Who started the Progressive Party? Thom Tillis’ dog sparks debate about Roosevelt's legacy

Senator introduces new pet 'Theo', says he names all his dogs 'after Conservatives', but Twitter was quick to fact check him on Roosevelt's politics

                            Who started the Progressive Party? Thom Tillis’ dog sparks debate about Roosevelt's legacy
Senator Thom Tillis with his dog Theo (Twitter) and former President Theodore Roosevelt (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Florida Senator Thom Tillis sparked quite the debate after he revealed his new pet pooch, Theo, to the public on June 21. Tillis was spotted with Theo in the US Capitol by POLITICO reporter Andrew Desiderio, to whom he said, "I name all my dogs after Conservatives". However, Twitter was quick to point out that Theodore Roosevelt, after who the dog is named, wasn't conservative all his life, and in fact, responsible for a short-lived third party called the Progressive Party. 

While America's politics is dominated by the Conservatives and Republicans, there are from time to time, a few other parties that come to light. In March, The Libertarian Party made headlines after a controversial tweet about vaccine passports. There's also the Green Party, a political group that is focused on the environment. In early January, Donald Trump was also reported to be mulling creating a 'Patriot Party', which ultimately did not happen. 


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There are numerous other political parties that have come and gone in the decades, but now a very old one is trending on Twitter. That's the Progressive Party, a short-lived political organization that was formed in 1912. Here's why social media is talking about the Progressive Party, and a brief history of the failed project.

Senator Thom Tillis introduces the press to Theo (@AndrewDesiderio/Twitter)


Who started the Progressive Party?

The party was founded in 1912 by none other than Theodore 'Teddy' Roosevelt. It was formed after the former President Roosevelt lost the Republican party nomination for President to incumbent Howard Taft. The party was often dubbed the 'Bull Moose party' after Roosevelt once said, "I feel as fit as a bull moose," at a rally. The party ran on a platform of "new nationalism", which was built in response to Taft's increasingly conservative policies. 

 Taft's growing conservative thinking forced the former Republican to move away from the party. Roosevelt batted for more progressive policies, like child labor laws, a minimum wage for women, and laws regulating labor relations. The creation of the party is often credited for dividing the Republican vote in the 1912 Presidential election, which led to Democrat Woodrow Wilson being elected. 

However, Roosevelt refused to accept defeat and nominated candidates for several state and local elections in the 1914 midterms. Unfortunately, the party was killed off by the actions of none other than Roosevelt. Following the defeat in 1912, the former President set off on a geographic and natural history expedition to the Amazon River in Brazil. He returned in 1914, sick and frail, which hampered the party's image, built on Roosevelt's tough and "Rough Rider" persona. As a result, voters turned to the Republican Party instead, effectively killing off the Progressive Party's base. 

Unable to come up with a reasonable successor, the party was killed off by 1916 with its politicians rejoining the Republican party. Roosevelt died shortly after, in 1919, bringing an end to one of America's most controversial third parties.

Former President Theodore Roosevelt during a campaign for the Bull Moose Party in Seattle, Washington (Asahel Curtis Photo Company Photographs/Wikimedia Commons)


Twitter reminds Tillis of Roosevelt

When Tillis told Desiderio his dogs were named after Conservatives, social media was quick to remind him that Roosevelt died not as a Conservative, but as the founder of the Progressive Party. "Theodore Roosevelt quite literally founded the Progressive Party," one person tweeted. Another said, "Is he talking about Theodore Roosevelt, founder of the Progressive Party (aka Bull Moose) and conservationist and much more?" One other user tweeted, "Apparently words no longer have any meaning. Roosevelt literally founded the Progressive Party."





Others were quick to attack Tillis' support of Trump, and the increasingly conservative nature of the modern GOP. One person trolled, "Theodore Roosevelt established the national park system, signed the Pure Food & Drug Act into law, tightly regulated railroad service pricing, and founded the Progressive Party. You would have condemned him as a communist if you had been alive during his presidency, you dunce." Another tweeted, "But Roosevelt was from the Progressive party, and went around busting trusts, building national parks, fighting Jim Crow laws... He left the @GOP for a reason, and that reason is that he *wasn't* a conservative."




One person joked, "The dude probably misread conservationist. Teddy Roosevelt was a conservationist and founder of the bloody progressive party." Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez trolled, "He should name his next one Bull Moose."




While it is true Roosevelt was a Republican, his legacy will always be tied to the Progressive Party, an attempt to escape from the rising conservatism of the time. Interestingly, the Lincoln Project tried something similar during the last year of Donald Trump's presidency, but to little avail.