Despite overcoming many close calls at sea, the Tuscania eventually met a tragic fate.
Shipwrecks have held an enduring fascination with both historians and the general public, from the 1912 sinking of the Titanic to the 1915 sinking of the Lusitania, which arguably precipitated American involvement in World War I. However, there is a lesser-known shipwreck that has an Indiana connection: the sinking of the Tuscania.
Built in 1914 by Alexander Stephen & Sons, Limited, in the Linthouse district of Glasgow, Scotland, the Tuscania originally served as a passenger ship. With a length of 567 feet and weight of 14, 348 gross tons, the Tuscania carried passengers between New York City and Glasgow for roughly a year before it was repurposed as a wartime ship.
One of its earliest successes during World War I occurred on September 20, 1915. Anthinai, a “Greek steamer” ship that took off from New York harbor on September 16, caught fire off the coast of Halifax, Nova Scotia. As reported by the South Bend News-Times, the passengers were taken to safety by the Tuscania, “summoned by wireless to the doomed vessel’s aid and are being brought to this port.” Whether or not the “fire” was caused by enemy forces is unclear, but the Tuscania’s valor during the episode earned it notoriety.
Nearly two years later, the Tuscania faced its first major crisis, and succeeded. On March 12, 1917, the Tuscania dodged an oncoming German submarine near the coast of Ireland. According to the Bridgeport Evening Farmer, the Tuscania moved away from the supposed submarine at “high speed, zigzagging in her course.” Even though Captain P. MacLean “denied that he had seen any submarine on the trip,” he did indicate that a foreign body was close the Tuscania and acted accordingly. The Tuscania’s first potential brush with destruction was not its last.
A first-hand account of the attack by an “American officer on board” was reported by theIndianapolis Times:
Monday was a wild night. Had the disaster occurred during a gale I don’t like to think of what would never happened. But Tuesday evening was calm.
The first intimation we had of possible danger was an order for all men to go on deck with life belts. It was about 4;30 o’clock. At the same time we sharply altered our course. At 5 o’clock, just as the darkness was setting well in, we got the blow. Nobody saw the periscope nor could one have been seen well. Some soldiers described having heard a hissing sound immediately before the torpedo struck us in the engine room.
We were instantly disabled. All the lights went out. An order rang out sending the troops to their boat stations and to get the lifeboats out. The shock was not severe. It was more of a crunching-in felling [sic] that went through the ship than of a direct blow. There naturally was a good deal of confusion. You can not [sic] lower a score of lifeboats from the hight [sic] of an upper deck in the darkness without some confusion, but at no time was there a panic.
From there, the officer stayed with the Tuscania as long as he could before another torpedo was launched (that fortunately missed) and the ship started to sink.
Indiana newspapers quickly covered the story to see if any Indiana residents were aboard. According to the Indianapolis News and the South-Bend News-Times, a former Muncie resident named Max Lipshitz was supposedly aboard the Tuscania with the 107th engineers when it went down. When his brother, Abram Lipshitz, asked the US state department whether Max was safe, they gave him little information. Another Indiana native, Maurice Nesbit, was also considered missing from the Tuscania. Described as the “leader of regimental band with the Michigan national guard,” Nesbit had not been identified within the first 24 hours of the attack. W.R. Nesbit, Maurice’s father, tried to ascertain whether his son was safe or not. Fortunately for W.R., his son was safe and sound in New Jersey, having not been on the Tuscania at all. He informed his father of the news via letter, which was reported by the Indianapolis News. It was also reported that Lipshitz had also not been on board.
While these two men had not been on board, there were many Hoosiers who were. Some survived while others perished. Of those that survived, three particular stories are worth recounting. As noted in the March 4, 1918 issue of the Indianapolis News, a survivor named Grover J. Rademaker of the 20th United States Foresters had written to his parents that he was safe. “I am here, and feeling fine,” wrote Rademaker, “and we are treated royally. I suppose you have read in the papers of our accident. I sure am a lucky boy, for I got out all right; didn’t even get my feet wet.” Another survivor from Indiana, aviator Joseph McKee from the 123rd aero squadron, was the only one from Lake County to come home. When news of his safety was given to his parents, the Lake County Times wrote that, “It is a happy day at the McKee home.” Finally, a young man named Archie Q. McCracken of New Albany weathered the attack and recuperated in an Irish hospital after sustaining minor injuries.
