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Robert, Louis, and Woodrow

In 1912 Republican Robert M. La Follette, Sr. was the senior U.S. Senator from Wisconsin.  He was an agrarian populist progressive.  In his quest for the Presidency he enjoyed extensive regional support.  He was not very popular in the East, but he did enjoy the support of an important Boston attorney, Louis Brandeis.

Brandeis was known as the people’s lawyer because he thought big business was both unethical and inefficient.  Whereas progressives such as Theodore Roosevelt hoped to regulate ever-growing large corporations, Brandeis wanted to limit their growth.

When La Follette dropped out of the race for President in 1912, even though the progressive mantle fell on Theodore Roosevelt, La Follette’s supporters did not automatically turn to the former President.  This can be easily seen by considering the Wisconsin vote tally in the general election.  Roosevelt received less than 16% of the popular vote.  Wilson received more than 41% of the Wisconsin vote along with all 13 Electoral votes.  Even the unpopular incumbent Taft received more than twice as many votes as Roosevelt.

Brandeis came from a family with deep Republican roots.  His uncle had been a delegate to the 1860 Republican convention that nominated Lincoln.  He had been a Republican when he supported La Follette, but when the Wisconsin Senator was no longer in the race, Brandeis switched his support to Democrat Woodrow Wilson.  It was Brandeis who developed and encouraged Wilson’s simple answer to Roosevelt’s New Nationalism.

In 1916 Wilson appointed Brandeis to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Because Brandeis was Jewish, there was much opposition.  Among the three Republicans who voted to confirm his nomination was La Follette.

Brandeis would serve on the Court until 1939.  During the 1930’s he would defend the New Deal, a program which went far beyond Wilson’s New Freedom or Theodore Roosevelt’s New Nationalism.


A Simple Answer

Thomas Jefferson envisioned the United States as an agrarian republic where businesses are small, local, and rural.  Alexander Hamilton more accurately predicted the United States economy would be based on large concentrations of capital in urban communities.  Until recently Jefferson has usually received more accolades than Hamilton, even though Hamilton’s ideology had no place for slavery.

The 10th Amendment is among the great checks and balances written into the U.S. Constitution.  It reads in full: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”  Unfortunately, the Antebellum South tainted these great words by using them to uphold the institution of slavery.  After the Civil War, segregationists and white supremacists appealed to the 10th Amendment.  Again, this has been most unfortunate and has caused many to regard the 10th Amendment as obsolete.

When Theodore Roosevelt ran for President in 1912, his New Nationalism program acknowledged that the United States had become a Hamiltonian republic.  Therefore, in order to ensure civil rights, the national government would have to lead the way in protecting those rights.  States’ rights would have to take a back seat to people’s rights.

But Woodrow Wilson had a simple answer which appealed to the Jeffersonian predisposition of the voters.  “Ours is a program of liberty and theirs is a program of regulation,” Wilson said.  With this simple answer Wilson characterized Roosevelt not as a reformer but as an accommodator of big business.

The voters saw Wilson’s New Freedom as a middle of the road position with Taft on the right and Roosevelt on the left.  On November 5, 1912 former President Roosevelt received less than 17% of the Electoral vote, and incumbent President Taft received less than 2%.  Wilson, however, received almost 82% of the Electoral College vote and became the 28th President of the United States.



Ah, Shot Again!

Theodore Roosevelt had a .38 caliber bullet in his chest, but he insisted on keeping his speaking engagement in Milwaukee.  He did not speak as long as he had originally intended.  Instead, he spoke for only one hour and twenty minutes.

Immediately after the speech he was taken to the local hospital.  It was around 10:00 P.M. before he was properly examined, but first he dictated a telegram to Mrs. Roosevelt, referring to his wound as “trivial.”  By midnight he was on the train to Chicago where he would be hospitalized.  He arrived at 3:32 A.M., but the doctor who arrived with the ambulance allowed him to sleep until dawn.  Upon leaving the railroad car a photographer took a flash picture of the former President.  “Ah, shot again!” Roosevelt wittily remarked.

Roosevelt did not return to the campaign trail until October 30.  If he did not get back on the stump before the election, perhaps his supporters would stay away from the polls.  He needed to do all he could to show them he was well enough to serve a full Presidential term.  Maybe he would even receive some sympathy votes.  Meanwhile, Taft and Wilson had temporarily suspended their own campaigns.

But it was to no avail.  Wilson’s New Freedom bested Roosevelt’s New Nationalism.  The former had been an inadvertent phrase that Wilson adopted as an afterthought.  Roosevelt’s slogan dated back to 1910 and was well defined.  No matter.  Wilson had given a simple answer to Roosevelt’s slogan, and his simple answer appealed both to the South and to small business in the North.

People’s Rights

“Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose. But fortunately I had my manuscript, so you see I was going to make a long speech, and there is a bullet – there is where the bullet went through – and it probably saved me from it going into my heart. The bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best.  And now, friends, I want to take advantage of this incident to say a word of solemn warning to my fellow countrymen. First of all, I want to say this about myself: I have altogether too important things to think of to feel any concern over my own death; and now I cannot speak to you insincerely within five minutes of being shot. I am telling you the literal truth when I say that my concern is for many other things. It is not in the least for my own life.”

