Election of 1908: Passing the baton to William Howard Taft

Long before the 1908 Republican convention met, Theodore Roosevelt had announced his intention not to seek a third term. He preferred to be succeeded by his secretary of war, William Howard Taft. TR perceived a certain docility in Taft that might induce him to pursue the former's progressive reforms.

Taft easily won his party's nomination, but felt slighted when a convention demonstration for Roosevelt was much longer and louder than a later one for himself.

The Democrats in 1908 had not forgotten the thumping they received four years previously when they ran a conservative candidate. They resorted to an earlier recipe for failure and nominated William Jennings Bryan for the third time.

The 1908 campaign revolved around Roosevelt's record. The reform Republicans boasted of TR's reform achievements, while the more conservative party members simply kept quiet; for them, anyone was better than Bryan. The Democrats had a hard time portraying themselves as the progressive party. Bryan did the best he could and argued that he was a more logical successor to Roosevelt than Taft. Bryan committed a major blunder during the campaign by calling for government ownership of the railroads. Such a move was regarded as socialism even by those with strong progressive leanings and made Bryan look like a wild-eyed radical.

Taft won a convincing victory in the 1908 election. Bryan's support was confined to the Solid South, plus Nebraska, Colorado and Nevada. The Socialists improved their popular vote tally slightly over 1904, while the Prohibition Party remained at almost the same level. The Populists, in their final appearance on the national stage, polled fewer than 30,000 votes; most of their supporters had deserted the cause in favor of Bryan.

Election of 1908


Electoral Vote


William Howard Taft (OH)
James S. Sherman (NY)




William Jennings Bryan (NE)
John W. Kern (IN)




Eugene V. Debs (IN)
Benjamin Hanford (NY)




Eugene W. Chaflin(IL)
Aaron S. Watkins (OH)




Thomas L. Hisgen (MA)
John T. Graves (GA)




Thomas E. Watson (GA)
Samuel Williams (IN)




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