The Standard Oil Scandal
Late in the campaign,
a hostile exchange between Bryan and President Roosevelt made headlines for
several weeks. The situation began when William Randolph Hearst published
a series of letters in which prominent Democratic and Republican politicians
wrote of stopping “objectionable” legislation and defeating “dangerous”
candidates. In particular, Republican Senator Joseph Foraker of Ohio and
Democratic Governor Charles Haskell of Oklahoma were implicated in accepting
bribes in an attempt to stop the antitrust suit against the Standard Oil
Company. Taft quickly severed all ties with Foraker, who withdrew from his
Senate reelection campaign.
Bryan, however, refused to
believe the charge against Haskell, who was serving as treasurer of the
Democratic National Committee. Roosevelt announced that he had returned a
contribution from Standard Oil in 1904, and attacked Bryan’s association with
Haskell. The Democratic nominee demanded that Roosevelt produce proof of
the governor/treasurer’s alliance with Standard Oil, and tried to change the
subject by charging Republicans with leading the country toward socialism.
Roosevelt responded that Bryan’s support of Haskell was a “scandal and
disgrace.” Haskell called Hearst “a liar,” but resigned as party treasurer
(while remaining in the governorship).
The Election Results
On November 3, Taft
defeated Bryan 321-162 in the Electoral College and 52%-43.5% in the popular
vote. Bryan carried the South, Oklahoma, Colorado, Nevada, and won 6 of 8
electors in narrowly divided Maryland (Taft won the popular vote by less than
3/10 of a percent). He won no crucial state and only two large cities,
Kansas City and New Orleans. Taft did well in the more urban Northeast,
the Midwest, and the Pacific Coast. The Socialist and Prohibition Parties
received only 2.8% and 1.7%, respectively, down slightly from their 1904 totals.
The recovery of the economy and the assistance of President Roosevelt had aided
the Republican national ticket’s victory, but Taft had proven to be a competent
campaigner and a man with his own ideas (most notably on the tariff question),
not merely an echo of Roosevelt. However, Taft’s electoral success did not
have coattails. Democrats picked up eight seats in the U.S. House, gained
strength in most state legislatures, and won governorships in five states that
Taft carried. Many of the reforms Bryan endorsed in 1908 eventually become
law, such as the direct election of senators (1913), a federal income tax
(1913), and the government guarantee of bank deposits (1933).
Sources consulted: Paul
F. Boller Jr., Presidential Campaigns (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1984); Robert J. Dinkin, Campaigning in America: A History of
Election Practices (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1989); Lewis L.
Gould, The Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt (Lawrence, Kansas:
University Press of Kansas, 1991); Paulo E. Coletta, “Election of 1908,” in
History of American Presidential Elections, ed. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.,
New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1985; and, Gil Troy, See How They
Ran: The Changing Role of the Presidential Candidate (New York:
The Free Press, 1991).