After the dust settled, preparations for a memorial to those who died commenced. The South Bend News-Times reported on March 5, 1918 that an, “American Red Cross contingent will arrive here [Port Ellen, Scotland] in a few days from London for the purpose of selecting a site for a monument to the American soldiers who perished in the Tuscania disaster.” Within a year, the monument at Mull on the island of Islay was dedicated to the American soldiers who died and the Glasgow Islay Association published a photographic book of the graves of Tuscania victims. This book was compiled as a “labor of love” by the association and offered to any family member of a lost loved one. On Memorial Day 1920, “Natives [sic] from miles around” Scotland gathered “about the simple graves of those several hundred fighting men, victims of the ill-fated transports Otranto and Tuscania” to pay their final respects on the isle of Islay.
Today, the memorial on the isle of Islay is still standing, a fitting tribute to the resolve of those brave individuals who helped save lives, sadly went missing, or perished in the waters. The Tuscania bombing and its aftermath serve as a reminder that war carries a deep human cost, not only to those who die but to those who live with the grief of the loss of a son, father, brother, or friend. It also highlights the ways in which those from the Hoosier state find themselves halfway across the world, risking life and limb for their country during some of humanity’s darkest hours.
One of the nineteenth century’s most idiosyncratic inventions was the rotary jail. Inspired by the utilitarian philosophy of Jeremy Bentham, rotary jails were circular enclosures that allowed guards a 360 degree view of inmates through moving cells via a crank. There was only one access point, making escape more difficult. This type of jail was invented in Indiana by architect William H. Brown and iron industrialist Benjamin F. Haugh. These Indianapolis-based inventors filed their patent patent in 1881.The design became popular, largely because it decreased interaction between guard and prisoner. In fact, the prisoner did not even have to be removed from his cell to dispose of waste. In this blog post, we’ll expand our knowledge of these jails through more newspaper accounts from throughout the United States.
But how do we start? One great tool for looking for subjects and their relevance to newspapers is usnewsmap.com. A joint venture of the Georgia Tech Research Institute and the University of Georgia, US News Map provides visitors with an easy search tool that show where subjects show up on the map. When I typed in “rotary jail,” I got eleven hits; some were as far east as Vermont and as far west as Utah.
In Burlington, Vermont, a rotary jail was built as early as the late 1880s, with city planners waxing enthusiastic about the invention after their visit to the flagship rotary jail in Crawfordsville, Indiana. “They were most favorably impressed with the new rotary jail at Crawfordsville, Ind., and the probability is that they will decide to erect a similar one in this city,” wrote the Burlington Free Press on March 25, 1887. In Picturesque Burlington, a short history written in 1893 by Joseph Auld, describes the rotary jail in detail:
This “cage” is closely surrounded by a barred iron railing with only one opening. When a prisoner is to be placed in his cell the “cage” is revolved till the proper cell fronts the door; then the prisoner is put in, the cage is turned, and he is secure. The number of prisoners is small and the offences venial, largely violations of the prohibitory law.
For example, one particular story from the Burlington Free Press comes to mind. As reported on April 7, 1892, a man named John Arthur Simpson, whose aliases included “George Simpson” and “George A. Stillwell,” was accused of murder in Dover, New Hampshire. Simpson, whose past lives included “Baptist minister, later a burglar, horse thief, incendiary, farmer, bigamist, and finally a murderer,” apparently bared a remarkable resemblance to Julius McArthur, who “killed Deputy Sherriff Charles H. Hatch of New Hampshire May 6, 1891 while resisting arrest for stealing a horse and who escaped from the rotary jail of this city Jul 17, 1891.” According to the newspaper report, Simpson likely escaped from jail using a knife “as a wedge to open the cell door” and the authorities searched for a supposed accomplice who gave him said knife. Even though rotary jails garnered a reputation for being tough to escape, Simpson’s story shows they weren’t completely impenetrable.
