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Madness, Vengeance, and the Campaign of 1912

by Gerard Helferich

Pub Date: Oct. 8th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-7627-8299-4
Publisher: Lyons Press

A lively account of Theodore Roosevelt’s would-be murder reveals the roiling issues and personalities of that key campaign.

Not many people know the name of John Flammang Schrank (1876–1943), a German-American New Yorker who tracked Roosevelt’s stops on the railroad campaign circuit of late summer and early fall of 1912 and resolved to shoot him. The actual shooting on October 14 in Milwaukee was superficial, unlike that 11 years earlier of President William McKinley, assassinating him and thus leaving Roosevelt as president. Yet Roosevelt’s shooting certainly yanked American politics into the modern era and revealed the courage of the irrepressible victim. In this light-pedaling, accessible study, Helferich (Stone of Kings: In Search of the Lost Jade of the Maya, 2011, etc.) creates several wonderful character studies: of Roosevelt, whom he calls either the Colonel or “the third termer,” to designate the focus of Schrank’s rage against him in putting himself up for election to a third (nonconsecutive) term; of the much-maligned incumbent President William Howard Taft, Roosevelt’s handpicked successor who was so cowed by the anxiety of influence that he could not exert his own will in his own term and, when the wildly popular Roosevelt resolved to challenge him for the Republican nomination, fell out with him in an ugly, public battle; and of Schrank, a friendless landlord with accumulated grievances who believed Roosevelt’s hubris and unchecked ambition to run for a third term was a gross abuse of tried-and-true democratic institutions. Moreover, Helferich examines a dream that Schrank supposedly had that convinced him of Roosevelt’s conniving in McKinley’s murder and lent some truth to the court’s assumption that Schrank was delusional.

Outsized personalities within a blistering campaign render this work a rollicking history lesson.