by Yuval Levin
Today marks not only the 200th anniversary of the declaration of the War of 1812 but also the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Republican convention of 1912—which should rank as perhaps the most significant party convention in our history and may well have saved the Constitution. The convention was raucous, and in some respects disastrous for Republicans (as it yielded in bitter division that enabled Woodrow Wilson to be elected president). But it also resulted in what amounted to a formal decision to dissent from the Progressive rejection of the Constitution. Teddy Roosevelt had signed on to that ruinous post-constitutionalist course, and in the 1912 convention some of his closest political allies (including Elihu Root) and personal friends (including Henry Cabot Lodge) decided they could not follow him. The Republicans lost the subsequent election, as they knew they would once they broke with TR, but they made sure that our Constitution did not remain without defenders, and so that our country would not be undone by the arrogant folly of progressivism.
The 1912 GOP convention is one of the least appreciated turning points in American history, and its heroes (especially the vastly underappreciated Elihu Root) should be far better known.
To know them far better, you would be wise to start with the convention’s best chronicler, the incomparable William Schambra. Here is an essay of his on the convention from earlier this year (published in my favorite quarterly magazine). It’s time for a book though.