100 Years Ago: Fear of a Republican Spoiler

Some of the controversies of the 2016 presidential campaigns echo the concerns of the run-up to the 1916 presidential election. Then, as now, there was a fear that the Republican vote would be split because of one charismatic man.

Weekly Newsletter

The best of The Saturday Evening Post in your inbox!


Contested conventions, a possible split in the party vote, a self-funded campaign, collaborating opponents, name-calling, border walls, and bathroom rights — many of the controversies that are part and parcel of this year’s presidential campaigns are unprecedented in U.S. history.

Many, but not all. Some of the party politics and controversy of this year’s presidential election echo concerns of the same election a century ago.

In 1916, Democrat Woodrow Wilson was running for reelection with the campaign slogan, “He kept us out of the war,” and his firm neutrality had earned him popular support across the country.

To unseat him, the Republicans nominated Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes, who resigned from the Court to run for office. They hoped Hughes, a moderate progressive, could bring the White House back to the Republicans.

They also hoped Teddy Roosevelt would stay away.

The Republicans had lost the 1912 presidential election when Teddy Roosevelt decided to challenge his former friend William H. Taft for the Republican nomination. Roosevelt was extremely popular, even after spending a term away from the White House. But Taft had worked hard to build support within the Republican Party.

When the Republican establishment gave the nomination to Taft, Roosevelt left the convention and formed his own Progressive Party (unofficially known as the Bull Moose Party). When the votes were tallied, Taft and Roosevelt had split the Republican vote, while the Democrats remained united behind Woodrow Wilson.

Four years later, Republicans worried that the unpredictable Roosevelt would return to divide the Republican vote again.

They needn’t have worried. Roosevelt turned down nomination by his Progressive Party, sending it into disarray. Instead, he came back to the Republican Party and threw his support behind Hughes, bringing many former Bull Moose supporters with him.

These cartoons reflect Republicans’ political uncertainty before Roosevelt stunned the Progressive Party by turning down its nomination.



February 5, 1916: Early in the election year, Republicans feared a pro-Roosevelt faction among their voters might break out at any moment. The fretful gentlemen with the “Republican National Committee” are Pennsylvania Senator Boies Penrose and New York Senator Elihu Root, who was considered a promising candidate at the time.



February 12, 1916: Imagining Roosevelt would run again, cartoonist Herbert Johnson showed him picking possible running mates. Here, Root has been ruled out, while others await the selection process: Sen. William Borah (ID), Sen. Albert Cummins (IA), Charles Fairbanks (Roosevelt’s former vice president), Paul Morton (former Secretary of the Navy), James Sherman (Taft’s vice president), and Rep. John Weeks (VT). Hughes observes from the sidelines.



March 3, 1916: The Republican Party’s worst fears realized, though only in cartoon form.



June 3, 1916: Published just before the Progressive Party convention, the cartoon reflects Teddy Roosevelt’s continued support from Republicans. The Republican elephant’s picture is signed, “Ever Thine, 1908,” referencing his presidential victory that year; the Bull Moose in the Progressive’s picture is signed, “To My Hero of 1912,” the year of Roosevelt’s unsuccessful run with that party.



August 12, 1916: By August, Roosevelt had thrown his support behind Hughes but still hadn’t healed his rift with former protégé Taft or his supporters.



November 4, 1916: Just prior to election day, Johnson showed Hughes and Wilson displaying their wares to voters. Meanwhile, on the opposite page, the old T.R. stove keeps country voters warm with his talk of the need for America to intervene in the war.


Lastly, we include a curiosity from 1916 that presents a rare and informative look at Roosevelt’s record as a successful diplomat. This paid promotion shows Teddy not as a militant imperialist, but as one of the world’s most successful peace brokers.

“Why Roosevelt Would Be Our Best Guarantee of Peace” is highly unusual for several reasons. First, it is one of very few political ads to have appeared in the Post. Second, it is a lengthy (four-page) endorsement of a candidate who had, at this time, expressed no strong interest in running again. Third, it presents Roosevelt, who many considered to be strongly pro-war, as a strong peace candidate.

Only T.R., according to the Roosevelt Non-Partisan League, had the negotiating skills and reputation for fairness that could bring “an early and just settlement of the present European War, as he helped to bring about the termination of the Russo-Japanese War.”

