239 Days in America

A Social Media Documentary following 'Abdu'l-Bahá in 1912

August 7, 1912
Chicago, IL
Storify Feature

The Progressive Party Acclaims Theodore Roosevelt

THE MOMENT THEODORE Roosevelt appeared on stage, a sea of red bandanas erupted from the ten thousand people who filled the Chicago Coliseum. It was one o’clock in the afternoon on Sunday, August 6, 1912. TR stood smiling, waving, and shaking hands for fifty-eight minutes before the demonstrations, the songs, and the cheering died down enough for him to finally step forward and speak.


The National Progressive Party Convention was the fourth convention of this unusual election year. The Socialists had named their presidential candidate in May, the Republicans in June, and the Democrats at the beginning of July. A few hours after losing the Republican nomination to President Taft on Saturday, June 22, Roosevelt and his supporters had met in Chicago’s Orchestra Hall and started a new political party.

“The victory shall be ours,” he told them. “We fight in honorable fashion for the good of mankind; fearless for the future; unheeding of our individual fates; with unflinching hearts and undimmed eyes; we stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord!”

“Never before had Roosevelt used such evangelical language, or dared to present himself as a holy warrior,” Edmund Morris writes in his 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of the Colonel. “Intentionally or not, he invested progressivism with a divine aura.”

More than a month later, as the Progressive Party convened in Chicago, the transcendent glow remained. “It was not a convention at all,” the New York Times deduced on August 6. “It was an assemblage of religious enthusiasts. . . . It was a Methodist camp meeting done over into political terms.” The New York delegation marched into the Coliseum singing “Onward, Christian Soldiers”; “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” rang out repeatedly.

Roosevelt’s speech, entitled “A Confession of Faith,” lasted for two hours, partly because the Coliseum interrupted him with applause 145 times. Jane Addams of Hull House sat in the front row. The next day, August 7, she became the first woman to second the nomination of a presidential candidate. “I have been fighting for progressive principles for thirty years,” she said as she left the stage. “This is the biggest day in my life.”

But in spite of the prolonged cheers, the red swarm of waving flags, and the militant hymns, the fanfare in Chicago on this first weekend in August belied the mundane reality at the heart of the 1912 election. Months before any American would have a chance to cast a vote for President, the outcome had already been determined.

“My public career will end next election day,” Theodore Roosevelt had admitted to a visitor on July 3. The previous afternoon, on July 2 in Baltimore, the Democratic Party had nominated Woodrow Wilson. Wilson’s record of progressive reform as Governor of New Jersey had brought him to national prominence. Roosevelt, by splitting the Republican vote, had handed the pen to the Democrats, and they, by nominating the progressive Wilson, had sealed the deal.

“In writing the history of a presidential election,” scholar Lewis L. Gould explains, “one can easily convey the impression that a majority of the American people felt a passionate interest in the outcome.” But fewer Americans cared in 1912. “To some degree,” he argues, “Americans were now more spectators than participants in the operation of this presidential race.”

After 1912, Gould writes, “Americans would be less politically mobilized, participation would recede, and the nature of government itself would become more bureaucratic and removed from the people.” Like so many of the legacies of the 1912 presidential election, the decline of voter participation in national elections continues to this day.


  • Rooplall Dudhnath

    Agree, that  in 1912 ,there were unusual political and social fervor in America as the historic visit of Abdul Baha unraveled……….it may be interesting reading too, for some of us reading this today,  ie one hundred years hence if we can also learn/read of the religous ones too.
    What were the religous leaders thinking, and what were the social scientist thinking? what were the lay man thinking too of the man that trod the “spiritual path with practical feet”.

    i am intrested!………..Thanks…..

  • Tim

    The 17th Amendment, giving the people the right of direct election of their senators, had passed Congress in May and was in the process that summer of being ratified by the states before being added to the Constitution in April of 1913. This democratic change did invigorate the interest of the populace in elections and impacted the evolution of the primary system which did affect electors’ capacity to select their representatives.

  • Dean Hedges

    “We hear from thee the voice of heroes, raised in glorification of thy Lord, the All-Possessing, the Most Exalted.”

  • Loiemead

    This is the question for each of us to answer! If I become a truly keen observer, I can  identify the signs of progress; the signs are discernible if I stay the course.  It calls for training, practice, and patience, but there is certainty about the result.  As an observer I will feel compelled to act. 

    How is pre-occupation with entertainment  affecting our ability to manage family affairs?  World affairs?

  • Drdj17

    I am interested in this article in light of the principle that discourages us from engaging in partisan politics. How do we in good faith participate without immersing ourselves in polarizing campaigns?

    • Karridine

       Discuss PRINCIPLES… compare Spiritual Qualities of candidates… dissect and analyze underlying dynamics, motives, goals, aims, outcomes…

      In this way we stay outside, and maybe above, the mean, name-calling, mud-slinging barbarous bruhaha and yet strive to steer fellow citizens toward the best-available solutions in this day, time…

      • http://www.facebook.com/ellen.price.391 Ellen Price

        I agree that the way to avoid partisan politics is to discuss spiritual principles, but I’m afraid that your suggestion that we “compare Spiritual Qualities of candidates… dissect and analyze underlying dynamics, motives, goals, aims, outcomes” will still turn into a divisive partisan debate since those who lean towards one candidate or the other seem only capable of recognizing positive qualities in their favored candidate and incapable of recognizing or acknowledging positive qualities in the other.

        The other problem is that it’s so hard to find the truth and unbiased facts about candidates and their various positions and stands. And the news media isn’t very helpful in this regard! As Baha’u’llah (1817-1892) said about newspapers: “In this Day the secrets of the earth are laid bare before the eyes of men. The pages of swiftly-appearing newspapers are indeed the mirror of the world. They reflect the deeds and the pursuits of divers peoples and kindreds. They both reflect them and make them known. They are a mirror endowed with hearing, sight and speech. This is an amazing and potent phenomenon. However, it behoveth the writers thereof to be purged from the promptings of evil passions and desires and to be attired with the raiment of justice and equity. They should enquire into situations as much as possible and ascertain the facts, then set them down in writing.” (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 39)

  • robert

    There are a multitude of like-minded organizations we can become involved with that promote Baha’i principles like the elimination of all forms of prejudice, the equality of men and women, care and respect for the environment, world peace, universal education, the oneness of religion, etc., etc.  This is one way we can become involved and participate in world affairs.