Home > 1896-1928 Campaigns, 1908 Campaign > 1908–Context of the Race–Kate Hamill

1908–Context of the Race–Kate Hamill

After two incredible terms, President Theodore Roosevelt decided not to run for a third. Instead he set out to find another candidate from the progressive party to take his spot.  The first man Roosevelt chooses for the job was Elihu Root and he declined. Root believed that he would not be a good contender and had no interest in serving and as commander and chief.  William Howard Taft was the second man that Roosevelt approached for the job. With a little bit of persuasion from his wife and Roosevelt, Taft accepted the offer.  After Roosevelt hand- picked his successor the race was on. The 1908 presidential election was between William Howard Taft and William Jennings Bryan.

Taft was a well liked, respectable Republican man from Cincinnati, Ohio. He was from a large wealthy family who like himself, was very well educated. By the age of 30 Taft had made his way through law school, law firms and landed a position in the Ohio Supreme Court.  In 1881 he was appointed to the United States court of Appeals for the sixth circuit and in 1904 President Roosevelt appointed him to Secretary of War. He remained in that position until he was nominated for President of the United States.  Taft was projected to win.  With Roosevelt as his primary endorser he was able to use Teddy’s popularity, policies and ideals to sway the American Public. Many believed voting for Taft was similar to voting Roosevelt into office for a third term. Taft wasn’t perusing any particular policies during his campaign. Many of his policies and plans were actually attributed to Roosevelt. Instead of promoting ideas, Taft took another avenue. His campaign slogan was “Vote for Taft now, you can vote for Bryan anytime.” Taft as well as the Republican Party believed if they promoted his popularity he won win by a land slide.  Along with the American popular vote, Taft also consumed the votes of large businesses and corporations which at the time essentially controlled much of America.

William Jennings Bryan was very different then his competitor.  He was a left wing Democrat. Many Americans viewed Bryan’s policies and ideals as an extreme and outlandish. William Jennings Bryan was a very religious man from Nebraska. He was endorsed by the Presbyterian Church whenever he ran for a position in the U.S. government. He held positions in both the Senate and House as well as serving in President Wilson’s cabinet. The 1908 campaign was Bryan’s third and final presidential campaign. The Democratic Party continued nominating him for the position of President, believing that he would make a wonderfully influential leader. However, Bryan had trouble running successful campaigns. Each election he ran was negatively correlated with the previous election. He continued losing, and each time by more votes. Bryan created the stumping tour, which many believed would help him win his elections. The stumping tour was when a candidate traveled around the USA giving speeches on platforms or sawed off tree stumps to the people of that town. Many of his contenders were staying at home, campaign on their own front porch. Bryan was known for his policies; free silver, anti-imperialism and trust-busting.  During this campaign Bryan was perusing the trust-busting policy. Some believe that these ideals cost him the election. Essentially trust-busting was breaking up large corporations that used “trusts” to conceal the nature of certain business arrangements. The Democratic Party was trying to prove to the country that many large corporations were using these trusts to do illegal business transactions.

The campaign wasn’t a process like it is today. Many nominations were made months before the vote took place. Today people being campaigning for President years before the election.  For the most part the country was evenly divided. Most Northern states voted for Taft, and many Southern states voted for Bryan.  Roosevelt carried 29 states and an electoral vote of 321, which was equal to about 53% of the population. Bryan on the other hand carried 17 states, 162 electoral votes and 42% of the population.  The Republican Party had remained in power and in office for 3 terms, after which the Democratic Party took control with Presidential candidate Woodrow Wilson. Unfortunately for Roosevelt and the Republican Party, Taft did not keep the promises in which he made. After a few years in office he decided to formulate his own ideals and policies, which cause Roosevelt to return to the campaign arena in 1912.


“1908 Presidential Election.” 16 April 2011. Wikipedia. April 18 2011                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_election,_1912.

“Election of 1908.” United States History. 17 April 2011. http://www.ushistory.com/pages/h878.html.

unknown. “William Howard Taft.” American President An online Reference Resource. 17 April 2011                http://millercenter.org/president/taft/essays/biography/3.

“William Jennings Bryan.” 10 April 2010. Nebraska State Historical Society. 18 April 2011  http://blog.nebraskahistory.org/?p=1388.

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