Monday, January 21, 2013

A Note on Suffrage and Presidential Politics

Following General Rosalie Jones and her Army of the Hudson led Gossips out of its comfort zone of local history into the realm of national politics a century ago. Before we retreat back, there's one more discovery to share.

The presidential election of 1912 was unusual in that there were four candidates. Theodore Roosevelt, who had supported his successor, William Howard Taft, in 1908, wanted, four years later, to run again himself. Failing to win the nomination of the Republican Party (that went to the incumbent Taft), Roosevelt formed his own party--the Progressive Party, also known as the Bull Moose Party. Woodrow Wilson, of course, was the Democrats' candidate, and, with Eugene Debs running as the candidate of the Socialist Party of America, voters--still all men--had four candidates to choose from.

In 1912, the suffragists were ramping up their battle for the vote, and Wilson was not the best choice as President to help them achieve their goal. Theodore Roosevelt was. In 1912, Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party was the first national political party to have a plank in the party platform supporting woman suffrage. Wilson, as did Taft, opposed federal woman suffrage. 

It wasn't that Wilson disliked women. Louis Auchincloss described him as someone who "simply could not live without the love and approval of an attractive and sympathetic woman." When his first wife, Ellen Axson Wilson, died in August 1914, Wilson was devastated. His health deteriorated, he fell into depression and talked of resigning. When he met Edith Bolling Galt, the charming and wealthy widow who would become his second wife, he was smitten. In June 1915--less than a year after Ellen's death--they were secretly engaged. They were married, after little more than the minimum wait required by respectability, in December 1915.

Woodrow Wilson, daughter Eleanor, and Ellen Axson Wilson

Woodrow Wilson and Edith Bolling Galt

A comment, recounted by Auchincloss, gives insight into why suffragettes would have a problem persuading Wilson to support their cause. Wilson, Auchincloss tells us, once referred to "the chilled, scandalized feeling that comes over me when I see and hear women speak in public."

1 comment:

  1. How nice to see Louis Auchincloss cited!

    The incumbent Taft was not a shoe-in for the GOP ticket. The reason Roosevelt opposed him in '12 was that Taft had reneged on Roosevelt's legacy - primarily his legacy as a conservationist - while Roosevelt was on safari in Africa. He'd gone to Africa basically to disappear, while giving Taft a chance to find his own feet.

    When Roosevelt emerged from the Nile he was immediately brought up to date, and he was livid. He felt totally betrayed, and the two men who'd been so close before never shared another civil word.

    However, Roosevelt's legacy as a conservationist didn't end with Taft. During the Wilson administration, Congressional Republicans and Democrats spearheaded the world's first international migratory bird treaties - treaties to which we still abide.

    To this day the European continent has nothing like it.

    This city could use a little bipartisan environmentalism, but I despair of the level of concern among Democrats. As I've said before, I don't believe that the low-hanging fruit of anti-fracking legislation is anything near what needs to be done in Hudson. The legacy of Cheryl Roberts' LWRP still poses a threat, so we must take care that our little successes don't contribute to a whitewash of our bigger problems.