"The limitation of governmental power," said Theodore Roosevelt, "means the enslavement of the people by the great corporations." Theodore Roosevelt? They don't make Republicans the way they used to. As President, Roosevelt pursued a bellicose foreign policy but an increasingly liberal policy at home, one less beholden to business interests and friendlier to workers and the environment than the conservative wing of his party would have liked. After he left the White House, he was increasingly disappointed by the rightward drift of his handpicked successor, William Howard Taft. Before Taft's first term was up, Roosevelt was ready to challenge him for the G.O.P. nomination.
In 1912 (Simon & Schuster; 323 pages), James Chace, former managing editor of Foreign Affairs, points to that year's presidential election--a four-way fight that also involved Democrat Woodrow Wilson and Socialist Eugene Debs--as the event that led to the present-day alignment of the two major parties. Roosevelt's eventual third-party candidacy drew off Republican progressives, leaving the G.O.P. in the hands of its pro-business wing, which rules it still. Although Roosevelt cowed Wilson, by splitting the Republican vote he made a Democratic victory inevitable. But Roosevelt's campaign positions on monopolies also forced Wilson into more aggressive postures toward business, which emerged fully in the policies of Franklin Roosevelt.
Chace tells his story efficiently and with an ear for good quotes. "It would be an irony of fate if my administration had to deal chiefly with foreign affairs," Wilson remarked en route to his Inauguration, "for all my preparation has been in domestic matters." World War I began the following year. --By Richard Lacayo