The First Modern Clash over Federal Power

Wilson versus Hughes in the Presidential Election of 1916

Lewis L. Gould

Fully examined for the first time in this engrossing book by one of America’s preeminent presidential scholars, the election that pitted Woodrow Wilson against Charles Evan Hughes emerges as a clear template for the partisan differences of the modern era. The 1916 election dramatically enacted the two parties’ fast-evolving philosophies about the role and reach of federal power. Lewis Gould reveals how, even more than in the celebrated election of 1912, the parties divided along class-based lines in 1916, with the Wilson campaign in many respects anticipating the New Deal while the Republicans adopted the small government, anti-union, and anti-regulation positions they have embraced ever since. The Republicans dismissed Wilson’s 1912 win as a fluke, the result of Theodore Roosevelt’s “Progressive” apostasy splitting the party. But in US Supreme Court Justice Hughes, whose electoral prowess had been proven in two successful runs for governor of New York, the Republicans had anointed a flawed campaigner whose missteps in California sealed his fate very late in the election. Wilson’s strong performance as the head of a united Democratic government (for the first time since 1894), along with Americans’ uncertainty about the outbreak of war in Europe, led to victory.

Along with the ins and outs of the race itself, Gould’s book explores the election’s broader meaning—as, for the first time, the popular election of the Senate coincided with a presidential election, and the women’s suffrage movement gathered steam. The year 1916 also marked the restoration of a two-party competition for president and, as we see in this enlightening book, the beginning of the two-party battle for the hearts and minds of Americans that continues to this day.

“Gould convincingly argues that it was in 1916, not 1912, that the ideological difference between the Republican and Democratic parties gelled decisively into something close to its modern form.

—Journal of American History

“A short, well-written, and enjoyable account of the oft-overlooked presidential campaign of 1916. . . . Gould has created an engaging narrative that a general audience should find entertaining and informative. Moreover, he provides a wealth of details and nuance that should render this book useful to experts interested in presidential politics, Wilson, Roosevelt, Hughes, or the American experience during World War I.

—H-Net Reviews
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About the Author

Lewis L. Gould is Eugene C. Barker Professor Emeritus in American History at the University of Texas. He is the author of twenty books, including Four Hats in the Ring: The 1912 Election and the Birth of Modern American Politics and The Modern American Presidency: Second Edition, Revised and Updated, both from Kansas.

Additional Titles in the American Presidential Elections Series