Another rotary jailbreak occurred in Salt Lake City, Utah. Charles Riis, convicted of larceny under the name “Charles Merritt,” reportedly “went through the bars of the supposedly impregnable steel rotary at the county jail as though they were made of putty,” wrote the Salt Lake Herald on February 2, 1907. Riis was said to have “crawled” through a cell “eight inches wide by fourteen inches and length” after sawing through a bar over a few days, slowly as to not alert the sheriff. He then used the sawed bar as leverage to scale down the side of the jail wall with a blanket. At the time of this article, his whereabouts were unknown. Riis’s clever maneuvering utilized the weaknesses of both the rotary jail as an invention and the law enforcement agency’s inability to anticipate his covert actions.
However, these stories pale in comparison to what was reported in multiple newspapers in Kansas. Carrie Nation, noted prohibitionist and provocateur, instigated a spat with the Wichita Sheriff’s wife and placed in a rotary jail cell in 1901. From here, we get two different sides of the story. According to the May 3 1901 issue of the Kinsley Graphic, Nation was “placed in the rotary cell at the county jail. She abused the sheriff’s wife, calling her all kind of vile names, the ‘devil’s dam being one.” She also called another woman “two-faced” as she was sitting in the rotary cell. However, the Topeka State Journal quoted Nation directly, painting a contrasting narrative. Nation, quoted in the Journal, wrote:
I was put in this [rotary] cell because I told Mrs. Simmons, the jailor’s wife, that when I was here before she tried to have me adjudged insane. She said I was a woman who used low, obscene language to her husband. I told her she lied and all liars would go to burn in the lake of fire. Her husband told me this morning when he came to remove me that his wife wanted me to be put here. Poor, depraved wretch! What a shame to see a cruel, revengeful woman. John the Baptist lost his head from just such a one. I would rather die in this unwholesome place than be such. I wish she would let Jesus change the bitter to the sweet in her nature. What a miserable woman she is! My poor sisters in this Bastille are trusting in the Lord.
She then railed against the liquor trade in Wichita, advising all citizens to “avoid getting anything from this cursed Sodom,” and comparing her treatment in the rotary jail to the “cruelty and injustice” of the “Spanish inquisition.” Nation’s brush with rotary jails is one of many legendary stories of the gilded age crusader.
Finally, rotary jails not only dealt with prisoners getting out, but also unintentionally trapped in. The November 10, 1886 issue of the Fairfield News and Herald, out of Winnsboro, South Carolina, reported that the rotary jail in Council Bluffs, Iowa “became locked Monday morning by some disarrangement of the machinery, and no prisoners could be taken out nor any admitted.” The paper further noted that a “large force of men were at work all day on the machinery, but the trouble was not removed until Tuesday morning.” This story was also picked by the Laurens Advertiser, the Manning Times, and the Pickens Sentinel.
Between the escapes and the structural failures, you would think that rotary jails would have lost sway with the law enforcement community and the general public. As the previous post mentioned, efforts to stop the use of rotary jails began as early as 1917. By the mid-20th century, many rotary jails were discontinued or the cell blocks were immobilized. Two former rotary jails served as county jails well into the 20th century, with the Council Bluffs jail closing in 1969 and the Crawfordsville jail in 1973.
Although the rotary jail is no longer used, the seminal Indiana invention left a profound mark on the history of crime and punishment in the United States. Its design really broke the mold, or as you could say, broke (out of) the cell.
This past week, I went to the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP) Awardee Conference in Washington, D.C., with my colleague Jill Weiss. It was an informative and inspiring conference. The first day, we met at the National Constitution Center and we welcomed by the chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Dr. William D. Adams. In his brief remarks, he emphasized the commitment that NEH has to the program and his belief in its importance to the public good. As a public historian, I was motivated by his call to make Chronicling America (the national digital newspaper repository) more accessible to the public. He also shared with us the big news about the program: the date range is expanding! This new date expansion will cover 1690-1963, which means that awardee states can do so much more for Chronicling America.
