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Lesson Plan

1912 Republican Convention: TR Starts the Bull Moose Party

About this Video
This four-minute video provides students with an introduction to the election of 1912 and the emergence of the progressive Bull Moose party, named for Roosevelt’s saying after an assassination attempt that he was “fit as a bull moose” to become president again. Focusing on Theodore Roosevelt’s decision to challenge President William Taft for the 1912 Republican Party nomination, the video shows students how the newly created system of direct primaries affected the race, and how Roosevelt’s failure to wrest the nomination from Taft resulted in the formation of the short-lived Bull Moose party. The video is useful for lessons focused on the election of 1912, or for lessons focused on the political reforms of the progressive era.
Students will learn
  • How the newly created system of direct primary elections affected the election of 1912.
  • How personal and ideological conflict between Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft caused a split in the Republican Party.
  • How the Bull Moose party embodied the ideals and policy agenda of the Progressive Era.
Lessons from the 1912 Republican Convention: Birth of the Modern Primary
Subjects
  • Civics & Government
  • U.S. History
Topics
  • Campaigns and Elections
  • Cultural and Social Change
  • Democracy
  • Political Parties
  • Third Party Candidate
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • William Howard Taft
  • America's Rise to a World Power (1890-1945)
  • 1910s America
For Teachers
Introducing the Lesson

It’s one thing for a presidential candidate to win a lot of primaries. It’s another to win the nomination.

Theodore Roosevelt learned that lesson in 1912, when a string of victories in the first presidential primaries gave him a clear shot at the Republican nomination and the White House.

Roosevelt had decided not to pursue a third term in 1908, and turned the party over to his vice president, William Howard Taft. By 1912, it seemed clear to Roosevelt that Taft had shed his progressive ideology and was bowing to big business; Roosevelt was determined to unseat him.

Taft was backed by the party bosses, so Roosevelt’s only chance to pick up delegates was in the presidential primaries, which were being held for the first time in the nation’s history. After a slow start, Roosevelt wound up trouncing Taft by sweeping 9 of the 13 states that held primaries that year. He arrived at the convention just 50 votes short of the nomination.

But the party bosses stuck with Taft, and after he won the nomination, Roosevelt and his progressive followers walked out to a form the Bull-Moose Progressive Party. Its platform of progressive initiatives, including social security, national healthcare and an end to child labor would later become the central tenets of the Democratic Party.

Roosevelt soundly trounced Taft in the 1912 presidential election, but lost to Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic candidate who controlled the White House until 1920.

Comprehension Questions
  • How did the industrial revolution affect how Americans thought about large corporations?
  • Why did Theodore Roosevelt decide to run against William Howard Taft in 1912?
  • In the 13 states that participated in the new system of party primary elections, how did Roosevelt perform?
  • How did Roosevelt’s decision to run as a third party candidate affect the outcome of the election?
Discussion Questions and Writing Prompts
  • In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt was the most popular person in America, and yet, as a third party candidate, he was only able to finish second in the presidential contest. What does that show us about the strength of the major parties? Do you think a third party candidate will ever win the presidency? If Roosevelt couldn’t pull it off, then who could? Are third party candidates just spoilers, or do they ever play a useful function?
  • By 1912, how had the industrial revolution begun to shift American attitudes towards private enterprise, and towards the role of government in providing for the general welfare of the public? How did Roosevelt’s surprisingly radical platform in 1912 reflect these changes?
  • The direct primary was a new reform in 1912. What was the larger context of this reform? What other progressive-era reforms gave more power to the people and expanded participatory democracy?
  • In the fight for the Republican nomination, Roosevelt was clearly more popular with the public, but the party insiders favored Taft, and the power of the party elites ended up being more valuable than Roosevelt’s popularity. Do you think much has changed in the last 100 years? Are party elites still more powerful than the voters when it comes to selecting which candidate will receive the nomination?
Additional Resources
Transcript for "Lessons from the 1912 Republican Convention: Birth of the Modern Primary" Retro Report

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