PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN & ELECTIONS
OVERVIEWS & CHRONOLOGIES: 1908
By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS
Election Year: 1908
Election Day Date: November 3, 1908
Winning Ticket: William Taft (Unitarian, James Sherman, Republican: 7,678,335 51.57% 321 66.5%
- William Jennings Bryan, John Kern, Democratic: 6,408,979 43.04% 162 33.5%
- Eugene Debs, Benjamin Hanford, Socialist: 420,852 2.83% 0 0.0%
- Eugene Chafin, Aaron Watkins, Prohibition: 254,087 1.71% 0 0.0%
- Thomas Hisgen, John Graves, Independence: 82,574 0.55% 0 0.0%
- Other (+) – – 44,412 0.30% 0 0.0%
Voter Turnout: 65.4%
Central Forums/Campaign Methods for Addressing Voters:
Whistle-stop tour, stumping, speeches, posters, campaign paraphernalia
Election Law/Campaign Finance Changes: William Jennings Bryan rejected corporate contributions and published the names of donors of $100 or more by October 15.
Bryan wanted to raise money by dollar subscriptions.
Incumbent President and Vice President on Election Day:
Theodore Roosevelt, Charles W. Fairbanks, Republican, 1901-1909
Population: 1908: 88,710,000
GDP: 119 Nominal GDP (billions of dollars): $30.1 Real GDP (billions of 2005 dollars): $492.5 GDP Deflator (index 2005=100%) 6.12 Population (in thousands): 88,710 Nominal GDP per capita (current dollars): $340 Real GDP per capita (year 2005 dollars): $5,552
Number of Daily Newspapers: 2,600 (1910)
Average Daily Circulation: 24,211,977 (1910)
Method of Choosing Electors: Popular vote (mostly General Ticket/Winner Take All)
Method of Choosing Nominees:
- National Party Conventions;
- Presidential preference primary
Central Issues (Nomination/Primaries):
- Theodore Roosevelt, lame duck status after announcing soon after his reelection he would not run for another term
Leading Candidates (Nomination/Primaries):
Republican Party candidates:
- Joseph Gurney Cannon, Speaker of the House of Representatives (Illinois)
- Charles W. Fairbanks, Vice President (Indiana)
- Joseph B. Foraker, Senator (Ohio)
- Charles Evans Hughes, Governor of New York
- Philander C. Knox, Senator (Pennsylvania)
- Robert M. La Follette, Sr., Senator (Wisconsin)
- Leslie M. Shaw, former Secretary of the Treasury (Iowa)
- William H. Taft, Secretary of War (Ohio)
Democratic Party candidates:
- William J. Bryan, former U.S. representative and 1896 and 1900 presidential nominee (Nebraska)
- George Gray, former U.S. senator (Delaware)
- John Albert Johnson, Governor of Minnesota
Main Controversies (Nomination/Primaries):
- Anti-trust issue
Campaign Innovations (Nomination/Primaries):
- Direct election of delegates to the national convention, to democratize process and limit the power of the bosses and their political machines.
- Robert M. LaFollette, Sr. and Wisconsin’s Progressive Republicans created primaries to elect delegates to the party’s national convention, after the boss-controlled stalwart Republican delegation was seated at the 1904 convention rather than LaFollette’s progressive delegation.
- February 11, 1908: (Presidential Preference) Ohio, Howard Taft
- California, (primary w/out preference) Taft
- Wisconsin, (primary w/out preference) Senator Robert M. LaFollette, Sr.
- Pennsylvania, (primary w/out preference) Senator Philander C. Knox.
Major Personalities (Nomination/Primaries):
- Theodore Roosevelt; William Jennings Bryan; New York Governor Charles Evans Hughes; Senator Albert B. Cummins; Robert M. La Follette, Sr.
Turning Points (Nomination/Primaries):
- Roosevelt regretted his declaration to retire.
- Roosevelt sought a successor. His first choice Secretary of State Elihu Root was “not willing to pay the price.” His second choice, William Howard Taft, was also reluctant.