That is how Theodore Roosevelt began his Milwaukee speech on October 14, 1912.  He did not say all that he had originally intended to say, but after these opening remarks he continued for more than an hour.  Although he did not use the exact phrase in this particular speech, the program he promoted was called New Nationalism.  When he spoke of civil rights, he referred to them as people’s rights or national rights.

“Now, the Democratic party in its platform and through the utterances of Mr. Wilson has distinctly committed itself to the old flintlock, muzzle-loaded doctrine of States’ rights, and I have said distinctly we are for people’s rights. We are for the rights of the people. If they can be obtained best through National Government, then we are for national rights. We are for people’s rights however it is necessary to secure them.”



“You Get Me to That Speech!”

The former President, now Bull Moose Party candidate, had just been shot at close range.  Meanwhile, members of his entourage took the would-be assassin into custody.  The crowd would have beaten John Schrank to death if Roosevelt had not suddenly risen and commanded: “Don’t hurt him.  Bring him here. I want to see him.”

Theodore Roosevelt took Schrank’s head in both hands and gently lifted it to see if he could identify his assailant.  The face was not familiar.  “What did you do it for?” asked Roosevelt.

Realizing there was no logical explanation for the poorly dressed man’s actions, Roosevelt concluded: “Oh, what’s the use?  Turn him over to the police.”

John Schrank was indeed a disturbed individual.  He believed that former President McKinley had returned from the grave, visited him in a vision, and commanded him to kill Roosevelt.  However, his failure to kill Roosevelt was not due to lack of method.  He stood no more than seven feet from his target.  His .38 caliber bullet had hit Roosevelt about one inch below the right nipple and somewhat to the right.  It was lodged in his chest and would have penetrated further had it not been for the intervention of heavy clothing, a folded 50-page speech, and an eyeglasses case.

Although there was blood at the wound, Roosevelt was not coughing up blood.  Therefore, he concluded, his lung had not been hit.  Everyone was preparing for a trip to the hospital, everyone except Roosevelt.  “You get me to that speech!” he commanded.

“He’ll Never Get Up Again”

The Republican Party was founded in 1854.  In the fourteen Presidential elections from 1856 to 1908, despite winning the national election eleven times, the Republican candidate never won the state of Georgia.  Republican Theodore Roosevelt received only 18.3% of the Georgia vote in 1904, but as the Bull Moose Party candidate in 1912, he hoped to do better among Southern whites.  The voters of Georgia were not impressed and gave Roosevelt only 18.1% of their 1912 vote.

By the beginning of October 1912 it was obvious that Roosevelt had spent too much time campaigning in the South and not enough in the Mid-West.  Although victory was still possible, it was becoming very unlikely.  Perhaps the best he could hope for was a strong second place finish that would affirm the worth of his ideas.  Surely Wisconsin, the home of progressive Republican Senator Robert La Follette, would prefer him to the Southerner the Democrats had nominated.  Besides, Wisconsin had voted Democratic only once since the Civil War, and that was 20 years ago.  Unfortunately for Roosevelt, he would receive an even lower percentage of the popular vote in Wisconsin than in Georgia!

On the evening of October 14, 1912, as Roosevelt arrived in Milwaukee to deliver a campaign speech, he was shot by a man who was standing about seven feet away.  His traveling companions watched as their candidate dropped without even so much as a groan.  Roosevelt’s twenty-year-old cousin was among the entourage.  Philip Roosevelt’s first thought was: “He’ll never get up again.”


Dangerous Times

On Saturday December 21, 1912, President Taft departed for Panama.  He had lost the November contest for re-election, but there was still work to do.  On Christmas day, fifteen minutes after motoring down a street in the port city of Colón, a dynamite explosion occurred on the route Taft had taken.  The next day the Milwaukee Sentinel reported: “It is generally believed that the act was committed with a view to taking the life of the president and that the plot failed because of some miscalculation in the arrangements.”

No individual or group claimed responsibility for the blast.  Still, it was easy to believe assassins were plotting against the political leaders of the day.  Since the 1880’s the Queen of England, the Prince of Wales, and the King of Spain were the targets of would-be assassins.  Tsar Alexander II of Russia experienced three assassination attempts before succumbing to a fourth.  Since the end of the Civil War three U.S. Presidents – Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley – had been assassinated.  Most recently, during the 1912 Presidential election campaign, there was an attempt on the life of former President and Bull Moose Party candidate Theodore Roosevelt.

The attempt on Roosevelt occurred three weeks and one day before the Presidential election.  Roosevelt had just arrived in Milwaukee to deliver a speech when he received a .38 caliber bullet to the chest.  On Christmas day 1912 that story was still fresh in everyone’s mind.  It was easy for the people of Milwaukee to conclude that the explosion in Colón was just one more in a series of violent acts, and their local newspaper concurred with that sentiment.