By 1908, the year of the presidential election, an influential portion of the Republican members of Congress, particularly in the Senate, were bitterly opposed to President Roosevelt. His attitude on the trusts and the railroads was offensive to many, and on several occasions he had gained the upper hand over Congress by means which were coming to be known as "big-stick" methods. The so-called "constructive recess" of 1903 was an example.

Under the provisions of the Constitution, the president appoints many officials with the advice and consent of the Senate, when it is in session, and fills vacancies that happen during a recess by granting commissions which expire at the end of the next session. On December 2, 1903, at noon, one session of Congress came to an end and another began. Precisely at 12 o'clock, according to the official statement, the President issued new commissions to W.D. Crum, a negro, to be collector of the port of Charleston, and also to 168 army officers, of whom the President's close friend Brigadier-General Leonard Wood was one. General Wood was to be promoted to a major-generalship and the remaining promotions were dependent upon his advance. The President's theory was that a "constructive recess" intervened between the two sessions, during which he could make recess appointments. Although the Senate was hostile to both Crum and Wood, it reluctantly succumbed to Roosevelt's wishes rather than withhold promotion from the 167 officers to whom it had no objection.

In 1908, Senator Tillman, an outspoken Democratic critic of the President, declared that senators vigorously denounced Roosevelt's radical ideas in private but that in public they opposed merely by inaction. Party loyalty was sufficient to keep these Republicans, in most cases, from open and continued rebellion. Hardly less hostile to the President were many of the business men of the country, who objected to his economic policies, but the only alternative to Roosevelt was Bryan, who, as one of the earliest proponents of radical legislation, was even more offensive. On the other hand, a large majority of the rank and file of the party, especially in the North and West, upheld the President with unfeigned enthusiasm and made his position in the party so strong that he could practically name his successor. Several candidates had more or less local support for the nomination - Senator Knox, of Pennsylvania, Governor Hughes, of New York, Speaker Cannon, of Illinois, Vice-President Fairbanks, of Indiana, Senator La Follette, of Wisconsin and Senator Foraker, of Ohio. The President's prestige and energy, however, were frankly behind the candidacy of his Secretary of War, William H. Taft.

The Republican convention of 1908 met in Chicago on June 16. Early in the proceedings the mention of Roosevelt's name brought an outburst of enthusiasm which indicated the possibility that he might be nominated for a third term, despite his expressed refusal to allow such a move to be made. In the platform the achievements of the retiring administration were recounted in glowing terms; tariff reform was promised; and a postal savings bank, the strengthening of the Interstate Commerce law and the Sherman Anti-trust act, the more accurate definition of the rules of procedure in the issuance of injunctions, good roads, conservation, pensions and the encouragement of shipping, received the stamp of party approval. Planks pledging the party to legislation requiring the publicity of campaign expenditures, the valuation of the physical property of railroads and the popular election of senators were uniformly rejected. The closing paragraph declared that the "trend of Democracy is toward Socialism, while the Republican party stands for wise and regulated individualism." The contest over the nomination was extremely brief, as Taft received 702 out of 979 votes on the first ballot. James S. Sherman of New York was nominated for the vice-presidency.