During the first day, we learned about the specific program needs for Chronicling America, including newspaper essays that explain the history of a title, deliverable products submitted to the Library of Congress, and the ins-and-outs of preparing newspaper titles for microfilm and digital preservation. These talks were especially important to a new program assistant like myself, who needs to know all the important tasks for the NDNP. Additionally, we watched a live-stream of the swearing-in of the new Librarian of Congress, Dr. Carla Hayden. In her speech, she called for the Library of Congress to make its own history by making materials more easily available to the public. With NDNP, we are doing just that.
In the afternoon of the first day, winners of the NDNP’s Data Challenge Awards presented on the innovative and creative ways they are using digital newspapers through Chronicling America. George Mason University professor Lincoln Mullen shared his research on the use of the Bible in American newspapers and how it showed religious trends during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Andrew Bales, a doctoral student from the University of Cincinnati, created a database for chronicling the horrific history of Lynching in the American South. Ending the first session, Amy Giroux, Marcy Galbreath, and Nathan Giroux from the University of Central Florida explored agricultural trends through their own aggregator of newspapers called Historical Agricultural News.
However, my favorite presentation (and maybe I’m biased since I’m from Indiana) was Chronicling Hoosier, presented by IUPUI’s own Kristi Palmer, Ted Polley, and Caitlyn Pollock. Their research looked into the history and geographical usage of the word “Hoosier.” While they didn’t learn the clear origin of the word (we may never really know), they did learn that its usage extended beyond just Indiana, from Virginia and Kentucky all the way down the Mississippi River to Louisiana. Originally a term of derision, meaning “country bumpkin” or “backwoodsman,” Hoosier became a beloved moniker by the late nineteenth century for those who lived in the State of Indiana. Listening to their presentation brought back memories of fourth grade Indiana History Class and the tall tales my teacher, Mrs. Hall, would share with the class about “Hoosiers.”
History teacher Ray Palin and student Virgile Bissonnette-Blais from Sunapee High School in New Hampshire displayed their project chronicling pivotal events in American history such as Plessy v. Ferguson. Ending the data challenge winner presentations, Professor Claudio Saunt and engineer Trevor Goodyear from Georgia shared with us their winning project, USNewsMap.com, which provides a timeline-based “heat map” on newspapers based on search queries. For those interested, it does work on proper nouns as well as regular search terms (I asked).
The second day mostly focused on working with bilingual and multilingual newspapers, copyright issues, and the production aspects of NDNP. The main session that day for me was the production session, where awardees that are new to the program learn the basics of microfilm and digital preservation. We learned how to organize film, correct technical specifications for digital files, and preparing those files for the Library of Congress and Chronicling America. While it was a lot to take in for a two-hour session, the production talks were vital to my understanding of all the tasks necessary for working on the NDNP.
Our last day involved a nice, open ended morning session for brainstorming marketing and outreach. We learned different marketing strategies for Twitter, Facebook, and other social media outlets, as well as other fun ways to get people to Chronicling America. My Hoosier State Chronicles colleague, Jill Weiss, asked questions about how we could get a podcast off the ground (something we’re working on for the future). The ground shared some of their favorite podcasts to check out for ideas and seemed very receptive to our idea. Like with the Data Challenge winners, I loved learning about all the creative ways that we can use NDNP content to reach users.
Overall, this was a very fun and informative conference and I look forward to applying much of what I learned to my tasks on this program. Stay tuned for more, and as always, happy searching!
Did you know that three Hoosiers appeared on national tickets for president or vice president in 1916? The Democrats ran Thomas R. Marshallof Columbia City for re-election in 1916 alongside President Woodrow Wilson. The Republican Party tabbed President Theodore Roosevelt‘s former vice president Charles W. Fairbanks of Indianapolis as the running mate of GOP presidential nominee Charles Evans Hughes. You may ask, who was the third Hoosier running for president or vice president in 1916? If you guessed Terre Haute-native Eugene V. Debs, you would be wrong. After being the Socialist Party presidential nominee four times from 1900-1912, Debs sat out the 1916 campaign before running again (from prison) in 1920.
