1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft and Debs—The Election That Changed the Country

James Chace, Author . Simon & Schuster $26.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-7432-0394-4

Some histories interpret new evidence and add to our store of knowledge. Some, relying on others' research, simply tell a known story. Chace's work is the best of the latter kind: a lively, balanced and accurate retelling of an important moment in American history. Even though the 1912 election wasn't the election that changed the country (there have been several), it was a critical one. It gave us Woodrow Wilson, though only by a plurality of the popular vote (albeit a huge electoral majority) and so gave us U.S. intervention in WWI and Wilsonian internationalism. Because of former president Theodore Roosevelt's rousing candidacy as nominee of the short-lived Bull Moose, or Progressive, Party, the campaign deepened the public's acceptance of the idea of a more modern and activist presidency. Because Eugene Debs, the great Socialist, gained more votes for that party (6% of the total) than ever before or since, the election marked American socialism's political peak. What of the ousted incumbent, William Howard Taft? Chace (Acheson , etc.) succeeds in making him a believable, sympathetic character, if a lackluster chief executive. What made the 1912 campaign unusual was that candidates of four, not just two, parties vied for the presidency. The race was also marked by a basic decency, honesty and quality of debate not often seen again. Chace brings sharply alive the distinctive characters in his fast-paced story. There won't soon be a better-told tale of one of the last century's major elections. Agent, Suzanne Gluck, William Morris. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 03/01/2004
Release date: 05/01/2004
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Ebook - 336 pages - 978-1-4391-8826-2
Paperback - 323 pages - 978-0-7432-7355-8
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