In the end, even though Roosevelt’s return to the Republican Party and abandonment of his Progressive Party largely closed the rift he had cause in the 1912 election, it still was not enough to overshadow Woodrow Wilson’s popularity as the president who kept us out of the European War.


Why Roosevelt Would Be Our Best Guarantee of Peace

An Open Letter to Patriotic Americans

Originally published May 13, 1916


We believe that Theodore Roosevelt as our next President will be our country’s best guarantee of peace with the world.

That belief, based upon the actual character of the man, is absolutely proved by his own deeds when he was President. By the “character of the man,” we don’t mean mere professions. For, in July 1914, all the rulers of Europe that are now in war professed how much they wanted peace. So, professions of peace, unless they are backed up by the deeds that compel peace, are only froth.

By the “character of the man,” we do mean that character which is revealed by an unvarying, straight line of actions. In America, that is all that counts. Lincoln once said, “In lieu of a written platform, a man’s record is his platform.”

Some Obsolete Misconceptions

Theodore Roosevelt’s record for peace has been a sore disappointment to his enemies. Since the beginning of his career, they have predicted, again and again, that he was a “dangerous man who would lead the country into trouble.”

Because of his consistent doctrine that among nations weakness invites aggression, that unpreparedness invites attack, he has been called by his enemies “a menace to peace.”

Thus, when he was nominated for Governor of New York in 1898, three years before he became President, Carl Schurz wrote:

Roosevelt virtually asks us to endorse, by electing him, his kind of militant imperialism which has no bounds. According to him, we need a big navy, “a far larger regular army than we have now,” not for the purpose of keeping order at home, but for action abroad. I would not put him in a position, nor open to him the way to a position, in which he would exercise any influence upon the foreign policy of the Republic; for I candidly believe that he is very dangerously deficient in that patient prudence which is necessary for the peaceful conduct of international affairs.

I cannot support him when his election is generally admitted to be a stepping stone to a place in which his hot impulses and his extreme notions of militant imperialism might do the country more irreparable harm than anything I can think of.

That same year, 1898, The New York Times said, editorially:

Mr. Roosevelt presents himself as a great fighting man, a believer in keeping the flag wherever it has been planted, and in maintaining a big army and navy. … He is presented as a foe of closer relations for peace with our close kin across the sea, and as a man of notable dash.

In the presidential campaign of 1904, Col. Henry Watterson declared:

For the life of me I cannot see how any self-respecting mugwump can vote for Roosevelt. … Parker, the jurist, means peace with all nations, entangling alliances with none. Roosevelt, the warlord, means corruptions at home, complications abroad.

Three years later, in 1907, when Roosevelt sent the battleship fleet on its cruise around the world, the New York Sun said, in an editorial:

We are asked to believe that the expedition to the Pacific is a mere “practice cruise.” He must be a miracle of innocent credulity who believes it. What observant men perceive in this dangerous situation is a cataclysm, trained and bridled for Theodore Roosevelt to bestride and run amuck.

Right here, before going any further, the interesting aftermath of these predictions must be remarked:

Carl Schurz, seven years later, wrote congratulations to Roosevelt on his arrest of the Russo-Japanese War. The Times, after seeing his triumphant presidential record for arbitration, and for the promotion of closer friendship “across the sea,” heartily endorsed his staunchness for peace. The Sun, after longer observation of him, said, “When charged with responsibility, he is as cautious and canny as any doctor of philosophy.”

But the above sayings are samples of the many misconceptions regarding Roosevelt in former years. Many uninformed Americans still cherish them — so persistent is the memory of an old party-cry. These misconceptions are now revived and fostered by enemies who choose to forget the stainless record.

The Record of Facts

But what are the facts? They show a peace record that is 100 percent perfect.

During the seven and one-half years that he was President, he pursued one invariable and consistent foreign policy; a policy of international goodwill and consideration for the rights of others, and at the same time of steady preparedness.

During his seven and a half years in the White House, not an American rifle was fired in war.

Yet, there were no less than seven occasions when a presidential diplomacy just a shade less firm, just a word less friendly, just a thought less wise, might have produced war.

Seven critical occasions they were.

