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The platform then gave Republicans credit for passing and enforcing the Sherman Antitrust Act, and advocated strengthening the law.  The document endorsed enhancing the Interstate Commerce Commission’s authority and more legislation regulating the safety and working conditions of railroad and federal employees.  For “Wage-Earners Generally,” it offered numerous promises, including an eight-hour day for those constructing federal public works, a child labor law for Washington, D.C., congressional inquiries into the working conditions of women, children, miners, and telephone and telegraph company employees.  At Taft’s request, the platform endorsed limiting the circumstances under which injunctions (often used against strikers) could be issued by judges.  The moderate language proved unsatisfactory to both labor and business leaders.

At Taft’s insistence, the 1908 platform dropped the threat in the 1904 platform of reducing congressional representation for states violating voting rights, but the 1908 document’s support of black civil rights was much explicit and lengthier than in the previous one.  It supported “without reservation” enforcing the “letter and spirit” of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, and condemned disfranchisement based on race.  The platform praised the Roosevelt administration’s handling of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and the Panama Canal, reaffirmed the Republican commitment to military preparedness, and endorsed the wider use of arbitration to settle international disputes.  The final section of the platform reviewed the “fundamental differences” between the two parties, including the Democrats recent trend “toward socialism” versus the GOP allegiance to “wise and regulated individualism.”

On June 18, Taft won the Republican presidential nomination by a landslide, with 702 votes to other candidates’ combined total of 274.  Since Governors Hughes of New York and Herbert Hadley of Missouri took themselves out of contention for the vice-presidency, and geography and factionalism prevented the selection of Iowa’s Governor Albert Cummins or Senator Jonathan Dolliver, second place on the ticket was awarded to Congressman James “Sunny Jim” Sherman of New York.  Besides bringing geographical balance, he had a record of successful fundraising and considerable personal wealth.

The Democratic Nomination
For a dozen years, the dominant presence in the Democratic Party had been William Jennings Bryan, the former congressman from Nebraska (1891-1895).  Although he had been the party’s unsuccessful presidential nominee in 1896 and 1900, few doubted that he planned to seek a third nomination in 1908.  In 1901, he began publishing a weekly newspaper called The Commoner to espouse his political agenda:  business regulation; government reforms, such as ballot initiatives and referenda, primary nomination system, one-term presidency, and the popular election of U.S. senators; and, in foreign policy, greater self-government for America’s foreign dependencies combined with more forceful application of the Monroe Doctrine in Latin America.

With conservatives temporarily in control of the party, Bryan chose not to run for president in 1904.  Nevertheless, he continued to play a leadership role, promoting his populist agenda and relentlessly criticizing the party’s conservatives.  President Theodore Roosevelt’s resounding defeat of Democrat Alton B. Parker left Bryan poised to reclaim the nomination four years later.  After he left the United States in September 1905 on a world tour, political events in America proved beneficial to his presidential ambitions.  Publisher William Randolph Hearst’s loss of the New York mayoral race in November 1905 undercut his political aspirations, and a trial balloon launched by Harper’s Weekly for President Woodrow Wilson of Princeton University deflated.  In early 1906, several Democratic state conventions endorsed Bryan’s candidacy, to which he unconvincingly expressed surprise.  In order to attract support from conservative Democrats, he tempered his rhetoric and called for a halt to the spread of socialism in America. 

When Bryan returned to the United States on August 30, 1906, Democratic politicians from across the country gathered at a reception in New York City to hail him as a conquering hero.  He spoke for over an hour, denouncing imperialism, arguing for tariff reform and stronger antitrust legislation, while acknowledging that the issue of free silver was finished.  His most controversial stance was government ownership of major railroad lines (interstate lines at the federal level and local feeder lines at the state level).  The position undermined support from conservative Democrats who had been warming to him.  Despite the publicity, Bryan remained coy about his future intentions.

Governor John A. Johnson of Minnesota was Bryan’s most serious challenger.  He gained national attention in 1904 after winning the governorship as a Democrat in a Republican state that gave President Roosevelt a two-to-one majority.  Johnson earned a reputation as an honest, talented administrator free from ties to political machines or corporate interests, and a moderate reformer.  His rags-to-riches story made good press, and he became very popular.  In 1906, he ran an energetic campaign, winning reelection by a landslide.  In 1907, Harper’s Weekly profiled him in a series on five possible Democratic presidential candidates, and Louisville Courier-Journal editor Henry Watterson became his major promoter.  In early 1908, Johnson topped the New York World’s list of 16 candidates better suited for the Democratic nomination than Bryan.  In March, the Minnesota Democratic State Convention endorsed Johnson for president.

Popularity at home and favorable national press were not enough for Johnson to overtake Bryan, who by the end of June had amassed more than the requisite two-thirds of the delegates needed for nomination.  Tammany Hall threw its support to Bryan, Alton Parker said he would back him if nominated, and even World publisher Joseph Pulitzer admitted that Bryan was better than Taft, a “Roosevelt type of candidate.”  At the Democratic National Convention in Denver on July 7-10, Johnson released his delegates to Bryan, who won a first-ballot victory with 892 votes.  The remaining 105 votes were scattered among favorite-son candidates. 

Bryan left the choice of vice-president to the delegates, who nominated John Kern, a former state senator (1893-1897) from Indiana.  The New York Times scoffed that the Democratic national ticket was consistent because “a man twice defeated for the Presidency was at the head of it, and a man twice defeated for governor of his state [in 1900 and 1904] was at the tail of it.”  Angry that the party had rejected his candidate, Woodrow Wilson, Harper’s Weekly editor George Harvey responded, “The Democrats will now resume their customary occupation of electing a Republican President.”

The Democratic platform began by declaring that the national conscience had been “aroused to free the Government from the grip of … favor-seeking corporations,” and that all issue could be reduced to the question, “Shall the people rule?”  It criticized the increased number of federal officeholders and expenditures—“the heedless waste of the people’s money”—and demanded “the strictest economy in every department compatible with frugal and efficient administration.”  Next, the platform dedicated an entire section to condemning the “Arbitrary Power” of the speaker of the House, Republican Joseph Cannon of Illinois (unnamed).  That was followed by criticism of President Roosevelt for using patronage to nominate “one of his Cabinet officers” (i.e., Taft) as his successor. 

At Bryan’s insistence, a plank called for federal legislation requiring the publication of campaign contributions, limiting the amount that individuals could donate, and banning contributions from business corporations (via their officers), the last punishable by imprisonment.  The platform reiterated the party’s longstanding support of tariff reform and welcomed Republicans’ “tardy recognition of the righteousness of the Democratic position….”  Labeling private monopoly “indefensible and intolerable,” the trusts plank advocated three laws:  banning directors from sitting on the board of more than one competing business; federal licensing of any corporation before it could control 25% of a market and prohibiting control of over 50% market-share of an American-consumed product; and, requiring corporations to sell to all purchasers on the same terms (except for transportation costs).  

At Bryan’s direction, his previous endorsement of government ownership of railroads was omitted from the platform, but it advocated regulatory authority for the Interstate Commerce Commission, emergency currency “issued and controlled by the Federal Government,” and an income tax on individuals and corporations.  Meeting most of the demands of American Federal of Labor president Samuel Gompers, the labor plank criticized the unfair use of injunctions against striking workers, affirmed the right of labor to organize and not be charged with restraining trade, and favored an eight-hour day for federal employees, a general employers’ liability law, and a separate Department of Labor.  The platform called for a homestead law for Hawaii, territorial governments for Alaska and Puerto Rico, independence for the Philippines once a stable government was established, and a ban on Asian immigrants.


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