Wilson, then governor of New
Jersey, was the Democratic PartyÝs candidate for the presidential election of
1912. The country faced problems that the founding fathers
had never imagined. The changes in urbanization and industrialization that the
United States had undergone since the 1880s were so massive that
government urgently needed to develop new approaches to its role. America had
to reorder itself, many believed, and so did progressive Woodrow
raised the discourse of the election beyond personality to political philosophy.
Representing big business and the status quo was the conservative Republican
incumbent, President William Howard Taft.
In the middle and appealing to the reform-minded majority of
Americans was former president Theodore Roosevelt
nominated by the newly founded Progressive Party, also known as the
Bull Moose Party. On the extreme left was the labor leader and
Socialist Party nominee Eugene Debs, who told his supporters
it was time for the working class to run America.
Wilson and Roosevelt, both reformers, were trying to win the
voters in the middle. Wilson was perceived as cold and aloof; one
reporter said shaking his hand was like shaking a dead fish. In
contrast, the charismatic Roosevelt appealed to people with his
bluster and back-slapping. WilsonÝs best hope against Roosevelt was
to crisscross the country, speaking directly to the voters about a
"New Freedom" designed to help what he called "the man on the make."
This was a middle-class man who aspired to the property or
business-owning class. By the summer of 1912, Wilson had carved out
a solid center of people who wanted change.
On election night, Wilson retreated home to his Princeton
residenceto await the nationÝs verdict with his family.
After dinner he read Ellen and his daughters a poem by Browning
about the importance of accepting GodÝs will.
When the results were in, three-quarters of the American
electorate had voted for parties of change. There was clearly a
mandate for reform, but not necessarily for Wilson. He had garnered
six million votes, but together Taft and Roosevelt had polled a
million more. And there were another million who had chosen Debs and
Woodrow Wilson was president because the Republican Party had