Today we see their full significance, and tremble at what we escaped. But at the time, each affair was handled so astutely by Roosevelt that the danger was scarcely realized outside his Cabinet. Indeed, the very means Roosevelt then employed to escape the danger were bitterly criticized by many who saw nothing of the menace, which, for the sake of peace, he kept out of public discussion.

Here is the record — a peace victory a year, won by astute diplomacy.

Great Britain

The first was with Great Britain. There was a bitter dispute about the boundary of Alaska. After the Klondike boom, the Canadians realized the value of the strip of coast running south. They revived a claimed ambiguity in the original treaty of 1825 between Russia and Great Britain, declaring that that coast should belong to Canada. The claim was absurd. Great Britain offered to arbitrate. Roosevelt refused because our title was so sound, and arbitrators like to compromise.

Here were the makings of trouble. If Roosevelt had let Congress and the press get into the discussion, it is easy to see how public anger would have blazed up, both here and in Great Britain, and the British would have had to humiliate themselves or else fight.

But instead, Roosevelt cleverly gave the British a chance to turn down their own claim and keep their pride. He proposed a Joint Commission, three Americans and three British, thus leaving the matter to the conscientious justice of both parties. At the same time, Roosevelt sent troops to occupy the disputed region.

When in 1903 the Joint Commission gave its decision, the Lord Chief Justice of England, who was one of the British members, had voted with the Americans — the two Canadian members sticking by their claim.

Thus Roosevelt avoided all peril of angry public discussion, with its hot and unforgivable words which would have raised the warlike issue of “national honor.” He averted the mischances of a third-party arbitration. He gave the British a noble chance to inspect and withdraw their claim.

He produced peace, fostered friendship — and kept the Alaskan strip.


The second occasion was with Germany.

Venezuela had defaulted its payments to German and other European creditors. Under Germany’s leadership, Venezuela was blockaded and a threat was made to bombard its ports and occupy its coast.

Roosevelt was watching, but not waiting too long. He announced our stand on the Monroe Doctrine: “We do not guarantee any state against punishment if it misconducts itself, provided the punishment does not take the form of the acquisition of territory by any non-American power.”

Germany professed she had no such intentions — at least no “permanent acquisition.” She felt free to make a “temporary” acquisition. But Roosevelt knew how temporary acquisitions by European powers soon become permanent. So he asked, through the German Ambassador, Dr. Holleben, the Emperor’s consent to arbitration. It was refused.

Finally, Roosevelt told the German Ambassador that if he didn’t receive the Emperor’s consent in 10 days, he would order Admiral Dewey, then south of Cuba, to take his fleet to Venezuela to prevent a foreign landing.

A week passed. The German Ambassador said no consent had come. He was sure none would come. Roosevelt remarked to him, pleasantly: “Then there’s no use in Dewey’s waiting the full 10 days. If the assurance doesn’t come in 48 hours, Dewey will sail.”

It came (in 36 hours), and Dewey didn’t sail. But the Emperor politely asked Roosevelt to become the arbitrator in the dispute with Venezuela. Roosevelt declined the honor, turning the business over to The Hague Court of Arbitration.

Roosevelt publicly applauded the Emperor’s magnanimity in the cause of peace; and for the sake of good feeling kept sagaciously silent about the inner facts. These were not known to the public till years afterwards when The Life of Secretary Hay was published.

At the time, Roosevelt simply announced to Congress that instead of accepting this courteous invitation to be the arbitrator, he had considered it “an admirable opportunity to advance the practice of a peaceful settlement of disputes between nations, and to secure for The Hague Tribunal a memorable increase of its practical importance.”

It was a masterly escape from war. Another kind of president would have kept sending notes till Germany had occupied and fortified the territory. Then to dislodge her, in defense of our Monroe Doctrine, we would have been in for an aggressive and dubious war. But instead of continuous correspondence, recorded and given to the press, Roosevelt sent one quiet, verbal, and private “Dewey-in-48-hours” ultimatum.


The third occasion was with Japan.

In 1906, California was ablaze against the Japanese. California excluded the Japanese children from her common schools. California demanded protection against Japanese coolie immigration.

But our treaty with Japan guaranteed these privileges to the Japanese.

Then Roosevelt showed his deepest skill.

In the name of the treaty with Japan, he brought legal suits to restore the school status of the Japanese children. The schools were again opened to them. (He had also quietly increased the Federal garrison in San Francisco.)

