Tuesday, December 3, 2013

12/3 The Progressive Era

"Come, Brothers You Have Grown So Big You Cannot Afford to Quarrel," William A. Rogers,  Harper's Weekly, 1901

There has never been a successful political revolution in the United States, some historians have the divided the American political system into "three republics": The First Republic, the constitutional system established in 1789-1860. Originally the system emphasized states' rights and consensus, no laws could be passed unless all parties agreed, like the "compromises" made between pro and anti slave factions leading up to the Civil War. 

The Second Republic 1861-1912, is established during the Civil War establishing a strong central state, assisting the expansion of industry throughout the country, like the railroads and steel industries. 

The Third Republic 1913-1980(?), beginning in 1913 under the Wilson administration (1913-1921) but developing fully under the Roosevelt administration (1933-1945). The large centralized state becomes the "welfare state" now that industry has expanded through every aspect of life. The critical question, posed by progressives, is should large industrial monopolies be regulated? Political conflicts in the present are still fought over whether government should regulate and tax businesses. 

In other words, the political issues of the early 20th century are to a large extent the political issues of today especially over the economy. A consequence of the labor movement that grew during the late 19th century. Progressive thinkers took on corporate monopolies, but they were hardly communists, progressivism is a liberal alternative to communism. These movements were, however, linked. At its peak in the 1930s, union membership consisted of about 30% of the workforce of the country, still far less than a majority. Since the 1980s, union membership nation-wide has declined to less than 10%. In the North, especially in states like New York, unions are still fairly strong, but in the South, unions are much weaker.

The Republican Party slogan in 2012 "We Built It," refers to private entrepreneurs creating the American "free market" system. Many aspects of the market taken for granted today were actually the result of long bloody struggles against management and ownership, including: Child labor laws, an eight-hour workday, minimum wage laws, worker's compensation for injuries sustained on the job, health and fire safety standards, and more–all of these reforms were fiercely fought by employers, often at the cost of many worker's lives.

Not all progressives were opposed to "scientific" theories of racism. Many were nationalistic and pro-war and in favor of the U.S. going to war in World War I (1914-1918), to help "make the world safe for democracy." The opposing view was held by Randolph Bourne, also a progressive intellectual, who spoke out against the racist or xenophobic tendencies in the essay we read at the beginning of class.

Among major progressive thinkers only a handful like W.E.B. DuBois and Bourne did not see war as a great heroic struggle for democracy. We began the class with Bourne and Chesterton and now after going back to the origins of the political system we have come full circle. The reason why I begin the class with these essays (besides being well-written and interesting to read) is to emphasize again how little has really changed in our political discourse since the 1920s.

The managers of the industrial cartels, trusts, and monopolies sought greater organization and control in society in order to better manage their own economic empires and prefer a system of "managed competition" over the unpredictable free market. Establishing a social welfare state was not against the interests of corporate managers, but was desired as way of consolidating control and the predictability of "business cycles." In reality, there has never been a society that has ever functioned according to the principles of the free market, in many ways, this is as utopian a belief as the communist idea of a fully equal society. The U.S. economy was built for centuries upon a slave economy (which the North benefited from), followed by an unprecedented era of government corruption in the period after the civil war. By the time of the progressive era, the idea of managed competition or a "mixed economy" had already taken hold.

Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924)became the first Democratic progressive president in 1913, and only the second Democratic president since the Civil War. His election marked the first time Democrats had won both houses of Congress since before the Civil War as well. Wilson, a Southerner from Virginia, became President of Princeton University and then Governor of New Jersey in 1910. Wilson, like all progressives, and basically every American politician invokes the name of Jefferson: 
You know that it was Jefferson who said that the best government is that which does as little governing as possible, which exercises its power as little as possible. That was said in a day when the opportunities of America were so obvious to every man, when every individual was so free to use his powers without let or hindrance, that all that was necessary was that the government should withhold its hand and see to it that every man got an opportunity to act if he would. But that time is past. America is not now, and cannot in the future be, a place for unrestricted individual enterprise. It is true that we have come upon an age of great cooperative industry. It is true that we must act absolutely upon this principle (p. 439).

