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Society, Politics & Law

OpenLearn Live: 28th June 2016

Updated Tuesday 28th June 2016

The American President who created his own party. Then more free learning through the day.

Making free learning connect with your world, it's OpenLearn Live. This page will be updated during the day.

Yesterday, we caught up with Brexit moves and heard how Hubble will continue to stare into space

See the complete collection of OpenLearn Live


Today's posts


The Life Scientific: Hazel Rymer

Not been the busiest day on OLL today (we've been out team-building at an event and away from laptops and wi-fi), but really wanted to mention today's Life Scientific on BBC Radio 4. The guest was Hazel Rymer, who (besides being our boss, because she's an OU pro-vice chancellor) is a volcano expert. It's the volcanos which are at the heart of the programme:

Hazel Rymer has journeyed closer to the centre of the earth than most, regularly peering into the turbulent, fiery world than makes up the earth's core. By taking measurements of micro-gravity on, and inside, volcanoes all over the world, she hopes to better understand why they erupt and what happens when they do. Having lost a close colleague to a random volcanic eruption, she appreciates the risks involved and, at the same time, insists that they are no greater than driving on the M25. She talks to Jim Al-Khalili about learning to think like a geologist after studying physics; the joys and frustrations of doing fieldwork on volcanoes; and why she loves gravity meter, G513.

Listen to the programme on BBC iPlayer

Hazel's written about her research for OpenLearn - see the collection here


It's my party: Theodore Roosevelt

This week, as major parties grapple with leadership debates, we're looking at some people who led political parties, despite being better known in other fields. Yesterday, we featured Fela Kuti, musician and for a short time, leader of MOP in Nigeria.

Today, we're stretching a point a little, by focusing on Theodore Roosevelt. You might point out that he was pretty much known for his politics, what with having been a President of the US.

Theodore Roosevelt in 1914 Copyright free image Icon Copyright free: Lehigh County Historical Society

Our focus today isn't on his time at the White House, leading a broadly reformist Republican Party. Instead, it's about what happened when he left the White House. He'd strongly pushed for William Taft to be successor when he reached the end of his two-and-a-bit terms (Roosevelt had assumed the presidency on the assassination of William McKinley before winning it in his own right.)

But Taft didn't work out in the way Theodore had hoped. Off shooting elephants in Africa and lecturing at anyone who'd pay in Europe, Roosevelt started to hear stories from the US which disappointed him. As the official White House history has it:

Taft recognized that his techniques would differ from those of his predecessor. Unlike Roosevelt, Taft did not believe in the stretching of Presidential powers. He once commented that Roosevelt "ought more often to have admitted the legal way of reaching the same ends."

Taft alienated many liberal Republicans who later formed the Progressive Party, by defending the Payne-Aldrich Act which unexpectedly continued high tariff rates. A trade agreement with Canada, which Taft pushed through Congress, would have pleased eastern advocates of a low tariff, but the Canadians rejected it. He further antagonized Progressives by upholding his Secretary of the Interior, accused of failing to carry out Roosevelt's conservation policies.

That's not to say that Taft didn't do some reformist things - he struck down anti-Trust legislation and worked on creating a Post Office savings scheme - but it wasn't enough for Roosevelt. Roosevelt challenged Taft for the nomination for the 1912 campaign - a two-President throw down. (The two-term limit on Presidencies - and Amendment 22 which brought in the rule - was still way in the future.)

Taft prevailed at the Republican convention in Chicago, having won support from black delegates in the South of country. Many Roosevelt supporters were excluded from attendance, resulting in Theodore deciding to not allow his name to be considered.

What followed was a theatrical split - Roosevelt effectively flounced out the convention, demanding his supporters followed. They gathered at the Auditorium Theater, where a new party coalesced around the former president. Officially known as the Progressive Party, it quickly became known as the Bull Moose Party - in part down to its leader's claim to be "as fit as a Bull Moose"; in part to balance the donkey and the elephant figureheads of the established parties.

It wasn't a great success. Roosevelt was the victim of an attempted assassination - although he still gave his planned 90 minute speech after being hit in the chest by a bullet. As ad libs go, "Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot." is pretty impressive.

He survived the would-be murderer, but his candidacy caused problems for the Republican base - splitting support between the official candidate and the former President. The election was effectively gifted to the Democrat contender, Woodrow Wilson:

Wilson captured 41.9 percent of the vote to Roosevelt's 27.4 percent and Taft's 23.1 percent. Socialist Party candidate Eugene Debs won 6 percent of the vote. Despite the divided popular vote, Wilson compiled 435 electoral votes compared to Roosevelt's 88 and Taft's 8. Roosevelt won in six states—California, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Washington.

As you'd expect, Roosevelt's next move was to become an adventurer and head out to explore Brazil. He collected tales of his exploits in the book Through The Brazilian Wilderness:

I wrote to Frank Chapman, the curator of ornithology of the museum, and accepted his invitation to lunch at the museum one day early in June. At the lunch, in addition to various naturalists, to my astonishment I also found [old friend] Father Zahm; and as soon as I saw him I told him I was now intending to make the South American trip. It appeared that he had made up his mind that he would take it himself, and had actually come on to see Mr. Chapman to find out if the latter could recommend a naturalist to go with him; and he at once said he would accompany me. Chapman was pleased when he found out that we intended to go up the Paraguay and across into the valley of the Amazon, because much of the ground over which we were to pass had not been covered by collectors. He saw Henry Fairfield Osborn, the president of the museum, who wrote me that the museum would be pleased to send under me a couple of naturalists, whom, with my approval, Chapman would choose.

In 1914, Roosevelt returned to America, and to the Republican fold. He supported the GOP candidate Charles Evan Hughes in the 1916 election. This was to be the last election in which he participated, dying in 1919.

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