With the Republican Convention in full swing this week, it’s worth taking a look at the third party platform of President Theodore Roosevelt, a GOP icon (“I love Teddy Roosevelt,” says Mitt Romney. “Anybody who says ‘Bully’ is a friend of mine.“) The formerpresident founded the Progressive Party (aka Bull Moose Party) because he was disappointed with his successor, William H. Taft’s “increasingly conservative policies.”
Teddy Roosevelt was nominated by acclamation at the party convention exactly 100 years ago in August 1912, with the famed suffragette and social worker Jane Addams giving a seconding speech. The Progressive Party’s platform, titled “A Contract With the People,” was considered a dangerously radical, socialistic, document by the mainstream GOP and many Democrats. The party’s call for social reforms included:
- A National Health Service
- Social insurance, to provide for the elderly, the unemployed, and the disabled
- Limited injunctions in strikes
- A minimum wage law for women
- An eight hour workday
- A federal securities commission
- Farm relief
- Workers’ compensation for work-related injuries
- An inheritance tax and a constitutional amendment to allow a Federal income tax
The Party advocated such shocking leftist political reforms as:
- Voting rights for Women
- Direct election of Senators
- Primary elections for state and federal nominations
- Strict limits and disclosure requirements on political campaign contributions
- Registration of lobbyists
- Recording and publication of Congressional committee proceedings
The main theme of the Progressive Party platform was to attack the domination of politics by business interests, which Teddy Roosevelt believed controlled both established parties. The platform stated that “[t]o destroy this invisible Government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.”
In his acceptance speech, the former Republican president called for a “’New Nationalism’ based on a strong government to regulate industry, protect the middle and working classes, and carry on great national projects.” Teddy Roosevelt also reiterated his belief that “the people” should possess the power at the ballot box of recalling judges as well as close Supreme Court judicial rulings on certain constitutional issues.
Prominent Republicans such as Robert Todd Lincoln, son of another GOP legend, condemned what he called Roosevelt’s “unchecked democracy,” which he described as “a form of government … full of danger.”
Teddy Roosevelt lost the 1912 election, and Republicans breathed a collective sigh of relief, even though they blamed him for splitting the vote and allowing Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson to win the White House.
I have little doubt that if Teddy Roosevelt were to appear at this year’s GOP convention, most delegates would want to tar and feather him and ride him out of Tampa on a rail (or a pickup truck). TR is probably turning in his grave in disgust at what is happening to his beloved country.