The Beginnings of Another Presidential Campaign

Old State House Museum - Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The beginnings of another Presidential campaign season are starting, thought it seems as if modern politicians are always in campaign mode. This wasn’t the case over 100 years ago.

On September 25th, 1912, Theodore Roosevelt came to Little Rock. While looking through the 9/26/12 Arkansas Gazette, we see that Roosevelt met with leaders and spoke about his desire to use the machinery used to create the Panama Canal on the Mississippi River.

“We have at Panama the machinery and a great body of experts, and we ought not to let them get scattered. We ought to take this machinery and utilize it as it can be utilized in this country. The great plan is to undertake the task of treating the Mississippi basin as a whole, by utilizing the waters, securing levee protection, and a channel for deep water navigation, and reservoirs for storage of water power,” Roosevelt said.

That excerpt is pretty dry, but it’s the most significant quote by Roosevelt. It’s important to know that Roosevelt was in the middle of campaigning for the 1912 Presidential election. The article in the Gazette is a blow-by-blow account of his trip, but a modern reader would be surprised to learn that Roosevelt was on the campaign trail. In fact, almost three weeks after his stop in Little Rock, Roosevelt would be shot in the chest before delivering a speech. In a completely “the man, the myth, the legend moment,” Roosevelt continued his evening plans after being shot, telling the crowd that

"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. But fortunately I had my manuscript, so you see I was going to make a long speech, and there is a bullet – there is where the bullet went through – and it probably saved me from it going into my heart. The bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best.” -Theodore Roosevelt, October 14, 1912

The Arkansas visit was less exciting. In fact, the Gazette article says as much:

"The reception of the famous “Rough Rider,” hunter, former president, naturalist, writer and founder of the Ananias Club probably never has been equaled by the ovation to any distinguished visitor to the “City of Roses,” unless it was upon his former visit as chief executive. Though he was not enthusiastically cheered, there was a large gathering to see him, and Democrats, Republicans and “Bull Moose” joined hands in a nonpartisan reception.” -Arkansas Gazette, Sept. 26, 1912

The rest of the visit was reported to be congenial, with Roosevelt drinking mint juleps and meeting with members of his own Bull Moose party as well as Democrat and Governor-elect Joe T. Robinson and prominent Republican Durand Whipple. This is in contrast to Roosevelt’s 1905 visit to Arkansas, where then-Governor Jeff Davis defended lynching as part of his remarks introducing the President. Roosevelt then responded with a denunciation of lynching and call appealing to human dignity. By all accounts, Roosevelt’s 1912 visit was much more easygoing.

Roosevelt would go on to lose the election that year, and only garnered 17% of the votes in Arkansas. Roosevelt’s political enemy William Taft earned 20% and winner Woodrow Wilson won the vote in Arkansas with 55% of the popular vote.

Photo courtesy of NOAA's National Weather Service (NWS) Collection

The Arkansas Gazette, Sept. 26, 1912
“It Takes More Than That To Kill A Bull Moose”

1912 Presidential General Election Results – Arkansas