Beginning with former president Theodore Roosevelt’s return in 1910 from his African safari, Chace brilliantly unfolds a dazzling political circus that featured four extraordinary candidates.
When Roosevelt failed to defeat his chosen successor, William Howard Taft, for the Republican nomination, he ran as a radical reformer on the Bull Moose ticket. Meanwhile, Woodrow Wilson, the ex-president of Princeton, astonished everyone by seizing the Democratic nomination from the bosses who had made him New Jersey’s governor. Most revealing of the reformist spirit sweeping the land was the charismatic socialist Eugene Debs, who polled an unprecedented one million votes.
Wilson’s “accidental” election had lasting impact on America and the world. The broken friendship between Taft and TR inflicted wounds on the Republican Party that have never healed, and the party passed into the hands of a conservative ascendancy that reached its fullness under Reagan and George W. Bush. Wilson’s victory imbued the Democratic Party with a progressive idealism later incarnated in FDR, Truman, and LBJ.
James Chace was the Paul W. Williams Professor of Government and Public Law at Bard College. The former managing editor of Foreign Affairs and the author of eight previous books, most recently Acheson, he passed away in October 2004.