The third Hoosier and national party candidate in 1916 was a man who is not well-known today, but was a former governor of Indiana, and an influential leader in the prohibition movement. As a third-party challenger, J. Frank Hanly ran as the Prohibition Party presidential nominee during the 1916 election. Founded in 1869, the Prohibition Party campaigned for laws to limit or ban the sale and manufacture of intoxicating liquors. The party nominated candidates for office, but only found real success with local elections. For Hanly, his candidacy in 1916 served as the culmination of decades of advocacy for making Indiana, and the nation, dry as a desert.
According to a 1904 profile in the Indianapolis News, James Frank Hanly was born on April 4, 1863 in Champaign County, Illinois. His early life exemplified the rough-hewn stereotype that politicians of the era both yearned to have and exploit when useful. As the News wrote, “The world had nothing to offer the cabin boy but poverty. His parents lived on a rented place and sometimes the Hanly’s wondered where the sustenance of coming days was to come from.” Hanly, described as a bookish child, reveled in debate during his schoolhouse days and had “victory perched on his banner very often.” With his mother blinded early in his life and the family thrown into even more intense poverty, Hanly was sent to live with friends of the family in Williamsport, Warren County, Indiana.
He held odd-jobs throughout his early years in Indiana, most notably ditch digging and teaching, before gaining an opportunity from a local judge named Joseph Rabb. Rabb provided Hanly with the tools to take the bar exam. After passing the exam, Hanly began work at Rabb’s office. Nearly two years later in 1890, he founded a law office with partner Ele Stansbury. Equipped with skills of law and oratory, Hanly was a natural fit for the role of public service. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1894 and served one term; his reelection was dashed due to redistricting. After some considerations for a seat in the U.S. Senate, Hanly decided to run for governor of Indiana in 1904 and won, defeating Democrat John W. Kern by 84,000 votes, according to the Plymouth Tribune.
Hanly served as Indiana’s Governor from 1905-1909 and his tenure was marked by a controversial fight over Hanly’s central political issue: the sale of alcohol. He committed his tenure to enacting a stronger form of public policy in regards to the liquor traffic. In an op-ed for the Jasper Weekly Courier, Hanly wrote:
Personally, I have seen so much of the evils of the liquor traffic in the last four years, so much of its economic waste, so much of the physical ruin, so much of its mental blight, so much of its tears and heartache, that I have come to regard the business as one that must be held and controlled by strong and effective laws.
Hanly was undeterred. He reaffirmed his position against alcohol in a rousing speech at the 1908 Republican National Convention reprinted in the Indianapolis News. Concerning the liquor traffic, Hanly declared:
I hate it as Abraham Lincoln hated slavery. And as he sometimes saw in prophetic vision the end of slavery and the coming of the time when the sun should shine and the rain should fall upon no slave in all the republic, so I sometimes seem to see the end of this unholy traffic; the coming of the time when, if it does not wholly cease to be, it shall find no safe habitation anywhere beneath Old Glory’s stainless stars.
To Hanly, the sale of alcohol equaled slavery in its immorality, and akin to his political hero, viewed his indictment of alcohol as righteous as Lincoln’s position on slavery (at least on the surface).
All of his activism proved valuable by the election of 1916. Originally, Hanly received the Progressive Party’s nomination for governor, after he ran unopposed in the March primary. Despite support from the party and the voters, Hanly felt ambivalent about his nomination. As the Indianapolis News reported, Hanly “spent nothing and made no promises when a candidate before the primary for the Progressive nomination as Governor.” The Progressive Party, in some respects, was a poor fit. Even though Hanly alienated himself from mainstream Republican politics due to his strict prohibitionist views, his dedication to fiscal conservatism and limited government did not align with the Progressives. While Hanly internally debated accepting the Progressives’ gubernatorial nomination, another political party began recruiting him for an even higher office.
In June 1916, Hanly abandoned the Progressive Party, and declined the nomination for governor. Later that summer, he received the Prohibition Party nomination for President of the United States. The Indianapolis News and the Indianapolis Star reported that Hanly would gladly accept this charge only after the party decided to abandon a plank in their party platform supporting “initiative, referendum, and recall” elections, which Hanly saw as anathema to his limited government views. The party acquiesced to Hanly’s demands, which later drew criticism from an editorial in the Indianapolis Star and later reprinted in theJasper Weekly Courier. On the day of his nomination, Hanly reiterated his resolve to the cause of Prohibition and argued that “legislative enactments, administrative action, judicial decision and constitutional amendment—all shall be used for its [alcohol’s] dethronement.” In eight short years, Hanly went from Republican, to reluctant Progressive, to ardent Prohibitionist.
His disassociation with the Republican Party led to a fairly embarrassing episode reported in the August 15 issue of the Indianapolis News. The paper wrote that, “state officials are wondering how a picture of J. Frank Hanly got on the wall in [Ed] Donnell’s office [at the state printing board’s office]. Mr. Hanly, former Governor of Indiana, is now the nominee for President on the Prohibition national ticket.” A little over a week later, on August 28, the portrait disappeared. When asked how it left, Donnell “referred questioners to [J. Roy] Strickland, who disclaimed all knowledge of any theft, other than to declare that he understood the picture had been confiscated by the Democratic state committee.” The installation and later removal of the painting remains a mystery, but this story exemplified one conclusion that many political observers were making about the Prohibition Party candidate: the major parties were done with him too.
Hanly’s presidential campaign began later that August with an announcement from Hanly and his Vice-Presidential running mate, Dr. Ira Landrith, that they would conduct a “two-months’ tour of the country, will stop at approximately 600 towns.” The slogan for their campaign was “A Million Votes for Prohibition.” As part of the Prohibition Party’s push for a million votes, Hanly heavily criticized the major party candidates, Republican Charles Evans Hughes and incumbent Democratic President Woodrow Wilson. On the issue of prohibition, Hanly said that “President Wilson has not changed his mind on the liquor question, not in the last six years, at least, but we know that during these six years he has changed his mind on every other question which has come before him.” Of Hughes, Hanly remarked that the Republican nominee “stands for nothing.” By supposed contrast, Hanly and Landrith stood for women’s suffrage, an eight-hour work day, environmental protections, and military preparedness in line with the Monroe Doctrine alongside its desire to end the liquor trade.
By November 1916, the Prohibition Party appeared confident in their chances for some electoral success. The Indianapolis Newscovered their claims of success at a rally in Auburn, Indiana. “Ira Landrith, the vice-presidential candidate,” the News reported, “declared there now are 167 electoral votes in “dry” states; that next year there will be 200, and in 1930 there will be 300.” Their optimism was misplaced, for the election returns told a different story. Hanly and Landrith only captured 221,302 votes, or only 1.19 percent of the popular vote. They neither secured the one million votes they campaigned on, nor picked up a single electoral vote. Wilson won the election with 277 electoral votes and 49.25 percent of the popular vote. The Indianapolis News highlighted that the level of the vote for the Prohibition Party had dropped in Marion County alone by nearly 500 votes, from 1241 to 744, and throughout the State of Indiana, Hanly only garnered 16,680.
Hanly’s lifelong efforts advocating for prohibition came to an end with his untimely death on August 1, 1920, at the age of 57. He had been “fatally injured in an automobile accident near Dennison [Ohio],” reported the Indianapolis News. His funeral was held at Meridian Street Methodist Episcopal Church and he was buried in Williamsport, Indiana. In a eulogy by Indianapolis Phalanx publisher Edward Clark, Hanly was hailed as a “a national leader in the greatest moral and political reform of the century.” Clark concluded, “[Hanly] has ended life’s combat and laid down the weapons he wielded so heroically and so valiantly.”
Historian Jan Shipps argued that the choices Hanly made during his political career may have been pure opportunism, the mark of a true believer, or somewhere in the middle. The last argument seems to be the most accurate, because Hanly appeared to be a bit of both, at least in the press. He was an astute, masterful politician who used the workings of power to achieve his own prerogatives. At the same time, he was a deeply religious man whose moral judgement animated him to act as a crusader against alcohol. As Edward Clark’s eulogy intimated, Hanly knew that “to announce himself as a party prohibitionist meant unpopularity, scorn, ridicule, abuse, and political oblivion—but he hesitated not.” While he never saw the effects of Prohibition, both good and bad, in his state or in the country, Hanly’s contributions to the movement should not be neglected in our understanding of the era.
This election year, there has been a lot of talk of third-party candidates, like Gary Johnson and Jill Stein. However, this election cycle is hardly the first to celebrate third-party candidates for President. American presidential history is rich with third-party candidates, such as Ross Perot’s 1992 campaign against Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush or Ralph Nader’s Green Party candidacy in 2000. From the Hoosier state there was Eugene V. Debs, the Socialist Party candidate who received nearly a million votes in the 1912 election. Yet, it is arguable that the most successful third-party run for the presidency was by someone who had already been president.
Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president, mounted an unprecedented third-term campaign for the office on the Progressive Party ticket in 1912. Known colloquially as the “Bull Moose Party,” Roosevelt’s campaign for the office was heavily chronicled by progressive newspapers here in Indiana, particularly the Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram. From August 5-7, 1912, the Progressive Party met in Chicago to both nominate Roosevelt for the presidency and establish a new political party, one founded on what Roosevelt called the “Square Deal.” As historian Lewis L. Gould explained, Roosevelt believed that “the federal government must do more to supervise large corporations, improve the lot of women and children who worked long hours for low wages in industry, and conserve natural resources.”
Roosevelt’s decision to run stemmed from his disappointment at the cautiousness and conservatism of his former cabinet member and hand-picked successor, William Howard Taft. Taft came into office in 1909 arguing for Roosevelt’s ideals, but had since moved towards to the limited government and pro-business attitudes of Republican Party insiders, or so Roosevelt believed. It was this disappointment which motivated Roosevelt to usurp the Republican nomination from Taft and reassert his influence on the party. When the Republicans rejected him in favor of Taft in June of 1912, Roosevelt vowed to begin a new party. Thus, the Progressive Party was born.
The convention began on August 5, and the Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram wrote about the party’s platform, which, among other proposals, demanded “that the light publicity be thrown upon scales of wages and other labor matters” as well as “old-age pensions.” Rudolph G. Leeds, long-time owner and editor of the Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, enthusiastically supported Roosevelt and was elected “national committeeman . . . by the Indiana progressive delegation.” Roosevelt himself arrived to Chicago on that day and reportedly received “the greatest reception any man ever received in Windy City.” When asked to speak, the former president spoke of the “birth of a new party” and that “the day of the boss, of crooked politicians behind the boss and people who are owned by the boss and crooked politicians has passed forever.”
The next day, August 6, Roosevelt announced his contention for the party’s presidential nomination. His running mate was Hiram W. Johnson, senator from California and one of the Progressive Party’s founders. In his speech, known as the “Confession of Faith,” Roosevelt reiterated his position from his remarks the day before. “Our fight,” Roosevelt declared, “is a fundamental fight against both of the old corrupt party machines, for both are under the dominion of the plunder league of the professional politicians who are controlled and sustained by the great beneficiaries of privilege and reaction.” In terms of policy, Roosevelt argued for more workplace and wage protections for labor, further regulations of trusts and large corporations, assistance to farmers, and wilderness conservation.
To Roosevelt, his nomination was bigger than just one election. It was a “crusade” against the forces of graft and corruption and in favor of the people. “Now, friends, this is my confession of faith,” clamored Roosevelt among the packed crowd in Chicago:
Now to you men, who, in your turn, have come together to spend and be spent in the endless crusade against wrong, to you who face the future resolute and confident, to you who strive in a spirit of brotherhood for the betterment of our nation, to you who gird yourselves for this great new fight in the never-ending warfare for the good of humankind, I say in closing…We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord.
Roosevelt’s “crusade” was taken to heart by the Palladium and Sun-Telegram, who wrote glowing editorials about Roosevelt and the Progressive Party. “The Progressive party,” declared one editorial, “is the moving, leading, inspiring force in the nation today. It is advancing as no other movement ever advanced in American politics.”
