The Fog Of Historical Pictures: The 1912 Presidential Election

There’s a swell story at Politico Magazine about the 1912 election and what, if any, lessons this year’s insurgent Republican candidate can learn from it. The analogy is not quite on point: TR was a mouthy former Oval One instead of a mouthy reality teevee star. But the story was good anyway.

1912 was one of the most interesting and important elections in our history. It was the battle of titans with three Presidents, Taft, TR, and Wilson vying for the prize. It showed the limits of third parties in our electoral system and marked the birth of a new Democratic party after losing eleven of thirteen elections since 1860.

So much for exposition, on to the images. They’re not all pictures but this feature was never meant to be literal. There are a lot of interesting ones out there so I’ll post two per major candidate.

We begin with the winner, Woodrow Wilson. He’s back in the news now that Princeton has decided to keep his name on its public policy school. Princeton had an adult conversation about Wilson’s virtues and flaws and made the right call. In 1912, he was a helluva candidate but I’m not quite sure if he was another Washington; both, however, were austere, dignified men born in Virginia:

Wilson compared

Sheet music was popular at the time. I bet this campaign tune was a real toe-tapper:


The second place finisher in 1912 was, of course, former President Theodore Roosevelt running on the Progressive party aka Bull Moose ticket. TR was not one for party building and returned to the GOP in 1916.

It’s sheet music time again. I bet it was a martial march:


TR was clearly the most flamboyant candidate in the race as you can see below:


The sitting President, William Howard Taft, got smoked in the 1912 election. He finished third and won only 8 electoral vote. His girth was the subject of much mirth but he was a tragic figure in 1912. TR used to be one of his closest friends but that ended when he challenged Taft for the Republican nomination.

This first image features an attack on TR for seeking a third term when he vowed to never do so:


The next image tickled me. Taft was known to friends and family as Will, but not on this poster:


It’s lagniappe time. Socialist party candidate Eugene V. Debs finished fourth in the popular vote with 6%:


Finally, here’s the 1912 electoral map. It eschews the red state/blue state model, which only became standard in 2000:

1912 electoral map

That concludes this edition of the fog of historical pictures. Class dismissed.