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During his campaign for the presidency in 1904, Theodore Roosevelt publicly resolved not to run in 1908; instead, he supported his secretary of war, William Howard Taft, as the Republican nominee. Taft was elected president in 1908, but his conservative politics led to a falling out with Roosevelt, who decided to return to the political arena in order to oppose his former ally. In the 1912 election, therefore, it was Roosevelt who accepted the nomination of the newly formed Progressive Party.
The Progressives held a convention in Chicago that was populated by dedicated reformers who wanted to radically remake America. Their numbers included suffragettes, social workers, urban planners, conservationists, political reformers, and idealists of all strains. Neither the candidate nor the platform let them down. Roosevelt’s “Confession of Faith” speech and the platform contained plans for a democratic welfare state, though that state would not fully materialize for another quarter century. The platform and Roosevelt also called for the reform of political parties to make them more accountable to the people and less beholden to special interests. Proposals such as primaries, the initiative, and the referendum were put forward as alternatives to party procedures. Roosevelt’s influence over the convention was absolute and he brought the crowd to thunderous applause when he declared, “We stand at Armageddon and we battle for the Lord,” followed by a reverential singing of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
Source: Progressive Party Platform 1912, November 5, 1912. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.
The conscience of the people, in a time of grave national problems, has called into being a new party, born of the nation’s awakened sense of justice. We of the Progressive party here dedicate ourselves to the fulfillment of the duty laid upon us by our fathers to maintain that government of the people, by the people and for the people whose foundations they laid.
We hold with Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln that the people are the masters of their constitution, to fulfill its purposes and to safeguard it from those who, by perversion of its intent, would convert it into an instrument of injustice. In accordance with the needs of each generation the people must use their sovereign powers to establish and maintain equal opportunity and industrial justice, to secure which this government was founded and without which no republic can endure. This country belongs to the people who inhabit it. Its resources, its business, its institutions and its laws should be utilized, maintained or altered in whatever manner will best promote the general interest.
It is time to set the public welfare in the first place.
THE OLD PARTIES
Political parties exist to secure responsible government and to execute the will of the people.
From these great tasks both of the old parties have turned aside. Instead of instruments to promote the general welfare, they have become the tools of corrupt interests which use them impartially to serve their selfish purposes. Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government, owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people.
To destroy this invisible government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.
The deliberate betrayal of its trust by the Republican party, and the fatal incapacity of the Democratic party to deal with the new issues of the new time, have compelled the people to forge a new instrument of government through which to give effect to their will in laws and institutions.
Unhampered by tradition, uncorrupted by power, undismayed by the magnitude of the task, the new party offers itself as the instrument of the people to sweep away old abuses, to build a new and nobler commonwealth.
A COVENANT WITH THE PEOPLE
This declaration is our covenant with the people, and we hereby bind the party and its candidates in state and nation to the pledges made herein.
THE RULE OF THE PEOPLE
The Progressive party, committed to the principle of government by a self-controlled democracy expressing its will through representatives of the people, pledges itself to secure such alterations in the fundamental law of the several states and of the United States as shall insure the representative character of the government.
In particular, the party declares for direct primaries for the nomination of state and national officers, for nation-wide preferential primaries for candidates for the presidency, for the direct election of United States senators by the people; and we urge on the states the policy of the short ballot, with responsibility to the people secured by the initiative, referendum and recall.
AMENDMENT OF CONSTITUTION
The Progressive party, believing that a free people should have the power from time to time to amend their fundamental law so as to adapt it progressively to the changing needs of the people, pledges itself to provide a more easy and expeditious method of amending the federal constitution.
NATION AND STATE
Up to the limit of the constitution, and later by amendment of the constitution, if found necessary, we advocate bringing under effective national jurisdiction those problems which have expanded beyond reach of the individual states.
It is as grotesque as it is intolerable that the several states should by unequal laws in matter of common concern become competing commercial agencies, barter the lives of their children, the health of their women and the safety and well-being of their working people for the profit of their financial interests.
