The People's Experience: Progressives

Industrialization and urbanization wreaked devastating effects on the living and working conditions of many of the nation's poor.  A mulitfaceted political and social movement in the early twentieth century calling themselves the Progressives sought to improve the lives of those suffering from these effects.  With emphasis on slum clean-up (such as the one pictured here, Washington DC circa 1910) and labor reform and involving a high degree of participation and commitment by women, by 1912 the movement had organized politically as well as socially.  In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt and other Progressives split from the Republican Party and formed a third party, the Bull Moose, under which Roosevelt ran for the presidency (the cartoon at bottom pokes fun at Roosevelt as a Bull Moose).  By 1916, the Bull Moose (or Progressive) Party had lost a great deal of its influence.  The Party held its own convention in 1916, eventually nominating Roosevelt, however, the Bull Moose leadership realized that with the Republican party split, the Democratic party would continue to win elections.  A new institution for discussion, known as “Harmony Conferences,” was established as a communication gateway between Republican and Progressive leadership to steer the Republican Party towards policy accepted by both the Republicans and the Progressives.  Though nominated on the third party ticket, Roosevelt chose not to run in 1916 and threw his support behind Hughes.  The Bull Moose Party was dissolved.

Not all Progressives were ready to rejoin the Republican Party, and the Democratic campaign spent a great deal of time and resources attempting to win Progressive votes.  Stressing Wilson's liberal legislation record and the peace issue, Democrats were successful in gaining a great many Progressive votes, even carrying Roosevelt's stronghold: the West.

In the end, Progressives joined with the Democrats or the Republicans in 1916 for different reasons.  Many Progressives believed Republicans to be inseparable from eastern business interests.  Raymond Robins, Illinois Senator, labor leader, and chairman of the Progressive convention, sided with Hughes, arguing that the Democratic Party remained unable to aid all workers due to Southern Democrats' dependence on an African-American working class and Northern Democrats' use of corrupt political machines to control a manipulated immigrant class.  However, eleven out of nineteen original drafters of the Bull Moose Party platform of 1912 officially endorsed Wilson, stating that they were 

"...unalterably in favor of the retention in office of President Wilson, under whose guidance and leadership more Progressive principles have been enacted into law than we believe might have been enacted into law than we believe might have been accomplished had the Progressive party been in power."
(Columbus Citizen, October 31, 1916)

Click here to read about The People's Experience: Immigrant Americans.

Return to the 1916 Election


did you know?

Wilson was president throughout World War I. He attempted to keep America out of the war and even won reelection with the slogan "He kept us out of war." Nonetheless, after the sinking of the Lusitania, continued run-ins with German submarines, and the release of the Zimmerman Telegram, America became involved. with the Lusitania, the continued harassment of American ships by German submarines, and the release of the Zimmerman Telegram meant that America joined the allies in April, 1917.

Woodrow Wilson was President when the 19th amendment was ratified in 1920 giving women the right to vote.

Wilson piloted the ship that brought America onto the world stage. He made the first steps of leading us out of isolationism, violating Washington's tenet of avoiding foreign entanglements.

He led America during World War I. His fervent hope was for the US to join a League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations.

A Woodrow Wilson Quote: "Life does not consist in thinking, it consists in acting."

A Woodrow Wilson Quote: "The Constitution was not made to fit us like a straitjacket. In its elasticity lies its chief greatness."

A Woodrow Wilson Quote: "I believe in democracy because it releases the energies of every human being."

The Seventeenth Amendment was formally adopted on May 31, 1913. Wilson had been president for almost three months at the time. The amendment provided for the direct election of senators. Prior to its adoption, Senators were chosen by state legislatures.

Wilson was the first president to receive a PhD which he got in Political Science from Johns Hopkins University. He had received his undergraduate degree from the College of New Jersey, renamed Princeton University in 1896.

Woodrow Wilson could not read during the first decade of his life. Though undiagnosed, he may have suffered from a learning disability

Woodrow Wilson was known as "Tommy" until his college years.

Woodrow Wilson during his boyhood, helped establish the "Lightfoot Baseball Club" with his friends. Wilson played second base and was an avid sport fan throughout his adult life.

Woodrow Wilson was the first president to attend the Major League Baseball Fall Classic. He saw the debut of a young 20 year old pitcher by the name of George Herman "Babe" Ruth.

Woodrow Wilson was a graduate of Princeton University and Johns Hopkins University and the only president to hold an earned doctoral degree.

Woodrow Wilson image is on the $100,000 bill although it is no longer in circulation