When Taft saved the Constitution from Teddy Roosevelt

In the course of a column on Tea Party candidate Ted Cruz’s victory in Texas for the Republican senate nomination, George Will recounts a time one hundred years ago this Sunday when Republicans purposefully lost an election to preserve the Constitution.  I did not know these things about Teddy Roosevelt:

After leaving the presidency in 1909, TR went haywire. He had always chafed under constitutional restraints, but he had remained a Hamiltonian, construing the Constitution expansively but respectfully. By 1912, however, he had become what the Democratic nominee, Woodrow Wilson, was — an anti-Madisonian. Both thought the Constitution, the enumeration and separation of powers, intolerably crippled government.

Espousing unconstrained majoritarianism, TR disdained James Madison’s belief that the ultimate danger is wherever ultimate power resides, which in a democracy is with the majority. He endorsed the recall of state judicial decisions and by September 1912 favored the power to recall all public officials, including the president.

TR’s anti-constitutional excesses moved two political heroes to subordinate personal affection to the public interest. New York Sen. Elihu Root had served TR as secretary of war and secretary of state, and he was Roosevelt’s first choice to succeed him in 1908. Massachusetts Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge had long been one of TR’s closest friends. Both sided with Taft.

As the Hudson Institute’s William Schambra says (in “The Saviors of the Constitution,” National Affairs, Winter 2012, and elsewhere), by their “lonely, principled” stand, Root and Lodge, along with Taft, “denied TR the powerful electoral machinery of the Republican Party, which would almost surely have elected him, and then been turned to securing sweeping alterations” of the Constitution.

Wilson won with 41.8 percent of the vote (to TR’s 27.4 percent). Taft won 23.2 percent, carrying only Vermont and Utah, but achieved something far grander than a second term: the preservation of the GOP as an intellectual counterbalance to the Democrats’ thorough embrace of progressivism and the “living” — actually, disappearing — Constitution.

via George Will: Texas’s Ted Cruz gives tea party a Madisonian flair – The Washington Post.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • SKPeterson

    Just as interesting here is how William Jennings Bryan and Woodrow Wilson captured the Democrat party from Cleveland and the Bourbon Democrats. The Democrats used to be the free-market party that was opposed to government interference and special interests, while the Lincoln Republicans were advocates of mercantilism, interventionism, big fans of public works and protection of industry from competition. Coupled with populist Progressivism, we would have degenerated (IMO) into just another New World autocracy along the lines of modern day Venezuela.

  • SKPeterson

    Just as interesting here is how William Jennings Bryan and Woodrow Wilson captured the Democrat party from Cleveland and the Bourbon Democrats. The Democrats used to be the free-market party that was opposed to government interference and special interests, while the Lincoln Republicans were advocates of mercantilism, interventionism, big fans of public works and protection of industry from competition. Coupled with populist Progressivism, we would have degenerated (IMO) into just another New World autocracy along the lines of modern day Venezuela.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “the Constitution, the enumeration and separation of powers, intolerably crippled government.”

    Ja! WOHL!

    Das haben sie mit Absicht getan, Leute!!!!

    That is what we love about the US Constitution!!

    That is the whole point!!!!

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “the Constitution, the enumeration and separation of powers, intolerably crippled government.”

    Ja! WOHL!

    Das haben sie mit Absicht getan, Leute!!!!

    That is what we love about the US Constitution!!

    That is the whole point!!!!

  • Steve Billingsley

    SKPeterson @ 1
    Very good point. It shows pretty clearly how political parties can very much change over time. Both parties are very different today than they were even 30 years ago. There were genuine liberals in the Republican party and genuine conservatives in the Democratic party and with extremely rare exceptions, that is no longer the case.

  • Steve Billingsley

    SKPeterson @ 1
    Very good point. It shows pretty clearly how political parties can very much change over time. Both parties are very different today than they were even 30 years ago. There were genuine liberals in the Republican party and genuine conservatives in the Democratic party and with extremely rare exceptions, that is no longer the case.

  • Random Lutheran

    The thing is, SK, is that what we became is only marginally better: an oligarchy hidden behind an elected façade. The big banks, oil companies, etc., etc., all line up behind the Ds and the Rs in various alliances, and away we go. Legislation is written by others, and voted on by (essentially) hired representatives.

  • Random Lutheran

    The thing is, SK, is that what we became is only marginally better: an oligarchy hidden behind an elected façade. The big banks, oil companies, etc., etc., all line up behind the Ds and the Rs in various alliances, and away we go. Legislation is written by others, and voted on by (essentially) hired representatives.

  • Joe

    RL — there is some truth in what you say but no one likes the only solution that would work. Divest the gov’t of the power to enact these regulations/laws that are being written by the vary industries they are supposed to govern and the industries loose tremendous power.

  • Joe

    RL — there is some truth in what you say but no one likes the only solution that would work. Divest the gov’t of the power to enact these regulations/laws that are being written by the vary industries they are supposed to govern and the industries loose tremendous power.

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