Button, Theodore Roosevelt, 1912

Button, Theodore Roosevelt, 1912

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In 1901, just six months into his term, President William McKinley was assassinated and Vice President Theodore Roosevelt ascended to the presidency. Early in his term, Roosevelt began calling for “a square deal” for all citizens. When he ran for a full term in 1904 as the Republican nominee, he promised that “if elected... so far as in my power lies I shall see to it that every man has a square deal, no less and no more.” Having pledged not to seek a third term in 1908, Roosevelt was a popular political speaker and traveled the country promoting Republican candidates and the square deal philosophy. His most straightforward explanation came in a 1910 speech in Kansas: “I stand for the square deal. But when I say that I am for the square deal, I mean not merely that I stand for fair play under the present rules of the game, but that I stand for having those rules changed so as to work for a more substantial equality of opportunity and of reward for equally good service.”
Because his handpicked successor President William Howard Taft, elected in 1908, proved to be more pro-business and more conservative than he expected, Roosevelt tried to wrest the 1912 Republican nomination from the incumbent. When his efforts failed, Roosevelt ran for president on the ticket of his newly formed Progressive Party. Once again, the “square deal” was a featured campaign theme. Roosevelt lost the 1912 election to Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson but he 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.
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Political Campaigns
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Government, Politics, and Reform
American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith
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National Museum of American History
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