For the sake of California, he had informal negotiations with high Japanese officials who, by the way, preferred to keep their coolies at home. These were “conversations between gentlemen,” unpublished, and thus free from misconstruction by the public. The Japanese gracefully agreed not to issue passports for their coolies to come here.

Japanese rights and pride were fully protected. Californian protests were fully regarded. Japan was led to play the part of noblesse oblige, and was justly proud of her own largeness of mind.

The war menace, openly discussed in Japan, melted before our public was awake to it.

Battle Fleet

Yet, just then, lest any foreigners should fancy we were in fear, Roosevelt ordered our entire battle-ship fleet, fully equipped, to sail around the world, incidentally making a friendly call on Japan.

No other nation had ever sent its full fleet on a “round-the-world” cruise. Its physical possibility was doubted. In the press and even in Congress, the order was attacked, and the threat made to withhold funds.

But Roosevelt knew, and he persisted. The fleet was then, thanks to himself, at its highest efficiency. The world saw. Japan saw.

The happy ending of the threatening episode was due to Roosevelt’s fairness of judgment, to his firmness with California, to his adroitness with Japan — and to the big fleet.

Santo Domingo — Cuba — Colombia

Besides these three major occasions, with Great Britain, Germany, and Japan, there were three minor ones, with Santo Domingo, Cuba, and Colombia.

Santo Domingo, in perpetual revolutions, defaulted in her debts, and there was danger of European intervention, as in Venezuela. Roosevelt did an unprecedented thing. He diplomatically led the Santo Domingo Government to request an American official to finance her custom receipts. Roosevelt consented to send an American officer for that purpose who should set aside 55 percent for the debts and 45 percent for the Santo Domingans. Here not a shadow of force was shown, the natives were satisfied, the debts were paid, and Europe was kept off.

Cuba came to a deadlock in her own affairs. President Palma asked for United States forces to help him. But Roosevelt sent one man, Secretary Taft, to advise with the Cubans. When Palma resigned, Taft was there, and the Cubans wanted him to stay. Not till then did Roosevelt send American soldiers, according to the “Platt Amendment” provision, to maintain peace between the factions. As soon as the factions agreed, he withdrew our troops, with never a hostile shot, and the Cubans again realized our justness.

Panama was a case of different color. Colombian troops had sailed to fight the Panama Republic back to submission. But the American warships got there first. The Colombian general was told that fighting would endanger the lives of American citizens who were there, and he was advised to sail back again. Again, not a gun was fired. But Roosevelt was there in time, with wise advice — and with ships.

These celebrated cases are enough to prove Roosevelt’s resoluteness for peace, and his prompt practicality in producing peace.

But two other instances of his foreign diplomacy for peace, the most familiar and famous of all, must be recorded in this review.

“Perdicaris Alive or Raizuli Dead”

When one American citizen, Mr. Perdicaris, had been kidnapped for ransom by the bandit Raizuli in Morocco, Roosevelt had a case which suggests Mexico. The Sultan of Morocco was suspected of being “in with” the fierce rebel bandit. Also, a complicated game of European politics was being played in Morocco. Negotiations brought nothing to pass. Then arrived Roosevelt’s final message, through Secretary Hay, sent to the American Consul (with a war-ship in the harbor) — “Perdicaris alive or Raizuli dead.” Perdicaris was delivered the next day. A startled Europe realized that the United States had a President who was resolute to the minute when even one citizen was attacked.

Russo-Japanese Peace

Roosevelt’s greatest foreign fame rests on his promotion of the Treaty which ended the Russo-Japanese War. The credit fully belongs to him. He perceived the psychological moment for suggesting peace in that awful conflict. As a friend of both Japan and Russia, he plunged in.

He invited the Commissioners of Peace to sit in Portsmouth. When a deadlock arrived in that conference, Roosevelt dared to intrude as the pressing friend, and peace was signed.

The Nobel Peace Prize to Roosevelt

For this achievement he was endowed with the first Nobel Peace Prize, of $40,000 — (which he turned over at once to the Industrial Peace Commission). The whole civilized world warmly concurred in the sentiment expressed in that solemn award, that Roosevelt was the foremost producer of peace of this generation.

