spacer



spacer
 

, . " "
USHISTORY.RU



Current R., Williams T. H., Freidel F., Brinkley A. American History: a survey. 7th edition; New York, 1987.


 

Chapter 21. The Rise of Progressivism

The last decades of the nineteenth centuryand the tumultuous 1890s in particularhad a profound effect on the nation's social and political outlook. Well before 1900, a large number of Americans had become convinced that the rapid industrialization and urbanization and the other profound changes their nation was experiencing had created intolerable problems, that new measures would be necessary to impose order on the growing chaos and to curb industrial society's most glaring injustices. In the early years of the new century, that outlook acquired a name: progressivism.

Not even the progressives themselves could always agree on what the word really meant. To some, it suggested simply a broad cultural vision. To others, it meant a cluster of moral and humanitarian goals. To still others, it was a particular set of political reforms (and, later, a particular political party). At times, in fact, it seemed that virtually everyone had become a "progressive": middle-class reformers and machine bosses, big businessmen and small entrepreneurs, white segregationists and black activists, industrial workers and farmers, immigrants and immigration restrictionists. More than one historian has suggested that the word progressive ultimately came to mean so many different things to so many different people that it ceased to mean anything at all, that it should be dropped from our vocabulary. (See "Where Historians Disagree," pp. 598-599.)

Yet if progressivism was a phenomenon of remarkable scope and diversity, it was also one that rested on an identifiable set of central assumptions, assumptions that reflected both the hopefulness and the concern that were the legacy of the late nineteenth century. It was, first, an optimistic vision. Progressives believed, as their name implies, in the idea of progress. They believed that society was capable of improvement, even of perfection, that continued growth and advancement were the nation's destiny. There was in progressivism a heady, boisterous enthusiasm, a continuing excitement over possibilities.

But progressives believed, too, that growth and progress could not continue to occur recklessly, as they had in the nineteenth century. Order and stability, they claimed, were essential for social betterment. And direct, purposeful human intervention in social and economic affairs was essential to the creation of that order. The "natural laws" of the marketplace, and the doctrines of laissez faire and Social Darwinism that celebrated those laws, were not sufficient.

Progressives did not always agree on the form their intervention should take; but most believed that government could play an important role in the process. Only government could effectively counter the corrupt special interests that were responsible for social disarray. Only government could provide the services and the regulation that were necessary for future progress. It was essential, therefore, to rescue the nation's political institutions from the influence of corrupt party leaders and selfish interest groups; and it was vital that government expand its role in the society and in the economy. Not all progressive efforts required the assistance of government, but the broad reordering of society that most progressives believed necessary would be impossible without such aid.

The Progressive Impulse

Beyond these central premises, progressivism flowed outward in a number of different directions, embodying several different approaches to reform. One powerful impulse shaping many progressive efforts was the spirit of "antimonopoly," the fear of concentrated power and the urge to limit and disperse authority and wealth. That impulse had, of course, a long history in American life and had been central, most recently, to the demands of the Populists. Many progressives absorbed it as well, although they often turned it to more moderate purposes than some earlier antimonopolists had done.

A second progressive impulse was a belief in the importance of social cohesion: the belief that individuals are not autonomous but part of a great web of social relationships, that the welfare of any single person is dependent on the welfare of society as a whole. This impulse suggested both that individuals had responsibilities to their society, and that society had responsibilities to the individual. It marked an open rejection of the laissez-faire orthodoxies of the late nineteenth century.

And a third progressive impulse was a belief in organization and efficiency: a belief that social order was a result of intelligent social organization, a belief in the importance of process, a belief in the need for rational procedures to guide social and economic life. Society was too complex, many progressives believed, to be left in the hands of party bosses, untrained amateurs, old-fashioned institutions. A new breed of leaders and organizations would be necessary to guide America to its future.

These varied reform impulses were not entirely incompatible with one another; and they did not exist in completely separate worlds. Progressives made use, at different times and in different ways, of the whole range of ideas available to them as they tried to restore order and stability to their turbulent society.

The Muckrakers

Historians looking for a starting point for the rise of progressivism have often pointed to the rise of a group of crusading journalists, who in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries began to direct public attention at a wide range of social, economic, and political injustices.

They became known as the "muckrakers," after Theodore Roosevelt, in a fit of pique, accused one of them of doing nothing but raking up muck through his writings. And they were committed above all to uncovering scandal, corruption, and injustice and exposing it as widely as possible. The work of the muckrakers achieved an extraordinary impact beginning in the late nineteenth centuryin part because of the birth of mass-circulation newspapers and magazines, but also because their work reinforced some of the other reform currents of their time.

At first, their major targets were the trusts and particularly the railroads, whom the muckrakers believed to possess excessive power and to be the source of enormous corruption. Exposes of the great corporate organizations began to appear as early as the 1860s, when Charles Francis Adams, Jr., and others published revelatory magazine articles about nefarious doings among the railroad barons. Such inquiries continued into the twentieth centurythe most notable, perhaps, being Ida Tarbell's enormous and influential study of the Standard Oil trust (published as a two-volume book in 1904).

By the turn of the century, many of the muck-rakers were turning their attention to government and particularly to the urban political machines. The most influential, perhaps, was Lincoln Steffens, a reporter for McClure's magazine^who traveled through much of the country in the first years of the century and produced a series of articles on municipal corruption that aroused a major public outcry. His-por-traits of "machine government" and "boss rule," his exposures of "boodlers" in cities as diverse as St. Louis, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York, his tone of studied moral outrage (as reflected in the title of his series and of the book that emerged from it, The Shame of the Cities)all combined to persuade urban reformers of the need for a militant response. The alternative to leaving government in the hands of corrupt party leaders, the muckrakers argued, was for the people themselves to take a greater interest in public life. Indeed, some journalists seemed less outraged at the bosses themselves than at the apathetic public that seemed not to care about the corruption occurring in their midst.

The muckrakers reached their peak in the first decade of the twentieth century, when they published startling exposes of a wide range of social and political problems. They investigated governments, labor unions, and corporations. They explored the problems of child labor, immigrant ghettoes, prostitution, and family disorganization. They denounced the waste and destruction of natural resources, the subjugation of women, even occasionally the oppression of blacks. By bringing problems to the attention of the public, and by presenting those problems with indignation and moral fervor, they helped inspire other Americans to take action against their problems. In the process, they themselves expressed some of the most basic progressive impulses: the opposition to monopoly; the belief in the need for social unity in the face of corruption and injustice; even at times the cry for efficiency and organization.

The Social Gospel

The moralistic tone of the muckrakers' exposes reflected one important aspect of the emerging progressive sentiment: the sense of social responsibility and the humanitarian concern for personal injustice. The pursuit of "social justice" became one of the central concerns of many progressive reformers. And perhaps the clearest expression of that concern emerged from an important segment of American religion, through the rise of what became known as the "Social Gospel." A powerful movement within American Protestantism (and, to a lesser extent, within American Catholicism and Judaism), the Social Gospel had emerged by the early twentieth century as a vigorous force in the effort to redeem the nation's cities. The Salvation Army, which had come to the United States from England, boasted a corps of 3,000 officers and 20,000 privates by 1900, offering both material aid and spiritual service to the urban poor. Ministers of many denominations, priests, and rabbis left traditional parish work to serve in the troubled cities, and their efforts soon became part of the folklore of their time. Edward Sheldon's In His Steps (1898), the story of a young minister who abandoned a comfortable post to work among the needy, sold more than 15 million copies and established itself as the most successful novel of the era.