The extreme insistence on states rights by the Democratic party in the Baltimore platform demonstrates anew its inability to understand the world into which it has survived or to administer the affairs of a union of states which have in all essential respects become one people.
SOCIAL AND INDUSTRIAL JUSTICE
The supreme duty of the nation is the conservation of human resources through an enlightened measure of social and industrial justice. We pledge ourselves to work unceasingly in state and nation for:—
Effective legislation looking to the prevention of industrial accidents, occupational diseases, overwork, involuntary unemployment, and other injurious effects incident to modern industry;
The fixing of minimum safety and health standards for the various occupations, and the exercise of the public authority of state and nation including the federal control over interstate commerce and the taxing power, to maintain such standards;
The prohibition of child labor;
Minimum wage standards for working women, to provide a living scale in all industrial occupations;
The prohibition of night work for women and the establishment of an eight-hour day for women and young persons;
One day’s rest in seven for all wake-workers; the eight-hour day in continuous twenty-four-hour industries;
The abolition of the convict contract labor system; substituting a system of prison production for governmental consumption only; and the application of prisoners’ earnings to the support of their dependent families;
Publicity as to wages, hours and conditions of labor; full reports upon industrial accidents and diseases, and the opening to public inspection of all tallies, weights, measures and check systems on labor products;
Standards of compensation for death by industrial accident and injury and trade diseases which will transfer the burden of lost earnings from the families of working people to the industry, and thus to the community;
The protection of home life against the hazards of sickness, irregular employment and old age through the adoption of a system of social insurance adapted to American use;
The development of the creative labor power of America by lifting the last load of illiteracy from American youth and establishing continuation schools for industrial education under public control and encouraging agricultural education and demonstration in rural schools;
The establishment of industrial research laboratories to put the methods and discoveries of science at the service of American producers.
We favor the organization of the workers, men and women, as a means of protecting their interests and of promoting their progress…
The Progressive party, believing that no people can justly claim to be a true democracy which denies political rights on account of sex, pledges itself to the task of securing equal suffrage to men and women alike.
We pledge our party to legislation that will compel strict limitation on all campaign contributions and expenditures, and detailed publicity of both before as well as after primaries and elections.
PUBLICITY AND PUBLIC SERVICE
We pledge our party to legislation compelling the registration of lobbyists; publicity of committee hearings except on foreign affairs, and recording of all votes in committee; and forbidding federal appointees from holding office in state or national political organizations, or taking part as officers or delegates in political conventions for the nomination of elective state or national officials.
The Progressive party demands such restriction of the power of the courts as shall leave to the people the ultimate authority to determine fundamental questions of social welfare and public policy. To secure this end, it pledges itself to provide:
- That when an act, passed under the police power of the state, is held unconstitutional under the state constitution, by the courts, the people, after an ample interval for deliberation, shall have an opportunity to vote on the question whether they desire the act to become a law, notwithstanding such decision.
- That every decisions of the highest appellate court of a state declaring an act of the legislature unconstitutional on the ground of its violation of the federal constitution shall be subject to the same review by the Supreme Court of the United States as is now accorded to decisions sustaining such legislation…
We condemn the violations of the civil service law under the present administration, including the coercion and assessment of subordinate employees, and the President’s refusal to punish such violation after a finding of guilty by his own commission; his distribution of patronage among subservient congressmen, while withholding it from those who refuse support of administration measures; his withdrawal of nominations from the Senate until political support for himself was secured, and his open use of the offices to reward those who voted for his renomination.
To eradicate these abuses, we demand not only the enforcement of the civil service act in letter and spirit, but also legislation which will bring under the competitive system postmasters, collectors, marshals and all other nonpolitical officers, as well as the enactment of an equitable retirement law, and we also insist upon continuous service during good behavior and efficiency…
On these principles and on the recognized desirability of uniting the Progressive forces of the nation into an organization which shall unequivocally represent the Progressive spirit and policy we appeal for the support of all American citizens, without regard to previous political affiliations.
- 1. Also known as the Bull Moose Party, nicknamed after Theodore Roosevelt who often said he felt as strong as a bull moose.