Rich Tucker
Each year, it seems, politicians declare that the upcoming election will be make-or-break for the future of the country. “I believe this election is the most important election since 1860,” Newt Gingrich said last year . House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi isn’t ready to go quite as far. It’s merely “the most important election of our generation,” she says .

There’s no doubt that 2012 will be crucial. But it will have a long way to go just to equal the election a century earlier. “The 1912 presidential election was one of those rare campaigns that challenged voters to think seriously about their rights and the Constitution,” writes Prof. Sidney Milkis in a recent research paper for The Heritage Foundation. Unfortunately, a newer understanding of rights won out that year, while the country’s view of the Constitution changed.

First, some background. By 1912, former President Theodore Roosevelt had become disillusioned with his hand-picked successor, William Howard Taft. He launched a bid to wrest the Republican nomination away from Taft and, when he failed, he left the GOP to run under the banner of the Progressive Party. That split the traditional Republican vote, and opened the door for Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson.

Milkis explains the ideas that TR espoused in 1912, and reviews how the former president promoted those ideas that year.

“As a party that embraced and went far in legitimizing new social movements and candidate-centered campaigns, the Progressive Party animated a presidency-centered democracy that evolved over the course of the 20th century and appears, for better or worse, to have come into its own in recent elections,” Milkis writes.

Rich Tucker

Rich Tucker is a communications professional and a columnist for