Walter Rauschenbusch, a Protestant theologian from Rochester, New York, published a series of influential discourses on the possibilities for human salvation through Christian reform. To him, the message of Darwinism was not that the individual was engaged in a brutal struggle for survival of the fittest, but that all individuals should work for a humanitarian evolution of the social fabric. "Translate the evolutionary themes into religious faith," he wrote, "and you have the doctrine of the Kingdom of God." Some American Catholics seized on the 1893 publication of Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum as justification for their own crusade for social justice. Catholic liberals such as Father John A. Ryan took to heart the pope's warning that "a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the masses of the poor a yoke little better than slavery itself. . . . No practical solution of this question will ever be found without the assistance of religion and the church." For decades, he worked to expand the scope of Catholic social welfare organizations.

The Social Gospel was never the dominant element in the movement for urban reform. Some of the most influential progressives dismissed it as irrelevant moralization; others viewed it as little more than a useful complement to their own work. But the engagement of religion with reform helped bring to progressivism a powerful moral component and a commitment to redeem the lives of even the lowliest residents. Walter Rauschenbusch captured some of both the optimism and the spirituality of the Social Gospel with his proud comment, after a visit to a New York slum known as Hell's Kitchen, where Christian reformers were hard at work: "One could hear human virtue cracking and crashing all around."

The Settlement House Movement

Not all efforts to redeem the urban masses were as openly moralistic as those of the advocates of the Social Gospel. The settlement house movement, in particular, combined a humanitarian compassion for the poor with a strong belief in the importance of scientific methods of social organization.

One of the strongest elements of much progressive thought was the belief in the influence of the environment on individual development. Social Darwinists such as William Graham Sumner had argued that people's fortunes reflected their inherent "fitness" for survival; most progressive theorists disagreed. Ignorance, poverty, even criminality, they argued, were not the result of inherent moral or genetic failings or of the workings of divine providence. They were, rather, the effects of an unhealthy environment. To elevate the distressed, therefore, required an improvement of the conditions in which they lived.

Of particular interest to such reformers were the urban immigrant ghettoes, which publicists such as Jacob Riis were exposing through vivid photographs and lurid descriptions. Riis himself adopted a callous approach to the problem; he urged the razing of the most offensive slums without making any provision for the relocation of displaced residents. (Later, he became an advocate of immigration restriction.) Other progressives, however, responded more sensitively. Borrowing ideas from reform movements in Europe, especially England, committed men and women established settlement houses in immigrant neighborhoods.

The most famous American settlement house, and one of the first, was Hull House. It opened in 1889 in Chicago as a result of the efforts of Jane Addams, a college graduate who had studied briefly for a career in medicine; and it became a model for more than 400 similar institutions throughout the nation. Staffed by members of the middle class, these institutions sought to help immigrant families adapt to the language and customs of their new country. Settlement houses offered educational services, staged community events, built libraries, and in general tried to enhance the lives of their neighborhoods without adopting the stance of disapproving moral superiority that had hampered the success of earlier philanthropic efforts. But settlement houses often embodied, too, a belief that middle-class Americans had a responsibility to impart their own values to immigrants and to teach them to adopt middle-class life styles. The name itself suggests their founders' outlook: The word settlement had connotations of the frontier; and settlement house workers saw themselves in many ways as people bringing civilization to the urban frontier.

Central to the settlement houses were the efforts of college women, who found in the movement an outlet for their growing demand for useful, professional work. The settlement houses provided them with an environment that society could view as "appropriate" for women: urban "homes" where workers helped immigrants to become better members of society. Also active in the settlement house movement were some middle-class blacks in Northern cities. They helped recent black arrivals from the rural South, to whom industrial cities were often as alien as they were to European immigrants, to adjust to urban life.

The settlement houses also helped to spawn another important institution of reform: social workanother profession in which women were to play an important role. Workers at Hull House, for example, maintained a close relationship with the University of Chicago's pioneering work in the field of sociology; and a growing number of programs for the professional training of social workers began to appear in the nation's leading universities, partly in response to the activities of the settlements. The professional social worker combined a compassion for the poor with a commitment to the values of bureaucratic progressivism: scientific study, efficient organization, reliance on experts. The new profession produced elaborate surveys and reports, collected statistics, and published scholarly tracts on the need for urban reform.

The Allure of Expertise

As the emergence of the social work profession suggests, progressives involved in humanitarian efforts often placed high value on knowledge and expertise. Even nonscientific problems, they optimistically believed, could be analyzed and solved scientifically. The allure of expertise, in fact, became one of the most important aspects of many progressive efforts. Many reformers came to believe that only enlightened experts and well-designed bureaucracies could create the order that America so badly needed.

This belief found expression in innumerable ways, among them the writings of a new group of scholars and intellectuals. Unlike the Social Darwinists of the nineteenth century, these theorists were no longer content with merely justifying the existing industrial system. They spoke instead of the creation of a new civilization, one in which the expertise of scientists and engineers could be brought to bear on the problems of the economy and society. Among their most influential spokesmen was the social scientist Thorstein Veblen. Harshly critical of the industrial tycoons of the late nineteenth centurythe "leisure class" as he satirically described them in his first major work, A Theory of the Leisure Class (1899)Veblen proposed instead a new economic system in which power would reside in the hands of highly trained engineers. Only they, he argued, could fully understand the "machine process" by which modern society must be governed. Only they could provide the efficiency and order necessary for the industrial economy. By the end of his life, Veblen was calling for government by a "soviet of technicians," who would impose on the economy their own instinct for rational process.

In practical terms, the impulse toward expertise and organization helped produce the idea of scientific management, or "Taylorism." (See p. 500.) It encouraged the development of modern mass-production techniques and, above all, the assembly line. It inspired a revolution in American education and the creation of a whole new area of inquirysocial science, the use of scientific techniques in the study of society and its institutions. It produced a generation of bureaucratic reformers concerned with the structure of organizations and committed to building new political and economic institutions capable of managing a modern society. It helped as well to create a movement toward organization among the expanding new group of middle-class professionals.

The Professions

The late nineteenth century had seen not only a growth of the industrial work force but also a dramatic expansion in the number of Americans engaged in administrative and professional tasks. Industries needed managers, technicians, and accountants as well as workers. Cities required a growing range of commercial, medical, legal, and educational services. The demand for technology required scientists and engineers who, in turn, required institutions and instructors to train them. The industrial state, in short, had produced an enormous new infrastructure of specialized, professional services. And by the turn of the century, those performing these services had come to constitute a distinct social groupwhat some have called a new middle class.

Unlike the older middle class, whose position in society often derived from family background and stature within the local community, the new middle class placed a far higher value on education and individual accomplishment. By the early twentieth century, its millions of members were hard at work building organizations and establishing standards to secure and stabilize their position in society.

As their vehicle, they created the modern, organized professions. The idea of professionalism had been a frail one in America even as late as 1880. When every patent-medicine salesman could call himself a doctor, when every frustrated politician could proclaim himself a lawyer, when anyone who could read and write could present himself as a teacher, it was clear that a professional label would by itself carry little weight. There were, of course, skilled and responsible doctors, lawyers, teachers, and others; but they had no way of controlling the charlatans and other incompetents who presumed to practice their trades. As the demand for services increased, so did the pressures, from both within and without, for reform.

Among the first to respond was the medical profession. Throughout the 1890s, doctors who considered themselves true professionalswho had had formal training in medicine, who understood the new scientific discoveries that were revolutionizing their methodsbegan forming local associations and societies. In 1901, finally, they reorganized the American Medical Association into a modern, national, professional society. Between 1900 and 1910, membership increased from 8,400 to over 70,000; by 1920, nearly two-thirds of all American doctors were members. The first major effort of the AMA was to insist on strict, scientific standards for admission to the practice of medicine, with doctors themselves serving as protectors of the standards. State and local governments readily complied, passing new laws that required the licensing of all physicians and restricting licenses to those practitioners approved by the profession.

