University Press of Kansas: Lawrence, KS, 2008.
I found this to be a fascinating read. In the cover blurb, it says that the election was between four strong candidates - incumbent President William Howard Taft, former President Theodore Roosevelt, up-and-comer Woodrow Wilson, and Eugene Debs, with his last attempt. All of them were distinguished, with great reputations. They also were in the fight of their lives to influence the direction of U.S. policy. All, but Taft, were pushing the agenda in a more progressive direction, as was the popular sentiment of the times. The personalities and concerns of the candidates leading up to and through the election have been analyzed here. My understanding of the times has certainly increased through reading this, and I am struck, as I have been many times, by how similar some of the issues are today, how the same concerns come back over and over or don't ever change.
I am not sure exactly what is meant by "modern American politics." There are a few trends that started with the 1912 election, however. One important difference is the change from candidates being determined by the legislature to being determined by the primaries and caucuses, making the two dominant parties much stronger than they had been in the past. Prior to this change, it was not uncommon to have parties splinter off and have a good showing. In fact, leading into the 1860 election, that is what formed the Republican party, and Lincoln won. Another huge change is that the candidates did not travel all over the place campaigning; their party members did it for them, and they had journalist backers that were far more important to their campaigns. They also did not attend the conventions; they waited at home for results. It is possible that the switch to primaries was a factor in less involvement by the people regarding government. Prior to that, individuals had been following politics closely. The fact that they had to be in one of the parties to be involved may have decreased involvement. The book discusses a downward trend, but says that it may also have been due to more distractions and opportunities than citizens had previously had. So, not just a change in politics was occuring, though there was a push toward reform in many areas, but also big changes socially in the country.
The book is intended for adults, but it is also quite accessible, so appropriate for young adults and others who might be interested at a young age. Perhaps, as a book for a report during the study of Presidents in elementary school.
Interesting side note: I later started reading Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, which is largely about the campaigning leading up to the 1860 election. This book also focuses on 4 strong candidates, though there were more involved in the election than that. The 4 candidates were all vying for the Republican nomination. Lincoln was not the frontrunner, but became the strongest option for those opposed to Senator William H. Seward.
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