At the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century Americans were experiencing the rapid growth of industry, corruption in the political system, and chaos in the social structure of the country. These effects of modernization saw the rise in reform movements that would ultimately lead to the creation of a third-party system called the Progressive Party. The Progressive Party would reach its high point during the 1912 United States Presidential election, with tenets that although considered controversial and by some to be too radical, would ultimately lead to programs and policies still in existence today.
The Progressive Party would be the focal point of the political climate during the early part of the century but would eventually disappear completely by the middle portion of the 20th century.
By the end of the Civil War in 1865 and not long after the reconstruction period, America saw a rapid growth in industry, and more specifically in the growth of large corporations and railroads. Along with this growth came corruption and waste not only within the corporations but within the federal government as well.
In 1904 Theodore Roosevelt stated that he would not seek another term as President and had hand-picked his successor in the Republican Party, William Howard Taft, to carry on Roosevelt’s progressive ideals. Progressivism was in full swing by 1908 on both sides of the political spectrum as well as within the independent sector. Taft easily won the 1908 presidential election over William Jennings Bryan, but problems immediately arose when Taft found that he could not appease both the progressives and the conservatives of the Republican Party. He eventually would begin to favor the conservative arm of the Republican Party.
During this time, Theodore Roosevelt was on safari in Africa and on his return maintained that he had no interest in reentering politics despite the obvious climate of unrest associated with Taft and the Republican Party. Ultimately, Taft’s conservative policies, and his opposition to the Payne-Aldrich tariff bill, would lead Roosevelt to embark on a speaking tour in which he spoke of his progressive philosophy. His philosophy was called New Nationalism, and the central issues addressed were human welfare, property rights and social justice.
As the divide within the Republican Party continued to grow, Roosevelt eventually announced that he would indeed seek the Republican nomination for president in the 1912 election despite his original assertion that he would not re-enter the political realm. However, Roosevelt lost his nomination to the incumbent Taft so he, along with most of his delegates, walked out of the Republican Convention, left the Republican Party and created a new party dubbed the Progressive Party. The newly formed party was also referred to as the “Bull Moose Party” in reference to Roosevelt’s response to journalists asking him if he was still fit to hold office. Roosevelt replied, “I’m as fit as a bull moose”. The party nominated Roosevelt for President and Governor Hiram W. Johnson of California for Vice President. Johnson remained a member of the Republican Party because his supporters had control of the California Republican Party.
The Progressive Party included such notables as Frank A. Munsey, George W. Perkins, Jane Addams and activists Gifford Pinchot and his brother Amos Pinchot. “The conscience of the people, in a time of grave national problems, has called into being a new party, born of the nation’s sense of justice”. So began the platform on which the Progressive Party would base its existence