The Republican Convention of 1912 looks a lot like what is happening today: power plays by the establishment’and arguments about the role of regulation of business. (More)

How did I stumble upon the similarities? My great-grandfather was a Republican and the Speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives. He was a delegate to the 1912 Convention in Chicago. I have his delegate’s badge and some tickets and went on an internet search to determine if they had any value. I became captivated by the stories of the Republican disarray of 1912. The themes of 1912 were the role of regulations, how to give labor a fair voice, activist judges, conservation and the party powerful swinging the delegates their way. Echoes that are still being discussed today.

Theodore Roosevelt chose Taft as his successor when he left the Presidency in 1909. The Simithsonian Magazine says:

Roosevelt had advocated a “Square Deal” between capital and labor in American society. By the time he left the White House in March 1909, Roosevelt believed that the federal government must do more to supervise large corporations, improve the lot of women and children who worked long hours for low wages in industry, and conserve natural resources. “When I say that I am for the square deal, I mean not merely that I stand for fair play under the present rules of the game, but that I stand for having those rules changed so as to work for a more substantial equality of opportunity and of reward for equally good service,” he said in August 1910.

Taft was from the more conservative wing of the Republican Party and thought his good friend Theodore had lost it. They strongly disagreed about the role of the courts in reform. (Hello Citizen’s United.)

With the courts tamed as an enemy to reform, Roosevelt then would press forward “to see that the wage-worker, the small producer, the ordinary consumer, shall get their fair share of the benefit of business prosperity.”

The social justice that Roosevelt sought involved, in Taft’s opinion, “a forced division of property, and that means socialism.”

The name calling was a bit more genteel in 1912. I don’t have a clue how to evaluate these insults:

Roosevelt described Taft as a “puzzlewit,” while the president labeled Roosevelt a “honeyfugler.”

When Roosevelt had won all the primaries with the exception of Massachusetts, Taft mobilized the party machinery to secure delegates from states without primaries to vote for him. Roosevelt took his delegates out of the process and started the ‘Bull Moose Party.”

The end result, Woodrow Wilson was elected President in 1912. Ideological purity tests are not new.

Yet, for Republicans who supported Taft, the electoral defeat was worth the ideological victory. As a Republican observed during the campaign: “We can’t elect Taft & we must do anything to elect Wilson so as to defeat Roosevelt.”

I have no idea how my great-grandfather weighed in on all this. I do know, from a scrapbook of newspaper clippings that when the Minnesota House was tied on the wets vs the dries on the prohibition question that he cast the deciding vote for the wets. I gave all his diaries to the Minnesota Historical Society. They were initially polite but skeptical. As I started to point out his role in government and the fact that he was a compulsive recorder of everything, they went from ‘eh’ to “How cool is this!”

Fascinating that the big questions of governments role keep getting asked and answered, asked and answered again. I hope the Democrats have a cushion of some sort of third party in 2012. That would be a very nice echo.