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The Republican Campaign
During July, Taft rested in the resort town of Hot Springs, Virginia, before delivering his acceptance speech, edited by President Roosevelt, on the 28th.  The Republican platform had not mentioned the issue of campaign contributions, but Taft announced that he would follow New York State law and publish a list of all donors after the election.  He did not mention the money question except to label guaranteeing bank deposits as “wrong in principle” because it would foster risky and irresponsible banking practices.  He rejected Bryan’s contention that “any monopoly is indefensible,” but agreed with the need to prosecute bad trusts.  Taft argued that the Panic of 1907 was not Roosevelt’s fault, but warned that another economic panic would ensue if Bryan were elected.  The Republican nominee pledged to call Congress into special session to revise the tariff.  He called for a larger military, and cautioned that it would be fifty years before the Philippines would be ready for independence.

Taft resumed his public silence in August, while Roosevelt led the vocal charge against Bryan and the Democrats.  The president also sent a steady flow of letters admonishing Taft to be aggressive.  “Do not answer Bryan, attack him!  Don’t let him make the issues… Hit them hard, old man!”  A popular joke of the campaign was that “T.A.F.T” was an acronym for “Take Advice From Theodore.”  The candidate and party chairman Frank Hitchcock had planned for a traditional “front porch” campaign, but criticism of Taft’s inaccessibility combined in September with a slight decrease in the Republican Party's winning percentages in Vermont and Maine state elections prodded the reluctant GOP candidate to hit the hustings.  It was the first time in American history that both major party presidential nominees engaged in campaign speaking tours. 

Taft did not possess Bryan’s oratorical skills and tended to deliver long speeches without memorable lines.  Nevertheless, the Republican standard-bearer presented a formidable physical presence on the podium, communicated competently without serious gaffes, and improved his delivery over the campaign.  From September 23-October 8, he traveled from Indiana to Colorado, returning convinced that the election was his.  Sensitive to charges of being anti-labor, Taft reiterated his belief that workers should be able to organize and even strike if the employer’s property was not harmed.  He declared, “I have done more for union labor than Mr. Gompers,” and warned that Socialist presidential nominee Eugene Debs would “uproot existing institutions, destroy the right to private property, and institute a new regime.”  Taft spent the last two weeks of the campaign in the Midwest and New York, contrasting the good economy under Republican rule with depression under the Democrats.  In all, he traveled 18,000 miles and delivered 400 speeches.

The Democratic Campaign
Unlike free silver in 1896 and imperialism in 1900, Bryan did not designate one issue as “paramount” in 1908.  In his first post-nomination speech, he emphasized the labor question, promising to establish a Department of Labor and exempting labor unions from antitrust prosecution.  In September, AFL president Samuel Gompers campaigned for him.  Bryan made a major issue of campaign contributions, refusing to accept corporate money and (on October 15) publishing the names of those contributing $100 or more to his election effort.  To highlight that he was the candidate of “the People” (a title Taft also claimed), Bryan solicited dollar donations from ordinary citizens.  The tactic failed.  By early October, only 50,000 people had contributed less than $250,000 dollars ($4.84 million in 2002 dollars), a disappointing figure.  His challenge to Republicans to publish a list of donors went unheeded during the campaign.  Although debate over alcohol prohibition was important in many states, both nominees avoided the subject.

As Taft’s acceptance speech responded to the Democratic platform, so Bryan’s acceptance speech on August 12 answered the Republican nominee.  He repeated the Democratic platform’s assertion that the main question of the campaign was “Shall the People Rule?”  Bryan charged that money from corporations led Republicans to enact legislation favoring big business and blocking reform.  He also singled out the election of U.S. senators by state legislatures as an impediment to reform, and said he would call Congress into special session to propose a constitutional amendment for the direct election of senators.  (Taft neutralized the issue by declaring it “nonpartisan.”)  The third major obstacle to popular rule and reform was identified as the extraordinary power of the Republican Speaker of the House, Joe Cannon.

As he had in 1896 and 1900, Bryan ran an energetic campaign, speaking throughout the North and West, while vice-presidential nominee Kern concentrated on the South.  Bryan drew large crowds and delivered numerous speeches each day (including a record-breaking 30).  Now middle-aged, he would often collapse in bed exhausted after a speech and sleep for a while.  He expected to lose New England and the West Coast, and to hold the South and Rocky Mountain States.  Of 60 days on the campaign trail, half were spent in the Midwest, 10 in New York, 6 in other Eastern states, and the remaining 14 days in the Plain States and Colorado. 

Late in October, Bryan charged Republicans with trying to buy the election and coercing the labor vote, but the claims did not seem to resonate with voters.  In the pivotal swing state of New York, he was backed by former senator David B. Hill and Tammany Hall, but refused the request of leading Democrats that he promise to appoint pro-business Supreme Court nominees.  Bryan pummeled his opponent on the issues of labor and campaign contributions, and used Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller’s endorsements of Taft against the Republican nominee.  Nevertheless, Bryan lost New York that November, 53%-41% (3% less than his 44% in 1900).

 
 
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