Before the 1908 Republican convention was held, Teddy Roosevelt announced that he would not seek a third term as president. He gave his support to his Secretary of War, William Howard Taft. Taft was not enthusiastic about politics. He loved the law, and would eventually serve as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. His wife teamed with Roosevelt to convince him to run for office.
Up until the late 1800s, actively campaigning for the presidency was seen as being power hungry and overly ambitious. Candidates stayed home and let their supporters do the campaigning. In 1896, William Jennings Bryan, a superb public speaker, took to the campaign trail enthusiastically. He traveled 18,000 miles in three months. He was defeated by William McKinley.
On this date in 1908, the Washburn Leader reported on Taft’s campaign in Ohio as the candidate made his way west. Taft was running against William Jennings Bryan. Taft declared that if elected, “I propose to devote all the ability that is in me to the constructive work of suggesting to congress the means by which the Roosevelt policies shall be clinched.”
In those days, the campaign trail meant train travel. Politicians of the day routinely gave long speeches, speaking for hours. The term “whistle stop tour” described short stops in small towns. Because some of his court rulings were seen as anti-labor, Taft knew he had to counter that by connect directly with voters. He would need the support of the “common people” like farmers. Taft would speak for a few minutes from his train, then it was on to the next town. The strategy was brilliant. People felt they got to know him as a real person.
While Bryan spoke to huge crowds at his campaign events, Taft talked to small groups of locals who gathered at train stations. He took his campaign to small towns throughout the country. North Dakotans were enthusiastically behind him. The Grand Forks Herald said, “For the same reasons Theodore Roosevelt is the type of citizen North Dakota loves to honor, William H. Taft is the candidate to whom this state will give a very large majority of votes at the coming election.” The prediction was correct. He won North Dakota with over 60% of the popular vote on his way to a landslide victory.
Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher
US History. “The Election of 1908.” https://u-s-history.com/pages/h878.html Accessed 8/14/2020.
Indiana History Blog. “1908 Taft Rally.” https://blog.history.in.gov/1908-taft-rally/ Accessed 8/14/2020.
Washburn Leader. “Rear Platform Talks.” Washburn ND 9/11/1908. Page 2.