One thing that many working people have in common is no contact between employees and management. Wilson's central point is that the size and scale of American society is so large that  government intervention is necessary:
Who in this great audience knows his employer? I mean among those who go down into the mines or go into the mills and factories. You never see, you practically never deal with, the president of the corporation. You probably don't know the directors of the corporation by sight. The only thing you know is that by score, by the hundred, by the thousand, you are employed with your fellow workmen by some agent of an invisible employer. Therefore, whenever bodies of men employ bodies of men, it ceases to be a private relationship" (p. 440)

He argues that government up until now has been the tool of industrial monopolies that control the economy, "I say, then, the proposition is this: that there shall be two masters, the great corporation and over it the government of the United States; and I ask: Who is going to be the master of the government of the United States? It has a master now––those who in combination control these monopolies. And if the government controlled by these monopolies in its turn controls the monopolies, the partnership is finally consummated" (p. 441).

The population of the country at the time of the founding of the Constitution was about 4 million; when Wilson was inaugurated it was just under 100 million; the population is now more than three times as large from Wilson's time (320 million).

During Wilson's administration the Federal Reserve was set up which regulates the supply of money in the economy, by controlling interest rates. The Federal Trade Commission was also established to regulate commerce and prevent abuses. Several "Progressive" Amendments to the Constitution were passed between 1913-1933:
  • 16th Amendment (1913): Right for government to collect income tax.
  • 17th Amedment (1913): Provides for direct election of Senators by the people of the state.
  • 18th Amendment (1919): the infamous Prohibition amendment making the sale of alcohol illegal.
  • 19th Amendment (1920): Gave women the right to vote (the defining civil rights issue of the era).
  • 20th Amendment (1933): moved the President's inauguration from March 4th to January 20th. This was done to speed up the time between a president being elected and taking office and was a response to the crisis of the Great Depression. It also testifies to the growing importance of the executive branch of government. January 1933 is also when Adolph Hitler took power in Germany who basically had a two month head start on Roosevelt for taking on the depression in their countries although that may not have been a direct influence at the time.
  • 21st Amendment (1933): Reverses Prohibition.

Wilson committed the U.S. to the war in Europe in 1917, and tried unsuccessfully to get the U.S. to join the League of Nations, a precursor to today's United Nations (UN). 

The psychological and emotional identification with the state during World War I, accompanied by controversial laws, like the Espionage Act of 1917, the Sedition Act of 1918, and the Immigration Act of 1918, gave the state extensive powers to jail or deport those critical of the war effort. Radical labor unions like the Industrial Workers of the World  (I.W.W.) were suppressed and Socialist Party leaders like Eugene Debs were put in jail–competing labor organizations like the American Federation of Labor (AFL), with a history of racism and xenophobia were supported. The first U.S. propaganda department was created, the Committee of Public Information (CPI, or Creel Commission), headed by Carl Creel, noted journalist for the Rocky Mountain News. The massive propaganda apparatus was accompanied by, and itself a part of, an even larger apparatus used to regulate the economic forces of the nation:

By propaganda, by Presidential decree, and by willing patriotism, the United States became more unanimous than ever before. The brains and hands and even the stomachs of 100 million Americans were made to function as one. While dollar-a-year men poured into Washington to run the swollen government machine, four-minute men poured out to sell Liberty Bonds, Thrift Stamps, Home Gardens, and the Red Cross. “Do Your Bit,” “Food Will Win the War,” and “Swat the Hun” glared from billboards on every side. Overstuffed society ladies said they were “Hooverizing” when they did without wheat on Monday, or meat on Tuesday. A Fuel Administrator in Washington gave an order, and the nation’s lights were dimmed; he gave another order, and all the clocks were turned ahead. The War Industries Board under Bernard Baruch converted 28,000 factories into a production “trust” such as even Morgan had never dreamed of. William G. McAdoo, the President’s son-in-law, became dictator of the nation’s railroads. The German language was banned in schools; German born musicians and scholars were publicly insulted; Eugene Debs was put in jail, and the New York Times printed a rumor that German spies were putting poison in bandages in Philadelphia. It was all part of the home-front war (Butterfield pp. 360-61).

Wilson also suffered a stroke in 1920 that limited his ability to rally support for his cause. The Republicans won the election of 1920 and again the Presidency and Congress until 1932. It was under a Republican administration and Congress when the Great Depression hit in 1929, with the crash of the stock market in New York. 