Another Peace Tribute to Roosevelt

He received, in 1906, a further foreign tribute, not only for his part in arresting the Russo-Japanese War, but also for his several forceful actions in promoting world peace by arbitration. This tribute meant even more than the Nobel Prize.

It was a spontaneous, volunteered testimonial, signed by 250 of the most powerful men of France. It was a “Recognition of the persistent and decisive initiative he has taken towards gradually substituting friendly and judicial for violent methods in cases of conflict between Nations”; and it declared that “the action of President Roosevelt has realized the most generous hopes to be found in history.”

This French appreciation is made still clearer by the personal tribute of the greatest of European pacifists, the Baron d’Estournelles de Constant, who said at that time:

President Roosevelt has already given four striking lessons to Europe — first, by having brought before the Arbitration Tribunal at The Hague the question between the United States and Mexico over the Pious Fund claims, while Europe was still scoffing at the Peace court it had created; second, in obliging Europe to settle pacifically the Venezuelan affair; third, in proposing a second Peace Conference at The Hague to complete the work of the first; and fourth, in now intervening to put an end to the hecatombs in the Far East.

Our Ablest Man Is Needed For Peace

Do not all these specifications prove, beyond the peradventure of a doubt, that as a resolute Producer of Peace, the practical, straight-seeing, prompt-acting Roosevelt towers above all those professional pacifists that belong to the class whom the Bible condemns for repeating the empty words, “Peace, peace, when there is no peace”?

For Roosevelt believes that “when there is no peace,” a strong, commonsense way must be found quickly to produce peace. He also believes that when a foreign aggressor menaces our peace, it is more surely preserved by a righteous course backed by courage, than by a vacillating course based on safety-first.

The above record, now known to all the world, is the answer to the pessimistic predictions of Roosevelt’s critics quoted at the beginning. The same old pessimism, with a fresh voice, is being uttered now by some other opponents who either are ignorant of Roosevelt’s history or are willfully blinded by prejudice. But history will repeat itself. If Roosevelt becomes President, these new voices, like the old voices, will in their turn applaud.

His attitude on peace and war is rooted in the deepest character of the man. Here is a personal declaration more convincing than idealistic oratory. He said on January 1, 1916:

Foolish people say that I want war. There is probably not in all this country a man who abhors war more and would dread more to see it come upon us. If this Nation should go to war I would go myself, and all my four sons would go, and certainly one and perhaps both of my sons-in-law; and my wife, my daughters, and the wives of my sons would suffer more than the men who went. No father or mother in this audience needs to be told of the sorrow that would be the lot of my wife and myself if we had to see our four sons go to war.

No declaration for peace uttered by any American rings with more manly sincerity. Grant said, “Let us have peace”; Sherman said, “War is hell.” With greater tenderness, Roosevelt utters the same love of peace, the same fearful dread of war. No pacifist has said words that so grip the loving family heart.

Therefore, based on a character that has been proved by deeds:

We believe that Roosevelt’s election as President would be a real guarantee of peace; for the world knows from past experience that he means what he says, and backs his professions of peace.

We believe that the Nations of Europe, remembering Roosevelt’s mighty works for peace, still rely on his fairness; and were he President today, he would be the one man to whom Europe would turn in this awful hour as a trusted counselor.

We believe, further, that if elected President, his unfailing diplomacy, high courage and wisdom, may yet aid in bringing about an early and just settlement of the present European War, as he helped to bring about the termination of the Russo-Japanese War.

We believe, finally, that, if Roosevelt were elected on the 7th of next November, on the following day every Government in the world would begin to shape its course by its abundant knowledge of Roosevelt’s past record in international affairs. But if a new man should be elected on the 7th, immediately all those Governments would say, “Here is another man we do not know; we will wait and try him out for a year or two to see what stuff he has in him.”

We urge all good citizens, of every party, to regard these momentous facts from the broad, patriotic standpoint of the Nation’s future peace, honor, and prosperity. In this crisis, or in any greater crisis that may later arise, America needs her safest man — her strongest man — her greatest man: She needs Theodore Roosevelt.  

The article ends with this call for readers to join and donate to the Roosevelt Non-Partisan League.


Become a Saturday Evening Post member and enjoy unlimited access. Subscribe now


  1. Very interesting! Thank you. I did not know that there was a time…before
    WWII that Japanese children were not allowed in California schools.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *