through political control and patronage); and Roosevelt won the overwhelming percentage of delegates where primaries were conducted. Taft was even humiliated by Roosevelt’s majority in his home state of Ohio.
The day-by-day itinerary of where TR travelled, whom he met, and where he delivered speeches reflects a remarkable pace, set by a remarkably strenuous candidate. Did Colonel Roosevelt visit your town?
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Reception and Awards to Benefit the Oyster Bay Historical Society
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