1912 : Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft & Debs-- the election that changed the country /

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Main Author: Chace, James.
Format: Book
Language:English
Published:New York : Simon & Schuster, c2004.
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Review by Choice Review

Chace (formerly, government and public law, Bard College) maintains that the candidates in the 1912 presidential election discussed issues that helped establish much of the political agenda of the 20th-century US. Progressive idealism proposed by Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson clashed with conservative values espoused by William Howard Taft. Eugene Debs attracted more votes for the radical proposals of socialism than had been garnered in any previous election. The issues and their resolution determined how, or even whether, the country would adapt to the demands of the new century yet maintain the democratic principles established by the founders. Would pollution from increased industrialization and population choke the environment? How should the government act to regulate or break down the gigantic business interests created by the trusts? Should women vote? Chace does not ignore the personalities involved in this campaign. They all receive their due: Roosevelt, eager to return to the presidency and lead the country in a more progressive direction; Taft, torn between progressive impulses and his conservative foundations; Wilson, ambitious political newcomer; and Debs, veteran labor leader and Socialist Party candidate. This book is a welcome addition to studies of the US during the early 20th century. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. All levels and libraries. J. P. Sanson Louisiana State University at Alexandria

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Some histories interpret new evidence and add to our store of knowledge. Some, relying on others' research, simply tell a known story. Chace's work is the best of the latter kind: a lively, balanced and accurate retelling of an important moment in American history. Even though the 1912 election wasn't the election that changed the country (there have been several), it was a critical one. It gave us Woodrow Wilson, though only by a plurality of the popular vote (albeit a huge electoral majority) and so gave us U.S. intervention in WWI and Wilsonian internationalism. Because of former president Theodore Roosevelt's rousing candidacy as nominee of the short-lived Bull Moose, or Progressive, Party, the campaign deepened the public's acceptance of the idea of a more modern and activist presidency. Because Eugene Debs, the great Socialist, gained more votes for that party (6% of the total) than ever before or since, the election marked American socialism's political peak. What of the ousted incumbent, William Howard Taft? Chace (Acheson, etc.) succeeds in making him a believable, sympathetic character, if a lackluster chief executive. What made the 1912 campaign unusual was that candidates of four, not just two, parties vied for the presidency. The race was also marked by a basic decency, honesty and quality of debate not often seen again. Chace brings sharply alive the distinctive characters in his fast-paced story. There won't soon be a better-told tale of one of the last century's major elections. Agent, Suzanne Gluck, William Morris. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Presidential politics in one crucial year of the Progressive Era--before TV, polls, and consultants: not a horse race so much as a contact sport. Veteran journalist and editor Chace (Govt. and International Affairs/Bard Coll.; Acheson: The Secretary of State Who Created the American World, 1998, etc.) does not present a fresh interpretation of the 1912 election, but he offers a lively recounting of this pivotal, bitter contest that hinged on how to overcome economic inequality and featured significant third-party involvement. The rivals included conservative Republican President William Howard Taft; his predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt, who broke with his old friend over conservation and trust-busting issues, then bolted the GOP to form the Progressive Party; New Jersey governor Woodrow Wilson, whose brilliant oratory called for more stringent antitrust legislation; and fiery socialist Eugene Debs, who preached trade unionism to audiences as large as 100,000. Chace captures the way that rivals' egos could shade into substantive quarrels over the use of presidential power. He conveys a pre-photo-op era of candidates' barnstorming coast to coast by train with messianic zeal, with Roosevelt even delivering one speech after being wounded by a would-be assassin. The nation depicted here seems more divided than the ballyhooed "red" and "blue" America of 2000. Debs took six percent of the vote--the highest proportion ever given to a Socialist candidate. TR split the GOP vote with Taft, helping to usher in the eight-year Wilson administration. With perfectly chosen anecdotes, Chace moves nimbly among the candidates, their advisers, and diehard supporters (at a Michigan GOP meeting, a Taft supporter threw a body block at a Roosevelt speaker). At the same time, he underscores the race's larger, often enduring, issues (far ahead of their time, the Progressive platform called for limits on campaign spending). Twenty years later, the New Deal incorporated elements of Roosevelt's "New Nationalism" with Wilson's "New Freedom" programs. Yet another consequence of the race was more fateful, Chace notes: TR's loss meant that for the next century, the GOP would be riven between "reform and reaction." Entertaining, insightful history about a defining moment in 20th-century politics. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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