Accompanying the emphasis on strict regulation of the profession came a concern for rigorous scientific training and research. By 1900, medical education at a few medical schoolsnotably Johns Hopkins in Baltimore (founded in 1893)compared favorably with that in the leading institutions of Europe. Doctors such as William H. Welch at Hopkins revolutionized the teaching of medicine by moving students out of the classrooms and into laboratories and clinics. Rigorous new standards forced many inadequate medical schools out of existence, and those that remained were obliged to adopt a strict scientific approach.

There was similar movement in other professions. By 1916, lawyers in all forty-eight states had established professional bar associations; and virtually all of them had succeeded in creating central examining boards, composed of lawyers, to regulate admission to the profession. Increasingly, aspiring lawyers found it necessary to enroll in graduate programs, and the nation's law schools accordingly expanded greatly, both in numbers and in the rigor of their curricula. Businessmen supported the creation of schools of business administration and created their own national organizations: the National Association of Manufacturers in 1895 and the United States Chamber of Commerce in 1912. Even farmers, long the symbol of the romantic spirit of individualism, responded to the new order by forming, through the National Farm Bureau Federation, a network of agricultural organizations designed to spread scientific farming methods, teach sound marketing techniques, and lobby for the interests of their members.

Among the most important purposes of the new professionalism was restricting entry into the professions. Professional organizations established rigorous standards for certifying new members and strove to keep control of admission in the hands of the professionals themselves. This was partly an effort to defend the professions from the untrained and incompetent; and the admission procedures served a valuable and important service in keeping.out many of the inept doctors, lawyers, and others who had tainted the reputation of their fields in the past. But the admission requirements also served less altruistic purposes: to defend those already in the profession from excessive competition and to lend prestige and status to the professional label. Some professions used their entrance requirements to exclude blacks, women, immigrants, and other "undesirables'* from their ranks. Others used them simply to keep the numbers down, to ensure that demand for the services of existing members would remain high.

Women and the Professions

American women found themselves excludedboth by custom and by active barriers of law and prejudicefrom most of the emerging professions. But a substantial number of middle-class womenparticularly those emerging from the new female colleges and from the coeducational state universitieswere beginning to enter professional careers nevertheless.

A few women managed to establish themselves as physicians, lawyers, engineers, scientists, and corporate managers. Most, however, turned by necessity to those professions that society had somehow decided were "suitable" for women. The settlement houses and social work provided two "appropriate" professional outlets for women. The most important, however, was teaching. Indeed, in the late nineteenth century, more than two-thirds of all grammar school teachers were women; and perhaps 90 percent of all professional women were teachers. For educated black women, in particular, teaching was often the only professional opportunity they could hope to find. The existence of a large network of segregated black schools in the South created a substantial market for black teachers.

In many ways, the teaching profession behaved in these years much like other professions. It established new entrance requirements, policed by teachers' organizations, to restrict entry to those qualified to teach. A growing network of teachers' colleges and schools of education emerged in the late nineteenth century to service the profession. And the National Education Association, founded in 1905, fought for, among other things, a government licensing process for teachers.

Women also came to dominate other activities that were beginning to achieve professional status. Nursing had become primarily a women's field when it was still considered a menial occupation, akin to domestic service. But by the early twentieth century, it too was adopting professional standards. Prospective nurses generally needed certification from schools of nursing and could not simply learn on the job. Women also found opportunities as librarians, another field beginning to define itself in modern, professional terms. And many women entered academiaoften receiving advanced degrees at such predominantly male institutions as the University of Chicago, MIT, or Columbia, but usually finding professional opportunities in the new and expanding women's colleges.

The "women's professions" had much in common with other professions: the value they placed on training and expertise, the creation of professional organizations and a professional ''identity," the monitoring of admission to professional work. But they also had distinctive qualities that set them apart from the male professional world. They tended to involve activities that society could associate with traditionally female roles. Teaching, nursing, library work, and others were "helping" professions. They involved working primarily with other women or with children. Their activities occurred in places that seemed different from the offices that dominated the predominantly male business and professional worlds; such places as schools, hospitals, and libraries had a vaguely "domestic" image.

The Clubwomen

The great majority of American women did not take up professional careers. But even those who did not found ways to play an active role in the effort to remake society. In the vanguard of many progressive social reforms was a large network of women's associations that proliferated rapidly beginning in the 1880s and 1890s. Large numbers of women gravitated to the growing temperance movement. (See below, pp. 612-613.) Others turned to the new women's clubs.

The women's clubs began largely as cultural organizations to provide middle- and upper-class women with an outlet for their intellectual energies. Gradually, however, they turned their attention to public matters and embraced a substantial reform agenda. In 1892, when women formed the General Federation of Women's Clubs to coordinate the activities of local organizations, there were more than 100,000 members in nearly 500 clubs. Eight years later, there were 160,000 members; and by 1917, over 1 million.

By the early twentieth century, the clubs were becoming less concerned with cultural activities and more concerned with making a contribution to social betterment. Much of what they did was uncontroversial: planting trees; supporting schools, libraries, and settlement houses; building hospitals and parks. But clubwomen were not afraid to take positions on controversial public issues, and they adopted resolutions supporting such measures as child labor laws, worker compensation, pure food and drug legislation, andbeginning in 1914woman suffrage. Because club members were so often from wealthy families, the organizations often had ample funds at their disposal and could make their influence felt.

Black women occasionally joined clubs dominated by whites. But blacks formed a network of clubs of their own, which also affiliated with the General Federation. They modeled themselves primarily on their white counterparts, but some black clubs also took positions on issues of particular concern to blacks. Some crusaded against lynching and called for congressional legislation to make lynching a federal crime. Others protested aspects of segregation.

The women's club movement raised few overt challenges to prevailing assumptions about the proper role of women in society. But it did represent an important effort by women to extend their influence beyond their traditional sphere within the home and the family. Few clubwomen were willing to accept the arguments of such committed feminists as Charlotte Perkins Gilman, who in her 1898 book Women and Economics argued that the traditional definition of sexual roles was exploitive and obsolete. The club movement, rather, allowed women to define a space for themselves in the public world without openly challenging the existing, male-dominated order.

But the importance of the club movement did not lie simply in what it did for middle-class women. It lay also in what those women did for the working-class people they attempted to help. The women's club movement was an important force in winning passage of state (and ultimately federal) laws that regulated the conditions of woman and child labor, that established government inspection of workplaces, that regulated the food and drug industries, and that applied new standards to urban housing.

In many of these efforts, the clubwomen formed alliances with other women's groups. Among them was the Women's Trade Union League, founded in 1903 by female union members and upper-class reformers and committed to persuading women to join unions. In addition to working on behalf of protective legislation for woman workers, WTUL members held public meetings on behalf of female workers, raised money to support strikes, marched on picket lines, and bailed woman strikers out of jail.

The Assault on the Parties

Sooner or later, most progressive goals required the involvement of government. Social workers wanted laws to protect woman and child workers and to improve conditions in the ghettoes. Professionals advocated legal standards for admission to the practice of law or medicine. Others urged legislative solutions to such problems as the power of trusts or the destructive effects of cutthroat competition. Only government, progressives agreed, could provide the centralized regulation and control necessary to impose order and justice on modern society.

But American government at the dawn of the new century was, progressives believed, peculiarly ill adapted to perform these ambitious tasks. At every level, political institutions were outmoded, inefficient, often corrupt. Before society could be effectively reformed, it would be necessary to reform government itself. In the beginning, at least, many progressives considered one of their principal goals to be an assault on the domination of government and politics by the political parties, which they considered corrupt, undemocratic, and reactionary.

Early Attacks

Attacks on party dominance had emerged repeatedly in the late nineteenth century. Such third-party movements as Greenbackism and Populism had been, at least in part, efforts to break the hammerlock with which the Republicans and Democrats controlled public life. The Independent Republicans (or mugwumps; see p. 551) had attempted to challenge the grip of partisanship; and the mugwumps, in fact, became one of the important cores of progressive political reform activity in the 1890s and later.

The early assaults enjoyed some success. In the 1880s and 1890s, for example, most states adopted the secret ballot. Prior to that, the political parties themselves had printed ballots (or "tickets"), which they distributed to their supporters, who then simply went to the polls to deposit their "tickets" in the ballot box. The old system had made it possible for bosses to monitor the voting behavior of their constituents; it had also made it difficult for voters to "split" their ticketsto vote for candidates of different parties for different offices. The new secret ballotprinted by the government and distributed at the polls to be filled out and deposited in secret helped chip away at the power of the parties over the voters.

By the late 1890s, critics of the parties had expanded their goals and were beginning to challenge directly some of the structures of government that they believed made possible the existence of bosses. Party rule could be broken, they believed, in one of two ways. It could be broken by increasing the power of the people, by permitting them to circumvent partisan institutions and express their will directly at the polls. Or it could be broken by placing more power in the hands of nonpartisan, nonelective officials, insulated from political life. Reformers promoted measures that moved along both those paths.

Municipal Reform

It was in the cities, many progressives believed, that the impact of party rule was most damaging. And it was municipal government, therefore, that became the first target of those working for political reform. Settlement houses, social workers, and scholars all attempted to focus attention on urban problems and the need for governmental changes to combat them. And muckraking journalists (see above, pp. 600-601) were especially successful in arousing public outrage at the rampant corruption and incompetence in city politics.

The muckrakers struck a responsive chord among a powerful group of urban middle-class progressives. For several decades after the Civil War, "respectable" citizens of the nation's large cities had avoided participation in municipal government. Viewing politics as a debased and demeaning activity, they shrank from contact with the "vulgar" elements who were coming to dominate public life. By the end of the century, however, a new generation of activistssome of them members of old aristocratic families, others a part of the new middle classwere taking a renewed interest in government. The nineteenth-century middle class had abdicated control of politics to the party organizations and the urban masses they manipulated; the twentieth-century middle class, appalled by the abuses and failures that had ensued, would win it back.

They faced a formidable array of opponents. In addition to challenging the powerful city bosses and their entrenched political organizations, they were attacking a large group of special interests: saloon owners, brothel keepers, and perhaps most significantly, those businessmen who had established cozy and lucrative relationships with the urban machines and viewed reform as a threat to their profits. Allied with these interests were many influential newspapers, which ridiculed the reformers as naive do-gooders or prigs. Finally, there was the great constituency of urban working people, mostly of immigrant origin, to whom the machines were a source of needed services. To them, the progressives often seemed to be middle-class prudes attempting to impose an alien and unappealing life style. Gradually, however, the reformers gained in political strengthin part because of their own growing numbers, in part because of the conspicuous failures of the existing political leadership. And in the first years of the twentieth century, they began to score some important victories.

One of the first major successes came in Galves-ton, Texas, where the old city government collapsed in ineffectuality in the wake of a destructive tidal wave in 1900. Capitalizing on public dismay, reformers (many of them local businessmen) won approval of a new city charter. The mayor and council were replaced by an elected, nonpartisan commission whose five members would jointly enact ordinances and individually run the main city departments. In 1907, Des Moines, Iowa, adopted its own version of the commission plan, and other cities soon followed. Another approach to reform, similarly motivated by the desire to remove city government from the hands of the parties, was the city-manager plan, by which elected officials hired an outside expertoften a professionally trained business manager or engineerto take charge of the government. Responsible not to the voters but to the councilors or commissioners who appointed him, the city manager would presumably remain untainted by the corrupting influence of politics. Staunton, Virginia, was one of the first municipalities to hire a city manager, in 1908. Five years later, Dayton, Ohio, attracted wider attention to the device when it adopted the new system after a major flood. By the end of the progressive era, almost 400 cities were operating under commissions, and another 45 employed city managers.

The commission governments and the city-manager systems removed municipal administration from party politics altogether. In most urban areas, and in the larger cities in particular, reformers had to settle for less absolute victories. They attempted to reform municipal elections in various ways. Some cities made the election of mayors nonpartisan (so that the parties could not choose the candidates) or moved them to years when no presidential or congressional races were in progress (to reduce the influence of the large turnouts that party organizations produced on such occasions). Reformers tried to make city councilors run at large, to limit the influence of ward leaders and district bosses. They tried to strengthen the power of the mayor at the expense of the city council, on the assumption that reformers were more likely to succeed in getting a sympathetic mayor elected than to win control of the entire council.

Some of the most successful reformers emerged not from the new commission and city-manager systems but from conventional political structures that progressives came to control. Tom Johnson, the celebrated reform mayor of Cleveland, waged a long and difficult war against the powerful streetcar interests in his city, fighting to raise the ridiculously low assessments on railroad and utilities properties, to lower streetcar fares to 3 cents, and ultimately to impose municipal ownership on certain basic utilities. After Johnson's defeat and death, his talented aide Newton D. Baker won election as mayor and helped maintain Cleveland's reputation as the best-governed city in America. Hazen Pingree of Detroit, Samuel "Golden Rule" Jones of Toledo, and other mayors effectively challenged local party bosses to bring the spirit of progressivism into city government.

Statehouse Progressivism

Often frustrated in their assault on boss rule in the cities, many progressives turned to state government as an agent for reform. Crusading district attorneys such as Hiram Johnson in California and Joseph W. Folk in Missouri left their cities to become reform governors. Elsewhere, progressive leaders arrived in the statehouse by other routes. Whatever their backgrounds, however, such reformers agreed that state government must take a leading role in the task of stabilizing American life.

State-level progressives agreed on the unfitness of existing state governments to provide reform. They looked with particular scorn on state legislatures, whose ill-paid, relatively undistinguished members were, they believed, generally incompetent, often corrupt, and totally controlled by party bosses. In the face of the debasement of the legislatures, they argued, it was necessary to circumvent the parties and return power directly to the people.

The result was a wave of reforms in state after state that attempted to "democratize" state government by limiting the influence of party organizations md the authority of elected officials, and increasing the influence of the electorate. Two of the most important changes were innovations first proposed by leaders of the Populist movement in the 1890s: the initiative and the referendum. The initiative gave reformers the ability to circumvent their legislatures altogether by submitting legislation directly to the voters in general elections. The referendum provided a method by which actions of the legislature could be returned to the electorate for approval. Oregon, in 1902, became the first state to enact such reforms. By 1918, nineteen other states had followed.

Progressives also attempted to improve the quality of elected officials, and for this purpose they created two more devices designed to limit the influence of traditional party politics: the direct primary and the recall. The primary election was an attempt to limit the influence of party machines on the selection of candidates. The recall gave voters the right to remove a public official from office at a special election, which could be called after a sufficient number of citizens had signed a petition. Mississippi adopted the nation's first direct primary in 1902, and by 1915 every state in the nation had instituted primary elections for at least some offices. The recall encountered more strenuous opposition. No progressive measure so horrified conservatives as this effort to subject officeholders to voter censure before the end of their terms, and they blocked the adoption of the recall more effectively than any other reform.

Other reform measures attempted to clean up the legislatures themselves by limiting the influence of corporations on their activities and on the behavior of the parties. Between 1903 and 1908, twelve states passed laws restricting lobbying in state legislatures by business interests. In those same years, twenty-two states banned campaign contributions by corporations, and twenty-four states forbade public officials from accepting free passes from railroads.

