Talking 'bout Teddy: Theodore Roosevelt Symposium focuses on historic third-party run
America has almost always had two political parties -- the Federalists vs. the Democratic-Republicans, the Jacksonian Democrats vs. the Whigs, and the modern Democrats vs. Republicans -- but when the 26th president didn't support the way his successor was running the country, he founded his own party.
Theodore Roosevelt headed up the Progressive Party, giving Republican and Democratic candidates a run for their money.
The 100th anniversary of Roosevelt's historic third-party run for a third term is the subject of this year's Theodore Roosevelt Symposium hosted by the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University.
"The Progressive Party election of 1912, that was the most successful third-party run in American history," Theodore Roosevelt Center project manager Sharon Kilzer said. "Largely because TR was the candidate and he was very popular with the American people."
Roosevelt came in second to Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic candidate. Roosevelt received more than 4.1 million votes, or 27 percent, to Wilson's nearly 6.3 million votes, or 42 percent.
Roosevelt came in second in North Dakota, but took neighboring Minnesota and South Dakota.
The seventh-annual symposium, Theodore Roosevelt: The Progressive in the Arena, is Thursday, Friday and Saturday and will feature lectures, meals, entertainment and a bus tour to Medora and Beach.
After choosing not to seek another term as president during the 1908 election, Roosevelt left politics. But he was unhappy with the way William Howard Taft was performing as president, she said.
Roosevelt broke ties with the Republican Party, which supported him in his election to the vice presidency in 1900 and to his own term in 1904.
"He was the standard-bearer for the Progressive Party," Kilzer said. "But he was really opposed to some of the movements in the upper-Midwest of that period that would have seemed to be philosophically aligned with Progressivism. And so we're trying to make sense of that."
Because this year's symposium focuses on an election and it is an election year, Kilzer and staff are expecting dynamic conversation during the panel and question and answer sessions.
"We welcome that," she said. "That's part of what makes our symposiums unique... It's a conversation and we really make it a priority that the participants are able to engage with the speakers and to visit with them and to share their own thoughts and interests."
Other historic third parties will be discussed at this year's event, including the Populist Party, a movement 20 years before the Progressive Party that grew out of farming communities, not unlike those getting their start in western North Dakota at the end of the 19th century.
"After the Populist Party died out, it still continued to have an influence in various ways (on movements like the Progressive Party)," said author, panelist and keynote speaker Jeffrey Ostler.
The symposium begins with registration at 6 p.m. Thursday. There are lectures and panels all day Friday, wrapping up with a Chautauqua review at 6:30 p.m. A bus tour of Medora and Beach on Saturday will wrap up the 2012 Theodore Roosevelt Symposium.
As part of the event, there is a display of political cartoons from the election 100 years ago and this year's presidential contest near the Stoxen Library on the DSU campus, Theodore Roosevelt Center office and volunteer coordinator Kyle Scammon said.
"There are a lot of similarities between the two," he said. "I think it plays quite nicely, there's a great connection between the 1912 election and the 2012 election."
All lectures and panel discussions are free and open to the public. To partake in meals and the bus tour, register with the Theodore Roosevelt Center at 701-483-2728.