A recent lecture by historian Stanley Milkis drew a large crowd to Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site to learn about the election of 1912.
In 1912, a dominant former two-term president returned to the arena, unsuccessfully running for President on a third party ticket; 100 years later, on September 24th, a large crowd of visitors came to the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site to learn about the political ideas and issues that animated the presidential race of a century ago.
University of Virginia political scientist Sidney Milkis’ lecture, “Theodore Roosevelt, The Progressive Party, and the Transformation of American Democracy,” brought to life the exciting and rollicking political atmosphere of this election, marked by divisive primaries, third party splinter groups, and the big ideas that would dominate an entire century of political discourse.
Unlike the divisive election of 1912, Milkis’ lecture brought together the park’s event partners -- The Association for a Buffalo Presidential Center, the New York Council for the Humanities, and the Monroe D. Ray Chapter of the American Political Items Collectors -- and more than 70 enthusiastic attendees to amiably ponder the events that animated past elections and continue to animate today’s discourse.
Though this event focused on the past, park staff hope that it will help to build the site’s future.
“This is the first time we’ve done a lecture in a while," said Leonora M. Henson, the park's curator, "and we would like to use our site as a forum for the public to have lectures and dialog. Given the tremendous response from our event partners and the public, we hope to sponsor similar events in the future.”
This is not the only unit of the National Park Service that is leveraging public excitement surrounding today’s highly-charged presidential race to focus attention on the 1912 contest. A recent exhibit at Theodore Roosevelt’s Birthplace, TR in ’12 showcased historic treasures from this election as well as exploring the links between this election and today’s.
In addition to hosting Professor Milkis’ lecture, the park has developed an exhibit that seeks to spark discussion by highlighting the Progressive Party’s platform. Entitled Bull Moose on the Loose: TR & the Election of 1912, the exhibit will be open though November 18th, and, among other things, features a pamphlet issued to highlight an unusually modern feature of Roosevelt’s campaign: a celebrity endorsement from industrialist and inventor Thomas Alva Edison.
Attendees at the lecture were not only struck by the modern aspects of Roosevelt’s campaign, but were also cognizant of how our nation is still facing many of the issues that Roosevelt did.
“In the ‘question and answer’ portion of the program, many of the attendees noted a striking parallel between the 1912 election and the election of today," said Henson. "How many of the issues that we grappled with then are still being grappled with today?”
Though the attendees’ oft-expressed wish for Roosevelt to return to the arena will not happen, they did come away with a better understanding of how the Progressives won an ideological victory despite TR’s electoral loss. Henson emphasized these aspects of the lecture.
“Professor Milkis focused on how so many of the issues and programs that Roosevelt endorsed, like Women’s Suffrage and Social Security, were later championed by major party candidates and written into law. Even though TR ran as a third party candidate, his ideas helped to drive the 1912 presidential race and have become part of our world.”