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1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft and Debs -The Election that Changed the Country Hardcover – May 4, 2004

3.8 out of 5 stars 46 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Some histories interpret new evidence and add to our store of knowledge. Some, relying on others' research, simply tell a known story. Chace's work is the best of the latter kind: a lively, balanced and accurate retelling of an important moment in American history. Even though the 1912 election wasn't the election that changed the country (there have been several), it was a critical one. It gave us Woodrow Wilson, though only by a plurality of the popular vote (albeit a huge electoral majority) and so gave us U.S. intervention in WWI and Wilsonian internationalism. Because of former president Theodore Roosevelt's rousing candidacy as nominee of the short-lived Bull Moose, or Progressive, Party, the campaign deepened the public's acceptance of the idea of a more modern and activist presidency. Because Eugene Debs, the great Socialist, gained more votes for that party (6% of the total) than ever before or since, the election marked American socialism's political peak. What of the ousted incumbent, William Howard Taft? Chace (Acheson, etc.) succeeds in making him a believable, sympathetic character, if a lackluster chief executive. What made the 1912 campaign unusual was that candidates of four, not just two, parties vied for the presidency. The race was also marked by a basic decency, honesty and quality of debate not often seen again. Chace brings sharply alive the distinctive characters in his fast-paced story. There won't soon be a better-told tale of one of the last century's major elections.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–According to Chace, the election of 1912 was "a defining moment in American history." When Theodore Roosevelt's choice for successor, William Howard Taft, failed to support his reforms, Roosevelt left the GOP convention to run against Taft on the Bull Moose Progressive ticket. This bitter split in the Republican party was ultimately responsible for Woodrow Wilson's unexpected victory. A fourth candidate, Eugene V. Debs, an experienced and influential orator who was later imprisoned for espionage, ran as a Socialist representing labor. Chace makes this election come alive through careful research and clear writing. Describing the primaries, the personalities, the conventions, the campaigns, the issues, the race, and the aftermath, the book often reads like a suspense novel. Readers will be able to make valid comparisons between the 2004 presidential race and the 1912 election. Illustrations include good-quality, black-and-white photos of the candidates, their wives, and their families; several political cartoons; and a campaign poster of Debs. This is a valuable resource for those interested in the American electoral process and for American history and government students.–Pat Bender, The Shipley School, Bryn Mawr, PA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (May 4, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743203941
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743203944
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 9.6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,734,238 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By MarkK VINE VOICE on August 25, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Though ostensibly about the 1912 presidential election, James Chace's book is really about the contest between two of the candidates in that race - Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson - and the ideologies that they espoused. This focus is understandable, given how these two major figures dominate the political history of the period, but it stints the forces represented in the candidacies of William Howard Taft and Eugene Debs, both of whom (Taft especially) get short shrift by comparison.

This in itself may not have been a problem had Chace provided a thoughtful analysis of the campaign. Instead, he has written a familiar, if engaging, narrative of events. All of the standard anecdotes are here, with little explanation of what they might reveal about the people mentioned. Worse, there is no sense of the broader background beyond a few vague statements about the progressive movement. Nor has Chace undertaken any original research, preferring instead to rely on the many books that have already been written about this memorable cast of characters.

The result is disappointing. The author has done little to show how the 1912 election was, as the subtitle states, "the election that changed the country." While a readable account of the events of a remarkable campaign (one that saw the near-assassination of Roosevelt and the death of a vice president), it provides no deeper examination of the candidates or the nation and offers nothing that hasn't been written elsewhere already. In the end, while the book makes for entertaining reading it is not the thoughtful analysis this momentous contest deserves.
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Despite the apocalyptic title, the fact is that for all of the candidates for the presidency the nominations and subsequent campaign of 1912 could not come fast enough. For everything claimed about the 1912 election being a benchmark of later twentieth century electoral trends, the candidates themselves were men running on empty or close to it. Where the four candidates themselves [three, realistically, at any rate] were concerned, the prize of the White House was a reprieve from decline, oblivion, or in Debs' case, jail.

One can argue whether Eugene Debs deserves the attention he commands in this work. On election day he tallied about what one would expect from the least known candidate in a four man race, and there is no reading of the results that suggests Debs' share of the vote seriously affected the outcome. But the Socialist candidate is a charming fellow in his own way, an Adlai Stevenson in coveralls or a cheap suit, and James Chace gives him extended exposure to a current generation that has forgotten the struggles of American Labor.

Debs was a combination of things: laborer, philosopher, public office holder, labor leader, and perennial presidential candidate. The 1912 election would be his fourth run for the White House, though even Debs realized that his presidential campaigns were more about exposure on the bully pulpit than the prize itself. Chace provides a biography that briefly chronicles not just the colorful career of Debs but a thumbnail sketch of the labor-management problems coming to a boil in mainstream electoral politics.

Unfortunately for Debs in 1912, the issue of populism was now becoming semi-respectable, and others with more name recognition were willing to take the banner that Debs had manfully carried alone in past elections.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Chace does a good job of detailing why the election of 1912 was so important to the United States. He describes the four participants in the election of 1912: Wilson, Taft, Roosevelt, and Debs. Bryan was also a factor in the Democratic nomination of Wilson. The main focus of this book is how these leaders would affect change in America. Taft was the conservative and Debs was the radical. Roosevelt and Wilson were the candidates for the Progressive faction of the country. Chace describes each candidate and all his positives and negatives. I didn't know Wilson was such a reactionary on race and immigrant relations, while Roosevelt was generally very liberal on these issues. All in all a good book about the campaign and why the Republican Party veered to the right.

For those interested in the politics of America, this is a good read. The reader would be surprised to find that the red and blue states have actually changed over the years. In the past, the South was reactionary and the West was Progressive while the East and Midwest favored the conservative (Republican) issues. Not so today. Hats off to Chace for writing a good read.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is absolutely worth your time to read if you have an interest in the Progressive Era and the very important election of 1912. If you have a good working knowledge of the characters involved then you won't find anything new here. "1912" serves more as either an introduction to the subject or a refresher. If you have the time and the interest I would suggest a biography of each of the four main players and possibly one on William Jennings Bryan who was an extremely important player of the era who gets beat up some in this book.
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