Theodore Roosevelt and the 1912 Election: What Happened & Why Did Roosevelt Run?

October 5, 2020
Add to History Board Share Print


The U.S. presidential election of 1912 was one of the most unique in U.S. History and Theodore Roosevelt was the main reason why. Roosevelt had previously served as president from 1901 to 1909 as a Republican. Roosevelt declined to run again in 1908 and instead supported fellow Republican, William Howard Taft, who won the election of 1908 easily. Roosevelt, however, did not agree with many of President Taft’s policies. Roosevelt felt that Taft was too pro-business and suspected that President Taft was not a progressive. In a highly unusual move, Roosevelt challenged Taft for the Republican nomination in 1912. Losing narrowly, Roosevelt accused the Republican Party of corruption and launched a third-party campaign for president under the Progressive Party, also nicknamed the Bull Moose Party. The Democrats nominated Woodrow Wilson, who also favored many of the same progressive policies as Roosevelt. On October 14, 1912, just three weeks before election day, Roosevelt was shot in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, while delivering a campaign speech. After the shooter was apprehended, Roosevelt, deciding that the injury was not fatal, finished his speech. In this module, teachers will be introduced to learning activities that allow students to imagine they are advising former President Roosevelt on his campaign. In doing so they will develop a greater understanding of the issues central to the 1912 election and of the unique man himself.

Your feedback is important to us – take this survey and let us know what you think!

Section 1/3

Primary Sources

Section 2/3

Lesson Plan for 11th Grade U.S. History or 12th grade U.S. Government

Lesson Plan for 11th Grade U.S. History or 12th grade U.S. Government

Lesson Length 

One 90-minute period or two 45-minute periods

Compelling Question

What qualities did Teddy Roosevelt possess that made his third party campaign appealing to voters

Materials needed

  • Primary sources (below) 
  • Primary source analysis sheets: (one per student)
  • Sheet of paper for poster (Alternative: the assignment could take the form of a digital poster. Students can post historical photos or other images on Google Slides or PowerPoint create. More digital options might be a campaign website or fake social media feed. Another alternative could be to make a campaign film, black and white and silent with title cards).  


  1. Bell ringer: Students examine source Theodore Roosevelt Assassination Attempt Painting by John Falter | Shapell Manuscript Foundation
    • Model primary source analysis for art and fill it out with the class. Note: This artwork by John Falter was painted decades after the event (it’s from a book published in 1970) and the artist was not an eyewitness. Talk with students about how this affects their process of analysis for  the painting. Ask students to consider: How is the painting still a useful source for historians? What can it tell us about how Roosevelt was perceived?
    • For AP Teachers: Encourage students to apply HIPP analysis (Historical Context, Intended Audience, Purpose, Point of View) to this painting.  
  2. Inform students that the event depicted in the painting was an assassination attempt against presidential candidate (and former president) Theodore Roosevelt. Also let students know that after being shot, Roosevelt insisted on finishing his campaign speech. Ask students: using what they have learned from analyzing this painting and this new information: what qualities do they think Theodore Roosevelt might have possessed?
  3. Inform the class that they will be role playing as advisors to Theodore Roosevelt as he runs for president in 1912. To get to know Roosevelt and the campaign they will analyze primary sources from the time period. First have students read the overview above or summarize it to provide context on the election of 1912.   
  4. Analyzing the sources
    • Group students into groups of three (or let students choose groups). 
    • Give each group a selection of below sources either printed out or via links if students have access to a tablet or laptop. This is an opportunity for differentiation. The teacher may provide all sources to each group, a selection of sources to each group, or one source to each group depending on students’ reading abilities. Tell students that these sources will help answer supporting questions such as:
      1. What qualities or characteristics about Theodore Roosevelt are revealed by this source? 
      2. What does this source tell you about Roosevelt’s campaign?
      3. What can this source tell you about key issues in the 1912 Presidential Election?
      4. How can campaigns use images to build popular support?
    • Formative assessment: Each student completes a Primary source analysis sheet on one source. Students may help each other but each student should complete a sheet.
    • Once students have completed their source analysis, ask students to share what they have learned about Roosevelt and his campaign. 
  5. Creating the poster.
    • Using these sources students will make a campaign poster for Theodore Roosevelt’s campaign. This could be a physical poster or a digital poster. Alternatively students could make a campaign film. 
    • Students should pick a quality of Theodore Roosevelt OR a campaign issue to base their poster on. If a student needs help coming up with a poster topic or slogan, teachers can suggest a line from the campaign song “Triplicity, or Donkey, Moose or Elephant”
    • Inform students that the purpose of the poster is to effectively communicate visually. 
    • Students present their poster to the class or do a gallery walk.

Credits: Primary source analysis sheet from the National Archives. Sheet music from the Library of Congress.

Section 3/3


Manuscripts Related To This Article