Teddy Roosevelt campaigning by whistlestop in Ipswich MA

Teddy Roosevelt’s Ipswich “whistlestop,” December 1912

Presidential candidate Teddy Roosevelt on the campaign trail stopped at the Ipswich Train Depot in 1912. Behind him in the photo is the Damon Block, which burned twice.

Campaigning as the vice-presidential nominee with William McKinley in 1900, Theodore Roosevelt conducted one of the most famous political campaigns in U.S. history, traveling by train and making 480 stops in 23 states. Following the assassination of President McKinley in September 1901, Theodore Roosevelt, at age 42, succeeded to the Presidency, the youngest man to hold the office at that time. In 1904 he was elected to a full term with a platform of progressive reforms but failed to pass most of his initiatives in the Congress. He kept his promise to step down after that full term, and went on safari in Africa.

Theodore Roosevelt campaigning in Boston, December 29, 1912
Theodore Roosevelt campaigning in Boston, December 29, 1912

Unhappy with his successor President Taft, Roosevelt tried but failed to receive the Republican nomination in 1912. Claiming the Republican nomination had been “stolen” from him, he founded the Progressive “Bull Moose” Party, and conducted a vigorous national campaign, including a trip through New England that passed through Ipswich. In the election, Roosevelt drew 27% of the votes, ahead of Taft (23%) but lost to Woodrow Wilson (42%). Socialist Eugene Debs drew 6%.

Teddy Roosevelt campaign train
The Teddy Roosevelt campaign train, location unknown

Teddy Roosevelt was a grandstanding performer with plenty of rhetoric but fewer accomplishments, loved by the masses and despised by intellectuals. H.L. Mencken said, “What moved him was simply a craving for facile and meaningless banzais, for the gaudy eminence and power of the leader of a band of lynchers, for the mean admiration of mean men.” Woodrow Wilson, who had once admired Theodore Roosevelt, eventually called him “the monumental fakir of history.”

Mark Twin wrote, “We are insane, each in our own way, and with insanity goes irresponsibility. Theodore the man is sane, but in fairness we ought to keep in mind that Theodore, as statesman and politician, is insane and irresponsible.” In his Autobiography, Twain wrote, “Roosevelt is the most formidable disaster that has befallen the country since the Civil War, but the vast mass of the nation loves him, is frantically fond of him, even idolizes him. This is the simple truth. It sounds like a libel upon the intelligence of the human race, but it isn’t; there isn’t any way to libel the intelligence of the human race.”

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