Reform efforts proved most effective in states that elevated vigorous and committed politicians to positions of leadership. In New York, Governor Charles Evans Hughes exploited progressive sentiment to create a commission to regulate public utilities. In California, Governor Hiram Johnson used the new reforms to limit the political power of the Southern Pacific Railroad in the state. In New Jersey, Woodrow Wilson, the Princeton University president elected governor in 1910, used executive leadership to win a substantial array of reforms designed to end New Jersey's widely denounced position as the "mother of trusts."

The Laboratory of La Follette

The state that virtually all progressives came to view as the nation's leading center of reform was Wisconsin, the home of the great progressive hero Robert M. La Follette. La Follette had begun his career in Wisconsin as a conservative defender of free enterprise against its "radical" challengers. By the end of the 1890s, however, he had become convinced of the need for major reforms to curb the power of bosses, railroads, trusts, and financiersthe special interests that were, he argued, corrupting American life. Above all, perhaps, he had become convinced of the need for an alternative to the dominance of the traditional party organizations. Elected governor in 1900, he called for a new concept of politics: as the vehicle for enhancing the public interest, rather than as an arena in which special interests contended for favors.

In the years that followed, La Follette and his supporters turned Wisconsin into what reformers across the nation described as a "laboratory of progressivism." The Wisconsin progressives won approval of direct primaries, initiatives, and referendums. They secured the effective regulation of railroads and utilities. They obtained the passage of laws to regulate the workplace and provide compensation for laborers injured on the job. They instituted graduated taxes on inherited fortunes, and they nearly doubled state levies on railroads and other corporate interests.

La Follette brought to progressivism his own fervent, almost evangelical, commitment to reform; and he used his charismatic leadership to widen public awareness of progressive goals and to mobilize the energies of many previously passive groups. Reform was not simply the responsibility of politicians, he argued, but of newspapers, citizens' groups, educational institutions, and business and professional organizations, Progressivism, he suggested, must become a part of the fabric of American life. Ultimately, La Follette would find himself overshadowed by other national progressive leaders. In the early years of the century, however, few men were as effective in publicizing the message of reform. None was as successful in bending state government to that goal.

Parties and Interest Groups

The result of these reforms was not, of course, the elimination of party from American political life. Party organizations and party bosses remained enormously powerful for many years to come. But the many political reforms of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries did diminish the centrality of the parties in American life. By removing control of the electoral process from the hands of party leaders and placing it more securely with the government, reformers were beginning to wean Americans away from their once fervent party loyalties.

Evidence of that came from, among other things, the decline in voter turnout. In the late nineteenth century, up to 81 percent of eligible voters normally turned out for national elections. In the early twentieth century, while turnout remained very high by today's standards, the figure began to decline markedly. In the presidential election of 1900, 73 percent of the electorate voted. Four years later, the figure had dropped to 65 percent. By 1912, it had declined to about 59 percent. There were fluctuations from year to year, but never again did voter turnout reach as high as 70 percent.

At the same time that the influence of the parties was declining, another force was beginning to establish its power in American politics: what have become known as ''interest groups." Indeed, one of the reasons for the assault on the parties had been the conviction of an increasing number of groups that they needed other avenues through which to influence the government. Beginning late in the nineteenth century and accelerating rapidly in the twentieth, a wide range of new organizations emerged, operating outside the party system, designed to pressure government to do the bidding of their members: trade associations, representing particular businesses and industries; labor organizations; farm lobbies; and many others. The new professional organizations saw as one of their central purposes lobbying in Washington and in state capitals for the interests of their members. Social workers, the settlement house movement, the women's clubs, and others learned to operate as interest groups to advance their demands.

Reform by Machine

One result of the assault on the parties was a change in the party organizations themselves, which attempted to adapt to the new realities so as to preserve their influence. Indeed, some of the most powerful party machines emerged from the progressive era almost as powerful as they had entered it. In large part, this was because the bosses themselves, who were usually intelligent men, recognized that they must change in order to survive. Thus they sometimes allowed their machines to become vehicles of social reform. The best example was New York's Tammany Hall, the nation's oldest and most notorious city machine. Its astute leader, Charles Francis Murphy, began in the early years of the century to fuse the techniques of boss rule with some of the concerns of social reformers. In the process, he ushered his organization into one of the most successful eras in its history.

Murphy did nothing to challenge the fundamental workings of Tammany Hall. The machine continued to mobilize working-class immigrant voters to support its candidates; it continued to offer them favors and services in return; its members continued to use patronage and even graft to strengthen their positions and expand their bank accounts. At the same time, however, Tammany began to take an increased interest in state and national politics, which it had traditionally scorned; and it used its.political power on behalf of legislation to improve working conditions, protect child laborers, and eliminate the worst abuses of the industrial economy.

In 1911, a sudden fire swept the factory of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in New York; 146 workers, most of them women, died. Many of them had been trapped inside the building because management had locked the emergency exits to prevent malingering. It was the worst industrial tragedy in the city's history, and the outrage it produced echoed across the nation. For the next three years, a broad-based state commission studied not only the background of the fire but the general condition of the industrial workplace; and by 1914, it had issued a series of reports calling for major reforms in the conditions of modern labor.

The report itself was a classic progressive document, based on the testimony of experts, replete with statistics and technical data. Yet when its recommendations reached the New York legislature, its most effective supporters were not middle-class progressives but two Tammany Democrats: Senator Robert F. Wagner and Assemblyman Alfred E. Smith. With the support of Murphy and the backing of other Tammany legislators, they steered through a series of pioneering labor laws that imposed strict regulations on factory owners and established effective mechanisms for enforcement. Tammany Hall, the incarnation of evil in the eyes of many progressives, had itself become a potent agent for reform.

Crusades for Order and Reform

A striking aspect of American political life in the progressive era was the existence of a series of impassioned crusades on behalf of particular reforms that would, their supporters claimed, serve to remake the nation. Progressives crusaded to eliminate alcohol from national life, to stop the flood of immigrants, to win women the vote, to reshape the industrial economy. Proponents of each of those reforms believed that success would mean a regeneration of society as a whole.

The Temperance Crusade

To some progressives, the elimination of alcohol from American life was a necessary step in the task of restoring order to society. Workers in settlement houses and social agencies abhorred the effects of drinking on working-class families: Scarce wages vanished as workers spent hours in the saloons. Drunkenness spawned violence, and occasionally murder, within urban families. Women, in particular, saw alcohol as a source of some of the greatest problems of working-class wives and mothers, and hoped through temperance to reform male behavior to improve women's lives. Employers, too, regarded alcohol as an impediment to industrial efficiency; workers often missed time on the job because of drunkenness or, worse, came to the factory intoxicated and performed their tasks sloppily and dangerously. Critics of economic privilege denounced the liquor industry as one of the nation's most sinister trusts. And political reformers, who looked on the saloon (correctly) as one of the central institutions of the machine, saw an attack on drinking as part of an attack on the bosses. Out of such sentiments emerged the temperance movement. Temperance advocates had been active in some areas since before the Civil War, but the movement began to gather strength in the 1870s. From the beginning, it was a movement led and supported primarily by women. In 1873, temperance advocates met in Chicago to form the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). And after 1879, when Frances Willard became its leader, the new organization became a militant, national organization. By 1911, it had 245,000 members and had become the largest single women's organization in American history to that pointand a model of administrative efficiency and political skill. The WCTU worked tirelessly to publicize the evils of alcohol and the connection between drunkenness and family violence, unemployment, poverty, and disease. In 1893, the Anti-Saloon Leaguejoined the temperance movement and, along with the WCTU, began to press for a specific legislative solution: the legal abolition of saloons. Gradually, that demand grew to include the complete prohibition of the sale and manufacture of alcoholic beverages.

