Rough Rider and all around macho man, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, was one of the most prominent male supporters of women’s rights and suffrage. His senior thesis at Harvard argued for equal rights and that women shouldn’t have to change their name when they married. During his early political career in New York State Assembly, he advocated for legislation that would have punished men who beat their wives to be severely beaten in retribution. (It did not pass.) As police commissioner, he hired women in executive positions within the New York City Police Department and as a 3rd party presidential candidate in 1912 he openly supported the suffrage movement. This is a full year before Alice Paul’s National Woman’s Party revives the moribund idea of a federal amendment for suffrage. Teddy was indeed progressive.
Roosevelt had made a name for himself as a military hero, naturalist, and statesman. He had a solid reputation of fighting corruption in both private and political spheres. He was well-liked by the general public and very politically ambitious. He was also very troublesome to party politics. Republican Party leaders put him on the 1900 Presidential ballot as the vice president pick for candidate William McKinley knowing it was a largely ceremonial office at the time with no real power. (This is the historic Republican Party that believed in taxes, big government, and advocated for progressive social reforms.) McKinley won. At first Roosevelt was frustrated by his role as sidekick. By a twist of fate, McKinley gets assassinated in 1901. Roosevelt is only 42 when he becomes the youngest President of the United States.
He immediately flipped the script on everything starting with renaming the executive mansion the “White House,” and opening its doors to the public. He entertained cowboys, artists, writers, and explorers. His children boisterously played on the front lawn. He broke up the railroad monopoly, established the national parks system, and created the “square deal” where labor and corporations could come together and find ways to offer both protections for workers and fair profits for companies. It was a young and vibrant presidency but not without mistakes. The end of his second term was marred by several bad calls on his part which included racist ideas. He also used his “Bully Pulpit” to consolidate executive power and overextend the reach of the Presidency beyond the established checks and balances. When his presidency ended in 1909, he took several months off and went on safari.
In 1912 he decided to run for president again because the current Republican President Taft was siding with more conservative politicians and compromising many of Roosevelt’s gains. Roosevelt lost the Republican Party nomination which sided with the more moderate choice of renominating President Taft, so he started a third party, the Progressive Party also known as the Bull Moose Party. This was the first major party to openly support suffrage as part of it’s platform. He had hoped to attract more reform-minded Democrats as well as progressive Republicans. However Woodrow Wilson was a popular Democratic nominee and offered his own reform ideas. Taft was the “safe” pick for moderate Republicans. While Roosevelt strongly favored women’s suffrage, both Taft and Wilson were openly against it.
The progressive vote was split between Taft and Roosevelt causing Wilson to win by an Electoral College landslide. However a look at the actual vote numbers reveals that Wilson only got 41% of the popular vote whereas Taft got 23% and Roosevelt got 27%. 50% percent of voters wanted the more progressive platform but ultimately lost the election to a conservative because they were not united behind a single candidate. (A modern example of a third party splitting the vote occured in 1992 when Ross Perot took 20% of the popular vote. George Bush Sr. got 37% and Bill Clinton won with only 43%.)
Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) which is being considered by many states and has currently been passed by several states is a remedy to prevent split tickets from thwarting the will of the people and encourages more viable 3rd and 4th party options on the ballot. Elections would naturally become more competitive and platforms would have to truly relate to the voters with a larger field of electable candidates.
Here is a resource to explain Ranked Choice Voting and how it can help voters have more real choice at the polls. A third or fourth party candidate would no longer be a wasted vote. It would hold current political parties more accountable to the actual electorate. If a third party candidate spoke to the majority of independent-minded voters, gerrymandering, and voting along party lines would no longer guarantee re-election.
Who knows what would have happened if conservative candidate Wilson had lost the 1912 election to either moderate Taft or progressive Roosevelt. Would suffrage have happened sooner? Later? Not at all?
This week’s song pick:
“Body is a Blade” by Japanese Breakfast https://youtu.be/KmXnuD-JpOs
Episode 59 Sources: