When Theodore Roosevelt returned from his year-long sojourn in Africa and Europe, he returned to a lot of disgruntled progressives. President William Howard Taft had not, in their opinion, lived up to his promises that had led Roosevelt to endorse him as president. Roosevelt spent the next two years trying to reason and then bully Taft into following the path Roosevelt thought the country should be walking. In early 1912, Roosevelt had seen enough and thinking he had a duty to the country and enough support to get him there, Roosevelt announced he would challenge Taft for the Republican presidential nomination.
The months leading up to the Republican National Convention in June of that year were historic for American democracy. 1912 was the first year that primaries were ever held. Though a majority of states still selected delegates at state conventions, a handful of states had passed primary laws, putting the delegates into the hands of the average citizen. It was a change that Roosevelt was counting on to win the nomination. The Convention would seat 1,078 delegates and 540 were needed to win the nomination. 362 of those delegates would be selected in state primaries.
Roosevelt did poorly in the first few primaries. Progressive voters were torn between Roosevelt and Robert La Follette. However, Roosevelt’s campaign began to pick up speed and soon Taft found himself third in the primary battles to the two progressives. Taft even failed to win all the delegates from his home state of Ohio. After the primaries, Roosevelt had 278 delegates but the Taft campaign estimated with the state conventions, still controlled by Taft interests, the President would have 557 votes, just over the minimum.
Roosevelt however wasn’t going down without a fight. In fact, the Republican National Convention of 1912 can be seen as one of the more corrupt to be held. Many disputed delegates were assigned to Taft fraudulently by an angry National Committee that saw Roosevelt as a betrayer to the party. Roosevelt estimated he lost 60-80 delegates to the Committee’s maneuvering, though George Perkins estimated it more at 40 delegates. It was enough for Roosevelt to see a lost cause. On June 19, 1912, Taft won the Republican presidential nomination with 561 votes while Roosevelt was nominated as a presidential candidate for a party without a name, a party that would become the Progressive, or Bull Moose, Party.
Dalton, Kathleen. Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life, 2002.
O’Toole, Patricia. When Trumpets Call: Theodore Roosevelt after the White House, 2005.