Taft declares war on the Progressives, Wilson says the Republican Party is broken, someone thinks Taft should nominate a woman to the Supreme Court, and Bryan's most die-hard supporter has given up. (Click here for an introduction to The 1912 Project; click here for previous installments.)
Political Emotionalists and Neurotics President Taft's response to the gathering candidates who are seeking to push him off the Republican ticket this fall has been described as meek, mild and aloof. But following last week's announcement he was going to open a campaign headquarters, he took the occasion of Lincoln's birthday, the G.O.P.'s most hallowed political holiday, to deliver his most fiery defense of his conservative program in the face of the Progressive challenge at the Republican Club's 26th Lincoln Day dinner in the Waldorf-Astoria ballroom. (See above, courtesy of the front page of today's reliably Republican New York Tribune if you want to know what a gathering of Republicans looked like in 1912.) The buzzword of the speech was progress, as in "being a party of progress," or "the progress that has been made," or "much progress against such abuses," or "the only progress that has been made," or "to forecast progress in this direction," or "I admit that we have progressed," or "instrumentally in the progress of civilization," to pick a few examples from just first half. But the quote that is leading most of the papers today (or at least the Republican-leaning ones) is, "The Republican party is entitled to be called truly progressive." But that bit came at the end of a rather long sentence in which Taft defended his record in regulating railroads under the Interstate Commerce Commission: "In so far, therefore, as progressive policy in politics means the close regulation of state given privilege, so as to secure its use for the benefit of the public and to restrain abuse for the undue profit of the grantee of the privilege, the Republican is entitled to be called truly progressive."
Taft, however, was clear that those running against him under the Progressive banner do not mean such limited regulatory moves. The idea of direct election of Senators, recalls, ballot initiatives and other small-d democratic proposals were downright evil (prepare for familiar historical hyperbole), according to the President:
With the effort to make the selection of candidates, the enactment of legislation and the decision of courts depend on the momentary passions of a people necessarily indifferently informed as to the issues presented, and without he opportunity having been given them for time and study and that deliberation that gives security and common sense to the government of the people, such extremists would hurry us into a condition which could find no parallel except in the French Revolution or in that bubbling anarchy that once characterized the South American republics. Such extremists are not progressives; they are political emotionalists or neurotics...."
The New York Times calls it a "ringing speech." The New York Tribune went with the front-page headline "TAFT SURE PARTY WILL WIN AGAIN" and threw in the color that his audience "interrupted time and again with enthusiastic clapping and cheering." Across the continent, The San Francisco Call headlines the speech as "TAFT UNMASKS FALSE PROPHETS IN THE PARTY." Up in Boston, the Evening Transcript simply writes, "TAFT DECLARES WAR."