Despite substantial opposition from immigrant and working-class voters, pressure for prohibition grew steadily through the first decades of the new century. By 1900, restrictions on the sale of alcohol were in effect in areas embracing more than a quarter of the population of the nation. By 1916, nineteen states had passed prohibition laws. But since the consumption of alcohol was actually increasing in many unregulated areas, temperance advocates were becoming convinced that what was necessary was a national prohibition law.

America's entry into World War I, and the moral fervor it unleashed, provided the last push to the advocates of prohibition. With the support of rural fundamentalists, who opposed alcohol on moral and religious grounds, progressive advocates of prohibition in 1917 steered through Congress a constitutional amendment embodying their demands. Two years later, after ratification by every state in the nation except Connecticut and Rhode Island (bastions of Catholic immigrants), the Eighteenth Amendment became law, to take effect in January 1920. The federal government, many progressives believed, had taken an important step toward eliminating a major source of social instability and inefficiency. Only later did it become clear that prohibition would create far more disorder than it was able to cure.

Immigration Restriction

A similar concern for order fueled the movement demanding the restriction of immigration, which Total Immigration, 1900-1920 likewise gained force throughout the progressive era. While virtually all reformers agreed that the burgeoning immigrant population had created social problems, there was wide disagreement on how best to respond. Many progressives, convinced that open immigration was one of the nation's most valued traditions, believed that helping the new residents adapt to American society was the proper approach. Others, however, argued that efforts at assimilation had failed and that the only solution was to limit the flow of new arrivals.

The first decades of the century, therefore, saw a steady growth in pressure on the federal government to close the nation's gates. New scholarly theories, designed to appeal to the progressive respect for expertise, argued that the introduction of immigrants into American society was polluting the nation's racial stock. The spurious "science" of eugenics spread the belief that human inequalities were hereditary and that immigration was contributing to the multiplication of the unfit. Skillful publicists such as Madison Grant, whose The Passing of the Great Race (1916) established him as the nation's most effective nativist, warned of the dangers of racial "mongrelization" and of the importance of protecting the purity of Anglo-Saxon and other Nordic stock.

As on other issues, progressives in Washington established a special commission of "experts," chaired by Senator William P. Dillingham of Vermont, to study the problem of immigration. Supported by elaborate statistics and scholarly testimony, the commission's report argued that the newer immigrant groupslargely southern and eastern Europeans had proven themselves less assimilable than earlier immigrants. Immigration, the report implied, should be restricted by nationality.

Racial arguments helped mobilize impressive support behind the restriction movement, but even many who rejected such arguments supported limiting immigration. The continuing influx of foreigners was, they believed, creating unmanageable urban problems: overcrowding, unemployment, strained social services, social unrest. The combination of these concerns gradually won for the nativists the support of some of the nation's leading progressives: Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, and others. Powerful opponentsemployers who saw immigration as a source of cheap labor, reformers who valued the ethnic culture of immigrant communities, immigrants themselves and their political representatives managed to block the restriction movement for a time. But by the beginning of World War I (which itself effectively blocked immigration temporarily), the nativist tide was clearly gaining strength.

Suffrage for Women

Perhaps the largest single reform movement of the progressive era, indeed one of the largest of such movements in American history, was the fight for woman suffragea movement that attracted support from both women and men for many reasons. Women, in particular, often supported suffrage as a matter of simple justice or because they believed that the vote would enable them to increase the power and opportunities available to their sex. But many supported suffrage as well because of what they felt it could do to advance other causes. If the agitations for prohibition and immigration restriction were attempts to remove dangerous influences from American life, the suffrage movement was an attempt, its supporters believed, to inject into society a healthy new force. Giving women the right to vote, suffrage advocates claimed, was not only a matter of abstract principle; it was a practical measure to strengthen the forces of reform.

The movement for woman suffrage had already experienced a long and often frustrating history as the twentieth century began. Women had played an important role in the crusade for the abolition of slavery in the 1840s and 1850s, and they had included suffrage among their political demands after the Civil War. Spurned by political leaders of the post-Civil War era, who insisted that this was "the Negro's hour," suffragists continued their efforts through the last decades of the nineteenth century, winning a few victories in some of the new Western states but lacking sufficient power to change national policy.

It is sometimes difficult for today's Americans to understand why the suffrage issue could have become the source of such enormous controversy in the early years of this century. But at the time, suffrage seemed to many of its critics a very radical demand in part because of the rationale some of its supporters used to advance it. Throughout the late nineteenth century, many suffrage advocates presented their views in terms of "natural rights," arguing that women deserved the same rights as menincluding, first and foremost, the right to vote. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the organizers of the 1848 women's rights convention at Seneca Falls (see pp. 354355) and a suffrage leader for more than forty years, wrote in 1892 of woman as "the arbiter of her own destiny. ... if we are to consider her as a citizen, as a member of a great nation, she must have the same rights as all other members." A woman's role as "mother, wife, sister, daughter" was "incidental" to her larger role as a part of society.

This was an argument that stood in stark contrast to prevailing views of women among men (and even among many women), who believed that society required a distinctive female "sphere" in which women would serve first and foremost as wives and mothers. To many men, and even to many women, the idea of women's rights seemed frightening and threatening.

And so a powerful antisuffrage movement appeared, which challenged this apparent threat to the existing social order. There were antisuffrage organizations, some with substantial memberships; antisuffrage newspapers; rallies; petitions to legislatures; and widely circulated tracts. Opponents railed against the threat suffrage posed to the "natural order" of civilization. Woman, said one opponent, "was made man's helper, was given a servient place (not necessarily inferior) and man the dominant place (not necessarily superior) in the division of labor." Antisuffragists associated suffrage with divorce (not without at least some reason, since some suffrage advocates also supported revising the laws to make it easier for women to obtain a divorce). They linked suffrage with promiscuity, looseness, and neglect of children.

The suffrage movement began to overcome this opposition and to win some substantial victories in the first years of the twentieth century. That was in part because suffragists were becoming better organized and more politically sophisticated than their opponents. Under the leadership of Anna Howard Shaw, a Boston social worker, and Carrie Chapman Catt, a journalist from Iowa, the National American Woman Suffrage Association grew from a membership of about 13,000 in 1893 to over 2 million in 1917. The involvement of such well-known and widely admired women as Jane Addams gave added respectability to the cause.

But the movement also gained strength because many of its most prominent leaders began to justify suffrage in "safer," less theatening ways. Suffrage, some supporters began to argue, would not challenge the "separate sphere" in which women resided. It would allow women to bring their special and distinct virtues more widely to bear on society's problems. It was, they claimed, precisely because women occupied a distinct spherebecause as mothers and wives and homemakers they had special experiences and special sensitivities to bring to public lifethat woman suffrage could make such an important contribution to politics. Jane Addams expressed this more conservative justification for suffrage in a 1909 article: "If women would effectively continue their old avocations, they must take part in the slow upbuilding of that code of legislation which is alone sufficient to protect the home from its dangers incident to modern life." In particular, many suffragists argued that enfranchising women would help the temperance movement, by giving its largest group of supporters a political voice. Some suffrage advocates claimed that once women had the vote, war would become a thing of the past, since women wouldby their calming, peaceful influencehelp curb the belligerence of men. It was no accident, therefore, that the outbreak of World War I gave the final, decisive push to the movement for suffrage.

