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Imagine a presidential election with four well-qualified and distinguished candidates and a serious debate over the future of the nation! Sound impossible in this era of attack ads and strident partisanship? It happened nearly a century ago in 1912, when incumbent Republican William Howard Taft, former president Theodore Roosevelt running as the Progressive Party candidate, Democratic nominee Woodrow Wilson, and Socialist candidate Eugene V. Debs all spoke to major concerns of the American people and changed the landscape of national politics in the bargain.
The presidential election of 1912 saw a third-party candidate finish second in both popular and electoral votes. The Socialist candidate received the highest percentage of the popular vote his party ever attained. In addition to year-round campaigning in the modern style, the 1912 contest featured a broader role for women, two exciting national conventions, and an assassination attempt on Roosevelt's life. The election defined the major parties for generations to come as the Taft-Roosevelt split pushed the Republicans to the right and the Democrats' agenda of reform set them on the road to the New Deal.
Lewis L. Gould, one of America's preeminent political historians, tells the story of this dramatic race and explains its enduring significance. Basing his narrative on the original letters and documents of the candidates themselves, he guides his readers down the campaign trail through the factional splits, exciting primaries, tumultuous conventions and the turbulent fall campaign to Wilson's landslide electoral vote victory in November.
It's all here—Gene Debs's challenge to capitalism, the progressive rivalry of Roosevelt and Robert La Follette, the debate between the New Freedom of Wilson and the New Nationalism of Roosevelt, and the resolve of Taft to defeat his one-time friend TR and keep the Republican Party in conservative hands. Gould combines lively anecdotes, the poetry and prose of the campaign, and insights into the clash of ideology and personality to craft a narrative that moves as fast as did the 1912 election itself.
Americans sensed in 1912 that they stood at a turning point in the nation's history. Four Hats in the Ring demonstrates why the people who lived and fought this significant election were more right than they could ever have known.
This shrewdly argued and beautifully crafted volume illuminates the enduring significance of the 1912 race. The best book ever written about one of the more intelligent campaigns in U.S. history. (Michael Kazin, author of A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan)
The best informed and most trenchant study of this election yet published. Fluent, lucid, authoritative, it resounds with the politics of the Progressive era. (John Morton Blum, author of The Republican Roosevelt)
At long last, the 1912 election has the history it deserves. A splendid book. (John Milton Cooper, Jr., author of The Warrior and the Priest: Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson)
Prologue: The New Year—1912
1. Progressive Politics: 1909-1910
2. Prelude to the Presidential Race, 1911
3. Roosevelt versus Taft in 1912
4. Wilson Against the Democratic Field
5. A Socialist Celebrity Runs for President
6. The Bull Moose Challenge to the Major Parties
7. The Class of Ideas: 1912