On August 7, the party formally nominated Roosevelt and Johnson. In his nominating speech, William A. Prendergast, comptroller of the City of New York, remarked that “He [Roosevelt] has fought the most vicious forces in American life and has conquered them . . . To such a leader the hearts of millions of American people are turning in this national crisis.” It was with this nomination that Roosevelt was given the chance to fulfill the remainder of his life’s work, to finally give the American people a “square deal.”
However, Roosevelt’s dedication to a “square deal” under the Progressive Party banner left a key demographic from being at the table: African Americans. As historian Eric J. Yellin observed, Roosevelt staked his political future on alienating the African American voters in the south, who he thought he had already lost to Taft. Due to this misnomer, Roosevelt sought to create a “shadow Republican Party in the south made up of lily-white organizations.” This resulted in the rejection of southern African American delegates from the Progressive Party convention.
Locally, the Indianapolis Recorder, a black owned and published newspaper, wrote scathing editorials in response to Roosevelt’s actions. As an August 10, 1912 editorial declared, “To the Colored men who can find it possible, after denouncing President Theodore Roosevelt as a despot, demagogue, lyncher and betrayer of the confiding Colored race, to now support him even when he leaves his own party and help him to be the founder of a new party, we say that the white world is looking on with a contemptuous smile.” Another column on August 24 noted that, “the position of Mr. Roosevelt, disfranchising the Negroes of the South in his party is a virtual indorsement [sic] of the unconstitutional disfranchising laws of the South, and we believe that he has forfeited all right of respect or support from Afro-Americans.” A minister of the AME Church and long-time Roosevelt supporter, Dr. Reverdy C. Ransom, even left the Progressive Party and publicly criticized Roosevelt’s “Negro policy and…urge[d] the Republican party to improve the situation which the Colonel has created.”
The Progressive Party decided against the colored delegates of the South, but are in favor of the colored people of the North. Theodore Roosevelt, as we understand, is in favor of a “Lily White” Government in the South, but in favor of the colored man’s recognition in the North. The trouble with his idea is that it is in the South that the colored people are complaining about the denial of political rights.
This observation highlighted Roosevelt’s central electoral gamble. By alienating southern African Americans, Roosevelt could have lost a key Republican voting bloc sympathetic to his run, all in an effort to court populist white southerners, who largely voted Democrat. In the general election in November, his calculation went exactly opposite.
In the 1912 general election on November 5, Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic nominee, won the election in a landslide, with 435 electoral votes and 41.8% of the popular vote. (Wilson’s running mate was Indiana Governor Thomas Marshall; they won the state with 43.1 percent.) Now, you may wonder: how was this a landslide? It came down to split of the Republican voting base. Roosevelt won 27.4 percent of the popular vote and 88 electoral votes while Taft won 23.2 percent of the popular vote and eight electoral votes. However, Roosevelt did end up winning a plurality of the African American voting base, but did not win the southern populist whites he had courted during the election. Wilson garnered their vote, and in turn, won the election with a clear victory.
Amid the toppling wreckage of the republican party [sic], with its historic pile crumbled into unrecognizable fragments there strides the Modern Apostle of Discontent the Arch-Egoist Theodore Roosevelt. He gazes around him on the debris with a grin and with triumphant staccato simply says—DEE-LIGHTED! ! !
This sentiment underlined what many Republican voters felt about Roosevelt’s decision to run under the Progressive banner: it had only split the party in his vain attempt to take back the reins of power.
Roosevelt’s political gamble against southern African-Americans cost him both the chance at the election and diminished his reputation as a champion of progressive ideals. Nevertheless, as Gould as argued, his third-party candidacy helped realign the political forces of the country, solidifying the Republican Party towards a more business-centric conservatism while the Democratic Party moved towards a progressivism that culminated in Theodore’s cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and his “New Deal.” So, beyond just the electoral success, Roosevelt’s complicated third-party challenge influenced the political landscape for decades.