- Roosevelt hoped the convention would draft him but feared a defeat would tarnish his legacy
- Roosevelt orchestrated every aspect of the 1908 campaign, the convention, candidates, and general election strategy
- William Jennings Bryan’s profile increased after his 1904 world tour, and he beat Circuit Court Judge George Gray and Minnesota Governor John Johnson easily, for the nomination
- “Under no circumstances will I be a candidate or accept another nomination.” Theodore Roosevelt on election night 1904 to the White House Press Corps
- “The fixed principle — equal rights to all and special privileges to none.” William Jennings Bryan
- “I think the best man to receive it.” Theodore Roosevelt on choosing William Howard Taft as successor.
- “If Taft’s foolish opponents . . . are able to hold up the nomination until after the first ballot, there is a chance of a stampede for me, and if it really gets under way, nothing that I could do would stop it.” Theodore Roosevelt
- “He has built up a personal following unparalleled for one with a record of nothing but defeat, and with no patronage to strengthen his control.” Wall Street Journal about William Jennings Bryan
Conventions (Dates & Locations):
- Republican National Convention: June 16-19, 1908 Chicago Coliseum; Chicago 1st ballot, William Howard Taft (Ohio), James S. Sherman (New York)
- Democratic National Convention: July 7-10, 1908, Denver Arena Auditorium; Denver, Henry D. Clayton (Alabama) 1st ballot, William Jennings Bryan (Nebraska), (John W. Kern) (Indiana)
Convention Turning Points:
Republican National Convention:
- Theodore Roosevelt pushed the convention to nominate his chosen successor William Howard Taft.
- The party was split about nominating Taft, felt he was too much like Roosevelt and too conservative
- However, after Roosevelt’s endorsement of Taft they had to nominate him
- First time women served as full time delegates; Lucy Clark and Susa Young Gates of Utah
- First time state delegations where chosen through the primary system, some pledged to certain candidates
Democratic National Convention:
- William Jennings Bryan was easily nominated on the first Ballot
- John W. Kern, a former gubernatorial candidate from Indiana, nominated by acclamation as the Vice Presidential candidate
- Bryan gave up on the silver plank, and focused on social progressive reforms
Number of Ballots to Choose Nominees:
Republican Party nomination
Presidential 1st ballot
- William Howard Taft 702
- Philander Knox 68
- Charles Evans Hughes 67
- Joseph Gurney Cannon 58
- Charles W. Fairbanks 40
- Robert M. La Follette, Sr. 25
- Theodore Roosevelt 3
- Abstention 1
Vice Presidential 1st ballot
- James S. Sherman 702
- Edward F. Murphy 77
- Curtis Guild 75
- George L. Sheldon 10
- Charles W. Fairbanks 1
Democratic Party nomination
Presidential 1st Ballot
- William Jennings Bryan 892.5
- George Gray 50.5
- John A. Johnson 46
Vice Presidential Ballot
- John W. Kern 1002
Convention Keynote Speaker:
Nominating Speech Speakers (President):
- Republican Party: Endorsed: employer liability laws; safety appliance statutes, shorter work days; workman’s compensation for injuries; public works; eight-hour work day; equal justice, enforcement of the 13th, 14th 15th amendments of the Constitution.
- Democratic Party: endorses: Progressive reforms; social justice agenda; material prosperity; charitable programs; “necessary” taxation, nationalization of the railroads, Philippines’ independence; Denounced U.S. imperialism
Third Party Candidates & Nominations:
- Socialist Party: Presidential, Eugene Debs
- Debs stirred the campaign with a 350-city whistle-stop tour on the “Red Special” addressing about 800,000 people but received a smaller percentage of the vote than in 1904
General Election Controversies/Issues:
- Anti-trust legislation, trust busting; Roosevelt’s plotted Presidential succession
Campaign Innovations (General Election):
Although reluctant at first, both Taft and Bryan stumped
- Republican Party:
- Taft was not very good on the stump read long boring speeches, overloaded with too many facts, and made tactless remarks that offended
- Emphasized Taft’s experience as a judge, territorial governor, and Cabinet member, attacked Bryan’s inexperience (only four years in Congress)
- Roosevelt still dominated, actively campaigned for Taft, suggest Taft attacking Bryan. Critics said TAFT stood for “Take Advice From Theodore.”
