August 7, 1912 – The Progressive “Bull Moose” Party Nominates Theodore Roosevelt for President

The Progressive Party was a third party in the United States formed in 1912 by former President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt had served two terms as president, from 1901 to 1909. He then helped ensure the Republican Party would select his Secretary of War, William Howard Taft, to succeed him. But Roosevelt became disappointed by Taft’s conservative policies.

He decided to challenge Taft for the Republican nomination in 1912, but had several disadvantages. One was that Roosevelt didn’t decide to enter the fray until late in the game. Second, Taft was already being challenged by progressive leader Senator Robert La Follette of Wisconsin. And third, Taft had worked hard to control the Republican Party’s organizational operations and the mechanism for choosing its presidential nominee.

After the Republican National Convention rejected Roosevelt’s attempts to capture the nomination, Roosevelt and his supporters walked out. The Republicans re-nominated Taft, and the next day, Roosevelt supporters met to form a new political party of their own, “The Progressive Party.” The new party nominated a ticket of Roosevelt and the progressive Hiram Johnson of California.

Cartoon depicting delegates at the convention of the Bull Moose Party, c. 1912.
MPI/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The party’s platform built on Teddy Roosevelt’s Square Deal domestic program and called for a number of progressive reforms. The platform asserted that “to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.”

The platform also called for women’s suffrage, strict limits on campaign contributions and expenditures, registration of lobbyists,“the conservation of human resources through an enlightened measure of social and industrial justice,” an eight-hour workday, and prohibition of child labor, inter alia.

As for businesses, the platform proclaimed:

We demand that the test of true prosperity shall be the benefits conferred thereby on all the citizens, not confined to individuals or classes, and that the test of corporate efficiency shall be the ability better to serve the public; that those who profit by control of business affairs shall justify that profit and that control by sharing with the public the fruits thereof.”

The entire platform is worth reading. Very few of the admirable ideals espoused by this progressive party have been attained.

The Progressive Party was popularly nicknamed the “Bull Moose Party” since Roosevelt often said that he felt “strong as a bull moose” both before and after an assassination attempt in Milwaukee, Wisconsin while out on the campaign trail. Roosevelt continued giving his speech after he was shot, assuring the crowd, “it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.”

But most Republican politicians supported the “regular” Republican ticket, and the Bull Moose ticket received only some 25 percent of the popular vote. Thus split, the Republicans lost the election to the Democrats under Woodrow Wilson. The Bull Moose Party evaporated, and the Republicans were reunited four years later.

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