Lewis L. Gould on “Parties to History”

Lewis L. Gould
Lewis L. Gould Lewis L. Gould

Lewis L. Gould received his PhD from Yale in 1966 and the following year became an assistant professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin where he taught for thirty-one years. Although retired, he is still active as the editor of the Modern First Ladies series with the University Press of Kansas. He is also author of the recently published Four Hats in the Ring: The 1912 Election and the Birth of Modern American Politics and Bull Moose on the Stump: The 1912 Campaign Speeches of Theodore Roosevelt, which is due out this fall.

What drew you to this story? Can you describe its genesis?
I have been doing research on American politics during the Progressive Era (1900-1920) for more than four decades. The 1912 election was a key moment in that exciting and controversial period and, after writing on such topics as The Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, I intended to examine the many facets of this election. The split between Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft that divided the Republican Party was the decisive moment in the 1912 race. It guaranteed a Democratic victory in the fall that brought Woodrow Wilson to the White House. The turbulent events in mid-June 1912 in Chicago seemed central to understanding how the GOP split emerged.

What surprised you the most while covering the 1912 Republican Convention?
How remote in time it was from how our modern conventions work and yet how relevant it was—and is—to the 2008 election. The remoteness comes from a time when conventions actually decided who a nominee would be and debated serious issues within the major parties. The sense of 1912 as a modern election comes from how the issues of choosing delegates, applying party rules, and selecting a candidate still remain to agitate both major parties. The recent meeting of the Democrats about how to seat delegations from Florida and Michigan evoked for me the similar process in 1912 when the Republican National Committee decided the allocation of the contested delegations between Roosevelt and Taft.  

What was your favorite moment during your reporting?
Trying to visualize the scene when Theodore Roosevelt came to Chicago, which prospective nominees did not do in those days, and addressed a crowd of his supporters. After he attacked Taft and the party leaders, he concluded by saying: "Fearless of the future; unheeding of our individual fates; with unflinching hearts and undimmed eyes; we stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord!" They don't make political oratory like that any more.

Was there anything fun or interesting that didn't make the final cut?
The contrast between the energy of Roosevelt and his allies and the grim determination of the Taft forces to hold on to the party was just not possible to convey fully in the space available. One reporter said that going from the GOP convention to the Roosevelt headquarters was "like stepping from a board meeting of railroad directors, from a post-mortem in a coroner's office on a corpse, into a Zuni snake-dance." In that time before World War I, American politics had a sense of drama and enjoyment that has always attracted me to that period and its leaders.

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