This Harper’s Weekly cartoon depicts the leftward movement of Progressive Party presidential nominee Theodore Roosevelt by picturing him stealing the political clothes of populist Democrat William Jennings Bryan and Socialist Eugene Debs.
Having first come to national attention as president of the American Railway Union during the Pullman Strike of 1894, Debs won the first of four consecutive presidential nominations from the Socialist Party in 1900. In 1904, the Socialist Party received slightly less than 3% of the national vote, and the total was down a fraction four years later. Between 1910 and 1912, the party did well, electing over 1200 public officials, mainly at the local level, but including one congressman, Victor Berger of Wisconsin.
Running an energetic campaign in 1912, Debs more than doubled his previous total, winning 6% of the popular vote, the highest total for a Socialist Party presidential candidate before or since. Although there were some similarities between the platforms of the Socialist and Progressive Parties, they were not the close fit that this cartoon suggests. Debs called for government ownership of major industries and the elimination of the capitalist system. Roosevelt believed that large business corporations were a natural step in the evolution of the economy, and that they should be regulated, not abolished, by the federal government.