The response of the Republicans was to do nothing and let the market work itself out. Problems became worse, and after almost three years of unsuccessful Republican attempts to deal with the effects of the depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) is elected in 1932. Democrats also re-capture both the House and Senate, and have large majorities in both for more than 50 years. Roosevelt invokes a kind of evolutionary argument, seen in his campaign speech from 1932. He also refers implicitly to the "Second Republic" after the Civil War:
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
 The tariff was originally imposed for the purpose of "fostering our infant industry," a phrase I think the older among you will remember as a political issue not so long ago. The railroads were subsidized, sometimes by grants of money, oftener by grants of land; some of the most valuable oil lands in the United States were granted to assist the financing of the railroads which pushed through the Southwest. A nascent merchant marine was assisted by grants of money, or by mail subsidies, so that our steam shipping might ply the seven seas....It has been traditional, particularly in Republican administrations, for business to urgently ask the Government to put at private disposal all kind of Government assistance. The same man who tells you that he does not want to see the Government interfere in business––and he he means it, and has plenty of good reasons for saying so––is the first to go to Washington and ask the Government for a prohibitory tariff on his product. When things get just bad enough, as they did two years ago, he will go with equal speed to the United States Government and ask for a loan; and the Reconstruction Finance Corporation is the outcome of it (p. 455)

American industry and finance has expanded and risen to such heights the purposes of the government must change. Changing functions of the government necessitate a new kind of qualified expert for running the government:
The day of the great promoter or the financial Titan, to whom we granted anything if only he would build, or develop, is over. Our task now is not discovery or exploitation of natural resources, or necessarily producing more goods. It is the soberer, less dramatic business of administering resources and plants already in hand, of seeking to reestablish foreign markets for our surplus production, of meeting the problem of underconsumption, of adjusting production to consumption, of distributing wealth and products more equitably, of adapting existing economic organizations to the service of the people. The day of enlightened administration has come (p. 457)

Roosevelt argues, again like most progressives, the primary function of the government is to prevent the concentration of wealth in large monopolies, as he says in this speech from his first re-election campaign in 1936 (Roosevelt is the only president to serve more than two full terms in office, he was elected four times in all but died shortly into his fourth term). Despite his status today, FDR was a very polarizing figure in his time. He also suggests that the artificial prosperity created by the corruption of government and business only sets the stage for its own destruction:
During those years of false prosperity and during the more recent years of exhausting depression, one business after another, one small corporations after another, their resources depleted, had failed or had fallen into the lap of a bigger competitor. A dangerous thing was happening. Half of the industrial corporate wealth of the country had come under the control of less than two hundred corporations. That is not all. These huge corporations in some cases did not even try to compete with each other. They themselves were tied together by interlocking directors, interlocking bankers, interlocking lawyers (p. 463).

Roosevelt suggests hypocrisy on those who claim to be "social darwinists," to let the strong survive, except when their survival is at stake:
I know how the knees of all our rugged individualists were trembling four years ago and how their hearts fluttered. They came to Washington in great numbers. Washington did not look like a dangerous bureaucracy to them then. Oh, no! It looked like an emergency hospital. All of the distinguished patients wanted two things––a quick hypodermic to end the pain and a course of treatment to cure the disease. They wanted them in a hurry; we gave them both. And now most of the patients seem to be doing nicely. Some of them are even well enough to throw their crutches at the doctor (p. 464).

The final reading is from Roosevelt's Economic Bill of Rights made up less than a year before he died during the waning days of World War II (1939-1945). The contents of this bill including a right to healthcare and a right to education:

In short, like today the most dominant issue confronting progressives and conservatives is over the role of the government in regulating the economy and the extent of government intervention.

Next class, we will try to bring things up to the present and see how modern politics is influenced by the issues we have talked about in the past.

Assignment Due 12/10 : Choose a passage from Wilson, or Roosevelt, write out the passage and interpret it and explain why you chose this passage.

Go to the link for the The Great Depression. Choose a passage from this website and write it out and interpret it and explain why you chose this passage. Also choose a picture or painting and explain the content of piece and how it relates to class.

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