Suffrage also attracted support for other, less optimistic reasons. Many middle-class people found persuasive the argument that if blacks, immigrants, and other "base" groups had access to the franchise, then it was not only a matter of justice but of common sense to allow educated, "well-born" women to vote. Some people supported woman suffrage, in fact, because they believed that it would add to the constituency that supported immigration restriction and racial disfranchisement. Florence Kelley, a prominent social reformer who was later to help organize the NAACP, remarked unhappily in 1906 on this aspect of the suffrage movement: "I have rarely heard a ringing suffrage speech which did not refer to the 'ignorant and degraded' men, or the 'ignorant immigrants' as our masters. This is habitually spoken with more or less bitterness."

It was this separation of the suffrage movement from more radical feminist goals, and its association with other reform causes of concern to many Americans, that allowed it in the first years of the new century to become a major national force. And beginning in 1910, it started to win some significant victories. That year, Washington became the first state in fourteen years to extend suffrage to women. California joined it a year later; and in 1912, four other Western states did the same. In 1913, Illinois became the first state east of the Mississippi to accept woman suffrage. And in 1917 and 1918, New York and Michigantwo of the most populous states in the Uniongave women the vote. By 1919, thirty-nine states had granted women the right to vote in at least some elections; fifteen had allowed them full participation. In 1920, finally, suffragists won ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which guaranteed political rights to women throughout the nation.

To some feminists, however, the victory seemed less than complete. Alice Paul, the head of the militant National Woman's party (founded in 1916) and a suffragist who had never accepted the relatively conservative "separate sphere" justification for suffrage, argued that the Nineteenth Amendment alone would not be sufficient to protect women's rights. Women needed more: a constitutional amendment that would provide clear, legal protection for their rights and would prohibit all discrimination on the basis of sex. Such an amendment would do what the suffrage amendment had not. It would provide legal affirmation of women's rights as individuals, of their rights to pursue their interests and abilities on the same terms as men. But Alice Paul's argument found limited favor even among many of the most important leaders of the recently triumphant suffrage crusade. Jane Addams, Florence Kelley, Carrie Chapman Catt, and others showed no interest in the Equal Rights Amendment. Some, such as Addams, denounced it bitterly, fearing it would invalidate the special protective legislation for women that they had fought so hard to have enacted. It would be many years before the divisions between these two wings of American feminism were healed.

As the controversy over the Equal Rights Amendment suggests, the suffrage movement did not, in the end, produce a coherent movement behind any issue other than securing women the vote. On most other issues, in fact, women were generally no more in agreement than men. Once enfranchised, the new voters did little to support the arguments of those suffragists who had claimed that women would operate in politics as a coherent force for reform.

The Dream of Socialism

Prohibition, immigration restriction, woman suffragethese and other issues attracted large but limited constituencies. Of more general concern to progressives of all backgrounds was the state of the nation's economy. From the beginning, it had been animosity toward the great industrial combinations the truststhat had formed the core of progressive sentiment. It was to the task of limiting the power of the giant corporations, therefore, that many reformers devoted their greatest energies.

On how best to deal with the trusts, however, there was wide disagreement. Some reformers believed in the importance of careful government regulation, others in the necessity of destroying the trusts. But others, moving beyond the strictures of progressivism, argued that the problem lay not in the abuses of the economic system but in the system itselfthat the solution lay in replacing capitalism with socialism.

At no time in American history to that point, and in few times after it, did radical critiques of the capitalist system attract more support than in the period between 1900 and 1914. Although never a force to rival, or even seriously threaten, the two major parties, the Socialist party of America grew during the progressive era into a force of considerable strength. In 1900, it had attracted the support of fewer than 100,000 voters; in 1912, its durable leader and perennial presidential candidate, Eugene V. Debs, received nearly 1 million ballots. Strongest in urban immigrant communities (particularly among Germans and Jews in New York, Chicago, Milwaukee, and elsewhere), it won the loyalties, too, of a substantial number of Protestant farmers in the South and Midwest. Socialists won election to over 1,000 state and local offices, and they attracted the admiring attention of some journalists and intellectuals as well as of members of the lower class. Lincoln Steffens, the crusader against municipal corruption, ultimately became a defender of socialism. So for a time did Walter Lippmann, the brilliant young journalist who was to become one of the nation's most important social critics.

Virtually all socialists agreed on the need for basic structural changes in the economy, but they differed widely on how drastic those changes should be. Some endorsed the sweepingly radical goals of European Marxists; others envisioned a more moderate reform that would allow small-scale private enterprise to survive but would nationalize the major industries. Debs spoke for the mainstream of the party in citing economic concentration as the greatest danger to democracy: "If we could but destroy the money monopoly, the land monopoly, all would be different." There was disagreement as well on tactics. Militants within the party favored drastic, even violent, action. Most conspicuous was the radical labor union the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), known to opponents as the "Wobblies." Under the leadership of William ("Big Bill") Haywood, the IWW advocated a single union for all workers and abolition of the "wage slave" system; it rejected political action and favored strikes and industrial sabotage instead. Although small in numbers, the "Wobblies" struck terror into the hearts of the middle class with their inflammatory rhetoric. They were widely believed to have been responsible for the dynamiting of railroad lines and power stations and other acts of terror.

More moderate socialists advocated peaceful change through political struggle, and it was they who dominated the party. They emphasized a gradual education of the public to the need for change and patient efforts within the system to enact it. It soon became clear, however, that the period before World War I was not the first stage of an effective socialist movement but the last. By the end of the warin large part because the party had refused to support the war effort, but in part too because of a growing wave of antiradicalism that subjected the socialists to enormous harassment and persecutionsocialism was in decline as a significant political force.

Decentralization and Regulation

A more influential debate was raging at the same time between those who believed in the essential premises of capitalism but urged reforms to preserve it. The debate centered on two basic approaches: decentralization and regulation.

To many progressives, the greatest threat to the nation's economy was excessive centralization and consolidation. The trusts had made it impossible for the free market to work as it should; only by restoring the economy to a more human scale could the nation hope for stability and justice. Few such reformers envisioned a return to a society of small, local enterprises; some consolidation, they recognized, was inevitable. They did, however, argue that the federal government should take forceful action to break up the largest combinations, to enforce a balance between the need for bigness and the need for competition. This viewpoint came to be identified with Louis D. Brandeis, the brilliant lawyer and later justice of the Supreme Court, who spoke and wrote widely (most notably in his 1913 book Other People's Money) about the "curse of bigness." "If the Lord had intended things to be big," Brandeis once wrote, "he would have made man biggerin brains and character."

Brandeis and his supporters opposed bigness in part because they considered it inefficient. But their opposition had a moral basis as well. Bigness was a threat not just to efficiency but to freedom. It limited the ability of individuals to control their own destinies. It encouraged abuses of power. Government must, Brandeis insisted, regulate competition in such a way as to ensure that large combinations did not emerge.

To other progressives, competition was an overrated commodity. Far more important was efficiency. And since economic concentration tended to enhance efficiency, the government, they believed, should not discourage it. What government should do, however, was to ensure that "bigness" did not bring with it abuses of power. It should stand constant guard against irresponsibility and corruption in the great corporations. It should distinguish between "good trusts" and "bad trusts," encouraging the good while disciplining the bad. Such progressives argued that America had entered a new era. Economic consolidation, they foresaw, would remain a permanent feature of society, but continuing oversight by a strong, modernized government would be vital.

The defenders of consolidation looked on the antimonopolists with condescension and some contempt. Brandeis and his allies were outmoded moralists, harking back to the ideals of a vanished age. America needed, instead, to look forward, to a bold new future. One of the most influential spokesmen for this emerging "nationalist" position was Herbert Croly, whose 1909 book The Promise of American Life became one of the most influential of all progressive documents. America's greatest need, Croly argued, was for unitythe kind of fervent unity that had made the great civilizations of the past (ancient Greece, the Roman Empire) flourish. And America's economic life, he claimed, needed unity as much as did its social life.