- Taft confessed, “A national campaign for the Presidency to me is a nightmare.”
- Bryan stumped, delivering up to 30 speeches each day. Advocate reforms; attacked “government by privilege”.
Major Personalities (General Election): Theodore Roosevelt;
Turning Points (General Election):
- Taft adopted many of Bryan’s policy proposals, making the Republicans progressive too.
- Business continued to support the Republican party
- Democrats and Bryan failed to secure labor support.
- Democratic scandal in September: William Randolph Hearst published the Archbold letters from Standard Oil Company files exposing secret deals with politicians, including, Oklahoma Governor Charles N. Haskell, Bryan’s campaign manager. Haskell resigned.
- Roosevelt accused Bryan of “moral obliquity” for claiming innocence until proven guilty.
Popular Campaign Slogans:
- Republican Party: “Vote for Taft now, you can vote for Bryan anytime
- Bryan now called the “Balding Boy Orator”
- Taft talks about “tariff and prosperity”
- Democratic Party: “Shall the People Rule?” (Populist slogan)
- Republican: Get on a Raft with Taft (William H. Taft)
Influential Campaign Appeals or Ads:
- Bryanite Democrats: “THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY MUST BE PROGRESSIVE”
Money Spent (Each Campaign/Party/Overall):
- As of October 9, Bryan disclosed $248,467.25 in contributions from 50,000 donors.
Defining Quotation (Winning Candidate):
- “I am not a politician and I dislike politics. I do want to go on the bench and my ambition is to be Chief Justice of the United States. I would be of more service there to the United States than I could be as President.” William Howard Taft
- “You have always been the chief agent in working out the present status of affairs, and my selection and election are chiefly your work.” William Howard Taft in a note of gratitude to Theodore Roosevelt after winning the election
Defining Quotation (Losing Candidate):
- “A forced succession to the Presidency.” William Jennings Bryan
- “The real problem that confronts you is whether you can be a sage at fifty. If you can, your permanent reputation seems to me certain. If you cannot, then the outlook is different.” President of Columbia College, Nicholas Murray Butler to Roosevelt about a third term
- “No longer . . . will there stand between the voter and the official a political machine with a complicated system of caucuses and conventions, by the manipulation of which it thwarts the will of the voter and rules of official conduct.” Robert M. La Follette, Sr., 1905
- “It was a vote more against Bryan than for Taft,” Elihu Root.
Famous books that defined or resulted from the campaign:
Lasting Legacy of Campaign:
- Bryan’s last Presidential campaign. He seemed more popular, and his ideas were more broadly accepted but he suffered his biggest defeat.
- November 8, 1904: After winning the election Roosevelt promises the press and public, he will not run for President in the next election. Theodore Roosevelt has a lame duck status after announcing so soon after his reelection he will not run for another term.
- 1904: William Jennings Bryan undertakes a world tour, his profile increases as a result.
- July 7, 1905: “The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) forms in Chicago, Illinois, to counteract the conservative American Federation of Labor.”
- February 11, 1908: (Presidential Preference) Primary Ohio, Howard Taft
- 1908: California (primary w/out preference), Taft wins.
- 1908: Wisconsin, (primary w/out preference) Senator Robert M. LaFollette, Sr.
- 1908: Pennsylvania, (primary w/out preference) Senator Philander C. Knox.
- April 3-4, 1908: Populist Party Convention convenes in St. Louis Missouri and nominates Thomas Edward Watson for President.
