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Theodore Roosevelt had already served as a Republican governor, vice president, and president before he formed the Progressive Party in 1912 and ran one more time for president in what would be his last national campaign.
Governor Theodore Roosevelt of New York was widely expected to get the job when President William McKinley needed a new running mate for his re-election campaign in 1900. (His first vice president, Garret Hobart, had died in office.) Initially unsure he wanted the position, Roosevelt was convinced by his political friends that the vice presidency was his avenue to the White House. No one could have anticipated how quickly that would come to pass. Just six months into his term, President William McKinley was assassinated, and Vice President Theodore Roosevelt ascended to the presidency in 1901, a job he would hold until 1909. Two terms, however, would prove insufficient for Roosevelt’s political ambitions.
The moose became the symbol of the Progressive Party because of its long connection with Roosevelt. After he received the vice-presidential nomination in 1900, Roosevelt wrote a letter to Mark Hanna, Chair of the Republican National Committee describing himself as “strong as a bull moose” and said the party “could use me to the limit.” The label stuck although the party affiliation did not. Although Roosevelt had pledged not to seek a third term as president in 1908, he became disillusioned with his handpicked successor, President William Howard Taft, and tried to seize the 1912 Republican nomination from the incumbent. When his efforts failed, Roosevelt took his ambition and his nickname to his new party. Asked if he was healthy enough to run for office as an independent, he responded that he was “fit as a bull moose” causing his new party to become popularly known as the Bull Moose Party. Images of a moose appeared on numerous campaign items and Roosevelt made use of the metaphor in his campaign speeches. His most memorable “Bull Moose” reference was an impromptu one. On October 14, 1912, Roosevelt was shot at a campaign appearance in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. With blood visible on his vest, the candidate gave his scheduled speech adding a new introduction: “Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot—but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.”
The words on this ribbon are the motto of the Lend a Hand Society, a nonsectarian benevolent society founded in 1891 by Edward Everett Hale, a Unitarian minister who later became Chaplain of the United States Senate.
Roosevelt lost the 1912 election to Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson but the Progressive (Bull Moose) Party stunned the Republican establishment by finishing second with over 27% of the popular vote and 88 electoral votes from six states. President Taft who received 23% of the popular vote became the only sitting president to finish third in a re-election bid. Socialist Eugene V. Debs, running for the fourth time, finished fourth with 6% of the vote.