Ohio History Journal

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The President and the "Deacon"

in the Campaign of 1912.

The Correspondence of

William Howard Taft and James Calvin Hemphill










The reform impulse of the progressive movement, strong and virile after

a decade of growth, dominated the political atmosphere in which the

presidential campaign of 1912 took place. So pervasive was its influence

that the election turned out to be more of an intramural competition among

various schools of progressive thought than a contest between conserva-

tism and progressivism. From its beginning late in 1911, the preconven-

tion campaign generated little optimism within conservative quarters of

either party. Clearly the credos of Robert La Follette, Woodrow Wilson,

and Theodore Roosevelt constituted the political mainstream. And those

unable to endorse some version of progressivism found themselves stranded

in a politically sterile backwater. Two such men, both keenly aware of their

alienation, were President William Howard Taft, an Ohio Republican, and

his close personal friend, James Calvin Hemphill, a southern Democrat.

Their correspondence during the preconvention campaign not only offers

a rather extraordinary example of interparty communication at a critical

juncture in party politics, but also reveals much about the reactions of

two men confronted with the prospect of political defeat.

By the autumn of 1911 the president was in serious trouble. Not even

his control of patronage and the Republican party machinery could be

relied upon to stop the revolt against him. Although he may well have

been less conservative than the Old Guard, progressives viewed his ad-

ministration as a capitulation to reactionarism. Their hostility focused