- May 1, 1908: United Christian Party convention nominates Daniel Braxton Turney for President
- May 17, 1908: Socialist Party Convention nominates Eugene Victor Debs for President
- June 16-19, 1908: Republican National Convention convenes at the Chicago Coliseum in Chicago, Illinois and nominates on the 1st ballot, William Howard Taft (Ohio) for President, and James S. Sherman (New York) for Vice President. Roosevelt hopes the convention would draft him, but fears a defeat would tarnish his legacy. Roosevelt seeks a successor; his first choice Secretary of State Elihu Root is “not willing to pay the price.” His second choice, William Howard Taft, is also reluctant. Theodore Roosevelt pushes the convention to nominate his chosen successor William Howard Taft. The party is split about nominating Taft, they feel he was too much like Roosevelt, and too conservative. However, after Roosevelt endorses Taft, they feel they have to nominate him. Roosevelt orchestrates every aspect of the 1908 campaign, the convention, candidates, and the general election strategy.
- July 5, 1908: Social Labor Party Convention nominates August Gillhaus for President.
- July 7-10, 1908: Democratic National Convention convenes in Denver Arena Auditorium; Denver, Henry D. Clayton (Alabama) serves as chairman; on the 1st ballot, they nominate William Jennings Bryan (Nebraska) for President, and (John W. Kern) (Indiana) for Vice President. Bryan beat Circuit Court Judge George Gray and Minnesota Governor John Johnson easily, for the nomination on the first ballot; John W. Kern, a former gubernatorial candidate from Indiana, is nominated by acclamation as the Vice Presidential candidate
- July 16, 1908: Prohibition Convention nominates Eugene Wilder Chafin for President.
- July 28, 1908: William Howard Taft gives an address accepting the Republican Presidential Nomination.
- July 29, 1908: Ice Convention nominates Thomas L. Hisgen for President.
- Taft is not very good on the stump, reads long boring speeches, that are overloaded with too many facts, and makes tactless remarks that offends.
- Republicans emphasize Taft’s experience as a judge, territorial governor, and Cabinet member, attack Bryan’s inexperience (only four years in Congress)
- Roosevelt still dominates, actively campaigned for Taft, suggest Taft attacking Bryan. Critics said TAFT stood for “Take Advice From Theodore.”
- Taft confesses, “A national campaign for the Presidency to me is a nightmare.”
- Bryan stumps delivering up to 30 speeches each day. Advocate reforms; attacks “government by privilege”.
- Taft adopts many of Bryan’s policy proposals, making the Republicans progressive too.
- Democrats and Bryan fail to secure labor support.
- August 1908: Democratic scandal William Randolph Hearst publishes one of the the Archbold letters from Standard Oil Company files exposing secret deals with politicians, including, Oklahoma Governor Charles N. Haskell, Bryan’s campaign manager; Haskell resigns.
- October 2, 1912: Collier’s Weekly October 5th issue states that the Archbold letters (five of the “Standard Oil Letters”) that were printed in Hearst’s Magazine are faked forgeries.
- October 4, 1908: Hearst reads more of the letters. “Archbold Letters names Griscom, Cassatt, and Patten, Bailey is attacked in Texas by Hearst.” The letter to John D. Archbold describes a conversation President Roosevelt and ex-Congressman Joseph C. Sibley about the tariff.
- Roosevelt accuses Bryan of “moral obliquity” for claiming innocence until proven guilty.
- October 9, 1908: Bryan disclosed $248,467.25 in contributions from 50,000 donors.
- October 10, 1908: William Randolph Hearst speaks in Berkley, California on behalf of the Independence Party ticket where he reads more of the Archbold letters. (“Standard Oil Man Tells Senator McLaurin He Hopes He Won’t Be Found Wanting. CERTIFICATES OF DEPOSIT Used, Says Speaker, Because Checks Would Involve Publicity”)
- October 31, 1908: W.R. Hearst reads more of the Archbold letters at the final Independence League rally in Carnegie Hall. The letters include shocking and damaging revelations, including “a reply to Judge Morrison, promising to support his candidacy to the bench,” and “a Sibley Letter with a plan to subsidize/fund press bureaus of various publications.”
- November 3, 1908 Election Day; Republicans William Howard Taft is elected President, and James S. Sherman is elected Vice President.
- January 11, 1909: Presidential Electors cast the electoral vote in their state capitols.