Presidential politics of 100 years ago seem vastly more interesting than today, as presented Monday night by a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of one of the candidates.
The contender in 1912 was Theodore Roosevelt, fighting tooth and nail against the president he had supported four years earlier but now called a fathead and a reactionary, Ohio’s own William Howard Taft. Mr. Taft called Mr. Roosevelt a dangerous egotist and worse. The two ended up splitting the Republican vote, giving the victory to Democrat Woodrow Wilson.
With rich details of the slugfest in that long-ago critical race, Edmund Morris engaged a mature audience of 200 at Authors! Authors! in the McMaster Center of the Main Library downtown. Over 35 years, Mr. Morris wrote a three-volume biography of Mr. Roosevelt and was also the authorized biographer of Ronald Reagan, which resulted in 1999’s Dutch.
Mr. Roosevelt had already had two terms as president at the start of the 20th century, and a consecutive third was his for the taking.
“He loved power and he loved being president, but he believed the power of the president is a gift of the people, and possessing it for too long was tending toward corruption,” Mr. Morris said. “But as soon as he gave up power, he regretted it and wanted it back, which showed he was only human.”
When it appeared Mr. Taft would get the Republican nomination, Mr. Roosevelt bolted, establishing his own Progressive Party, which included a large contingent of women fighting for the right to vote.
The most sophisticated president since Thomas Jefferson, Mr. Roosevelt spoke four languages, read a book a day, wrote 40 books, and won a Nobel Peace Prize for mediating a resolution to the Russo-Japan war in 1905. After his 1901 to 1909 presidency, Mr. Roosevelt took a long overseas trip, during which he met and won the respect of the heads of many European states.
Had he been elected in 1912, Mr. Morris speculates, the European leaders he had met a few years earlier would have asked him to intervene as tensions between nations brewed and erupted into World War I.
“I think they would have turned to him to mediate a resolution.”
But the White House held a president, Mr. Wilson, “a narrow Presbyterian,” Mr. Morris said, with little experience, who was determined to keep America out of Europe’s war, at least during his first term.
Authors! Authors! is sponsored by The Blade and the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library. Next in the series is to be folk singer Judy Collins at 7 p.m. April 5 in the Stranahan Theater. Collins has written books on her life, on creativity, and about suicide after the death of her only child. Tickets are sold at all library branches and at the door.
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