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MarketInsight | The Bull Moose


Teddy Roosevelt was climbing Mount Marcy in New York State when he learned that President McKinley had died as a result of a gunshot wound received a week earlier. He travelled five hours by wagon and then by train to Buffalo to take the oath of office in the home of a friend. When he took that oath on Sept. 14, 1901, he became the youngest president in history. (I know what you are thinking, what about John F. Kennedy? JFK holds the distinction of being the youngest elected president. Teddy Roosevelt, at 42, is still the youngest man ever to hold the office. Kennedy was 43.)

McKinley had been shot on Sept. 6 while visiting the Pan American Exposition. The assassin was an anarchist named Leon Czolgosz. When you hear the word anarchist, you think of a crazy lone gunman. It turns out that the Anarchists were an organized movement and a world-wide one as well. Tsar Alexander II was killed by an anarchist in 1881. 

Teddy Roosevelt would serve as president for seven years. During his re-election campaign of 1904, he promised he would not run for a third term. It was a promise he would regret. In 1908, Teddy turned over the reins to his hand-picked successor, William Howard Taft. The prodigious Taft, who was so heavy that he reputedly once got stuck in the White House bathtub, disappointed his mentor. In 1912, Teddy returned determined to set matters straight. Roosevelt ran a strong primary campaign, but party bosses seated enough delegates to ensure Taft would prevail. Teddy Roosevelt fumed. 

Teddy literally pulled his delegates from the Convention and left to form his own party. He called it the Progressive Party, but it would come to be known by a different name. They say William Howard Taft never wanted to be president. He wanted to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In 1921, he got his wish when he was appointed to the position by President Warren G. Harding, becoming the only person in history to hold both offices.

During the campaign, Roosevelt was in Milwaukee to give a speech. He had the speech written on 50 pages of paper, folded twice and stuffed into the pocket of his suit along with his eyeglass container. As he walked out of his hotel, a man approached and pulled a .32 revolver and shot the former president in the chest at point blank range. Roosevelt went down. The crowd reacted violently, beating the would-be assassin and shouting, “Kill him!” Teddy was calmer. “Bring him here,” he said. “I want to see him.” He asked the man, “What did you do it for?” 

The wadded sheets of paper and steel case slowed the bullet which lodged against the former president’s rib. Teddy carried the souvenir with him for the rest of his life. Roosevelt’s entourage wanted to rush him to the hospital, but Teddy had other ideas. He coughed into his handkerchief and seeing no blood determined that his lungs had not been pierced. “He pinked me,” Roosevelt declared. “You get me to that speech.” Less than an hour later, he took the podium and announced, “I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot.” The audience gasped audibly as Roosevelt opened his jacket to show his bloodied shirt before adding, “It takes more than that to kill a bull moose!” 

From that moment on, Roosevelt’s new party was known as the “Bull Moose Party.” Teddy got more votes than Taft in the general election. Woodrow Wilson, with only 42 percent of the popular vote, won the presidency in an electoral landslide. Teddy Roosevelt ran the most successful third-party campaign in our history, but for the rest of his life he remained bitter about the result.

Some people look at the two political parties and yearn for a third choice. You have to wonder if Teddy Roosevelt could not make it work, whether anyone can.

Scott A. Grant is a local author, historian, columnist, and speaker. He is president of Standfast Asset Management in Ponte Vedra Beach. He welcomes your comments or questions at

Scott Grant’s book, “The Merchant of Death is Dead: True Stories of the Progress of Humanity,” in which he shares some of his favorite columns, is now available: Over the last 14 years, Grant has been a regular columnist for two newspapers and has perfected several history presentations. After two years of touring the local northeast Florida civic clubs, museums, and schools, he was asked to produce a book. This is his first publication. He is delighted to share his knowledge of history and investments.

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