Opinions varied widely, even among nationalists, on how that unity should be achieved. But increasingly, attention focused on some form of coordination of the industrial economy. Society must act, Walter Lippmann wrote in a notable 1914 book, Drift and Mastery, "to introduce plan where there has been clash, and purpose into the jungles of disordered growth." To some, the search for "plan" required businesses themselves to learn new ways of cooperation and self-regulation; some of the most energetic "progressive" reformers of the period, in fact, were businessmen searching eagerly for ways to bring order to their own troubled world. To others, the solution was for government to play a far more active role in regulating and planning economic life. One of those who came to endorse that position (although not fully until 1912) was Theodore Roosevelt, who said: "We should enter upon a course of supervision, control, and regulation of those great corporationsa regulation which we should not fear, if necessary, to bring to the point of control of monopoly prices."

WHERE HISTORIANS DISAGREE

Progressivism

There may be no issue in twentieth-century American historiography that has inspired more disagreement, even confusion, than the nature of progressivism.

Until about 1950, most historians were in general accord about the nature of the progressive "movement." It was, they generally agreed, just what it had said it was: a movement by the "people" to curb the power of the "special interests." In particular, it was a protest by an aroused citizenry against the corruption and excessive power of urban bosses, corporate moguls, and tame elected officials. Progressive reform, scholars argued, was an effort to restore power to the people, to revive political, economic, and social democracy.

In the early 1950s, however, a new interpretation emerged to challenge the traditional view. It retained the earlier view of progressivism as a largely political movement, but it offered a new explanation of who the progressives were and what they were trying to do. George Mowry, in The California Progressives (1951), described the reform movement in that state not as a protest by the mass of the people, but as an effort by a relatively small and privileged group of business and professional men to limit the overbearing power of large corporations and labor unions. Viewing themselves as natural social leaders, they resented their loss of political power to these new economic forces and envisioned reform as a way to restore both their economic fortunes and their social importance and self-esteem. Richard Hofstadter expanded on this idea in The Age of Reform (1955), in which he described progressives throughout the country as people suffering from "status anxiety"old, formerly influential, upper-middle-class families seeking to restore their fading prestige by challenging the powerful new institutions that had begun to displace them. Like the Populists, Hofstadter suggested, the progressives were suffering from psychological, not economic, discontent.

The Mowry-Hofstadter thesis was for a time widely influential, but it was not without its critics. In particular, it received strong challenges from historians who disagreed with two of the basic assumptions of the interpretation. First, these scholars maintained, Mowry and Hofstadter were mistaken in examining progressivism purely in terms of its visible political leaders. It was a movement with a far broader social and economic base. Second, they claimed, progressive reformers were not expressing a vague psychological malaise but a dear recognition of their own self-interest. Beyond that, the new historians of progressivism often disagreed with one another as much as they disagreed with Mowry and Hofstadter.

Perhaps the harshest challenge to earlier interpretations came from the New Left historian Gabriel Kolko, whose influential 1963 study, The Triumph of Conservatism, dismissed the supposedly "democratic" features of progressivism as meaningless rhetoric and examined instead the impact of progressive economic reforms. Progressivism was, he agreed, an effort to regulate business. But it was not the "people" who were responsible for this regulation. It was the businessmen, who saw in government supervision a way to protect themselves from ruinous competition. Regulation, Kolko claimed, was "invariably controlled by the leaders of the regulated industry and directed towards ends they deemed acceptable or desirable" ends, he suggested, that generally ran counter to the goals of economic democracy rather than enhancing them.

A somewhat more moderate challenge to the "psychological" interpretation of progressivism came from historians embracing a new "organizational" view of history. Samuel P. Hays was the first to suggest the approach, in The Response to Industrialism, 1885-1914 (1957) and other writings. Hays argued that progressives were indeed businessmen, as Kolko had suggested. But their impulse was not so much naked self-interest as a broad desire to bring order and efficiency to political and hence economic life. The most important progressives, he claimed, were members of the upper class, who viewed a restoration of stability as essential to the preservation of their privileged position.

Even more influential was a 1967 study by Robert Wiebe, The Search for Order, 1877-1920. Wiebe saw progressivism as a response to the dislocations in American life that had resulted from a rapid change in the nature of the economy without a corresponding change in social and political institutions. Economic power was now lodged in large, national organizations, whereas social and political life was centered primarily in local communities. The result was widespread disorder and unrest, culminating in the turbulent 1890s. Progressivism, Wiebe argued, was the effort of a "new middle class"a class tied to the emerging national economyto stabilize and enhance its position in society. It was, therefore, an attempt to impose order on the chaos of industrial society by replacing antiquated local institutions with modern, national organizations. Progressivism, in short, went far beyond politics. It was a widespread effort to reshape virtually all of American life.

Yet despite all the challenges to the original view of progressivism as a democratic movement, some historians continued to produce evidence that the reform phenomenon was indeed a movement of the people against vested interestsalthough some scholars identified the "people" somewhat differently than did earlier such interpretations. J. Joseph Huthmacher argued in 1962 that much of the force behind progressivism came from members of the working class, especially immigrants, who pressed for such reforms as workers' compensation and wage and hour laws. John P. Buenker strengthened this argument in Urban Liberalism and Progressive Reform (1973), which argued that political machines and urban "bosses" were important sources of reform energy and helped create twentieth-century liberalism.

David P. Thelen, in a 1972 study of progressivism in Wisconsin, The New Citizenship, offered an even broader challenge to both the "status anxiety" and the "conservatism-organizational" views. Thelen found a real clash between the "public interest" and "corporate privilege" in Wisconsin. The depression of the 1890s had mobilized a broad coalition of citizens of highly diverse backgrounds behind efforts to make both business and government responsible to the popular will. It marked the emergence of a new "consumer" consciousness that crossed boundaries of class and community, religion and ethnicity. As consumers, all citizens were affected by the policies of corporations, utilities, and railroads and, therefore, shared in the effort to limit their power. The movement, in short, corresponded quite closely to the progressive rhetoric of the time.

Another group of historians writing in the 1970s and 1980s tackled the question of the nature of progressivism less by looking at particular reformers or particular reforms than by trying to identify some of the broad processes of political change that had created the public battles of the era. Richard L. McCormick's From Realignment to Reform (1981), for example, studied political change in New York State and argued that the crucial change in this era was the decline of the political parties as the vital players in public life and the rise of interest groups working for particular social and economic goals. Progressivism, he and others have suggested, was not so much a coherent "movement" as part of a broader process of political adaptation to the realities of modern industrial society.

Given the range of disagreement over the nature of the progressive movement, it is hardly surprising that some historians have despaired of finding any coherent definition for the term at all. Peter Filene, for one, suggested in 1970 that the concept of progressivism as a "movement" had outlived its usefulness. "It is time," he suggested, "to tear off the familiar label and, thus liberated from its prejudice, see the history between 1890 and 1920 for what it wasambiguous, inconsistent, moved by agents and forces more complex than a [single, uniform] progressive movement." Critics argued that Filene's view was an argument for abandoning the search for any historical meaning in the politics of the early twentieth century. But Daniel Rodgers, in an important 1982 article, "In Search of Progressivism," disagreed. Concluding a review of the new scholarship on the progressive era, he wrote: "Whether historians of the 1980s will call off the search for that great, overarching thing called 'progressivism' is hard to predict. Certainly historians working in the 1970s failed manifestly to find it. In recompense they found out a vast amount about the world in which the progressives lived and the structures of social and political power shifting so rapidly around them. To acknowledge that these are the questions that matter and to abandon the hunt for the essence of the noise and tumult of that era may not be, as Filene's first critics feared, to lose the whole enterprise of historical comprehension. It may be to find it."

 


 

 



© ..
2003 - 2010