This is the beginning of a small multi-part timeline outlining the history of the United States based on a surviving Progressive Party. In our history, the Progressive Party burst into American politics with the nomination of former president Theodore Roosevelt in the 1912 presidential election. The party earned 88 electoral votes, beating out incumbent president William Howard Taft who only carried the states of Utah and Vermont. However, the Progressive Party did not gain traction and faded out of political prominence by the end of the decade. In this timeline, the Progressive Party emerges as a viable third party.
The origins of the Progressive Party lie in the dissatisfaction with both the Democrats and the Republicans at the turn of the 20th century. The Democrats were largely seen as the party of the agrarian, aristocratic South. They had also become associated with the corruption and machine politics in the North as Tammany Hall’s notoriety spread. Meanwhile, the Republican Party was the party of big business. While the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt had injected some much needed progressive policies into the party, it was still dominated by the conservative business faction such as Nelson Aldrich of Rhode Island. So in 1912, the working class of the United States were calling for a new party to oppose the two parties.
That opportunity arose as Taft battled Roosevelt for the Republican nomination. Roosevelt won most of the new party primaries, but Taft sailed into the nomination in the backroom dealings of the Republican caucuses. Roosevelt, bitter toward Taft at the reversal of some of Roosevelt’s policies and the Republican Party for rejecting him, threw his political weight behind the Progressive Party and easily won the party’s nomination. Roosevelt campaigned vigorously against Taft and Wilson, but ultimately divided the Republican base leading Wilson and the Democratic Party to an easy victory. Despite winning less than 40 percent of the popular vote, Wilson won in a landslide with 332 electoral votes. Roosevelt carried 12 states, mostly in the northwest and Midwest, for a total of 150 electoral votes. Taft only won 8 states and 49 electoral votes, carrying Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, and all of New England except Maine. The 1912 election also saw the best performance by the Socialist Party, with 6 percent of the popular vote, though they failed to win any states.
In addition to the success the Progressives had in their first presidential election, the party also saw a moderate amount of success in lower level elections as well. Hiram Johnson, Roosevelt’s running mate, remained with the fledgling party as governor of California. The Progressives also won the gubernatorial election in Washington that year. They also gained two senators who defected from the Republican Party – Miles Poindexter of Washington and Joseph Dixon of Montana – as well as gaining 10 members of the House of Representatives.
During the successive Congresses, the Progressive Party members advocated a consolidated form of Theodore Roosevelt’s platform of New Nationalism. The platform included political reform such as women’s suffrage and direct election of senators, and social reforms including an eight hour work day, a federal minimum wage, social insurance for the unemployed, disabled, and elderly, and the establishment of a national health service and a federal securities commission. The Progressives in Congress worked with Democrats and the Wilson administration to pass limited progressive reforms. In 1913 Congress created the Federal Reserve as a central banking system to lessen the financial panics that had occurred periodically over the previous two decades. The 16th Amendment was enacted authorizing a federal income tax, lessening the burden on tariffs for providing government revenue. The Federal Trade Commission and Clayton Antitrust Act prohibited certain business practices and encouraged competition, but also moved responsibility for pursuing action against trusts away from the president, unlike the prior administrations of Taft and Roosevelt.
In the 1914 midterm elections, the Progressive Party made further gains at both the state and federal levels. The strongest support for the Progressives came from California. In California, Hiram Johnson was reelected governor on the Progressive ticket, and the party won the races for lieutenant governor, one of California’s Senate seats, and 5 of the state’s 11 House seats. Elsewhere, the Progressives won two more Senate seats in Kansas and Washington. Albert Beveridge of Indiana and Gifford Pinchot of Pennsylvania, two key founding figures of the party, almost won election to the Senate from their respective states. The Progressives also gained 6 more seats in the House. While this was a lessened showing compared to two years prior, the fact that the Progressives successfully contested all their incumbent Representatives’ elections as well was a sign that the new party was not going to fade away any time soon.