CIS American History
15 March, 2013
My Take on the Progressives
The common thought about progressivism before the 1950s were that it was a movement by the common people to curb the excessive power of powerful people such as urban bosses, corporate moguls, and corrupt officials. However, when George Mowry wrote his Progressivism: Middle Class Disillusionment, he challenged the common idea that the progressives were middle class citizens and instead considered them to be a privileged elite group of businessmen and professionals. Mowry believed that this group was trying to recover their fading influence from the capitalist institutions that has been replacing them. When Gabriel Kolko published his Triumph of Conservatism in 1963 his also did not agree that the progressives were middle-class citizens; rather he saw them as corporate leaders and liberal political leaders who were in the end not focused on helping the workers but instead focused on using the government to protect their corporations from competition. Anne Firor Scott wrote that the true progressives during that era were women; although there were men who also did things during the progressive era, the majority of it was done by women but they were neglected. They wanted to reform the social values and the nature of community life. Between all three authors, they all made very good points but when it comes to constructing their arguments Mowry and Scott did a better job because they backed up their statements with other sources.
According to Mowry, the progressives were a group of privileged elite businessmen and professionals; they included state level government officials and self-made men, others were from wealthy families. They were considered to be the “solid middle class”, generally young and of white background with a secure economic status and the college education. The main goal of these Progressives according to Mowry was to regain the influence that they used to have back from the capitalist institutions. Wayne MacVeagh, the Attorney General of California broke down society into three social classes: “Those with more money than what was good for them, those who had just enough, and those who had much less than was morally desirable” (qtd. in Mowry 260). The ones with too much money were the capitalists, the ones with just enough were the Progressives, and the ones with not enough money were the working/ poor class. Most of these progressives saw cities as major problems to what they believed, when a young man comes to the city he can become one of the two extremes, either a wealthy businessman or a poor factory worker. “Young, genuine, strong and simple men from the farm, if they were successful, they became ‘financial wreckers’ who made their money strangling legitimate enterprises and other human beings. If they were failures—or remained factory workers—they gradually became like the machine they tended, “huge, hard, brutal, strung with a blind strength, stupid, unreasoning” (Mowry 258). The Progressives had a big attraction to the West; Theodore Roosevelt saw the city as a creator of national weakness and the rural areas as the way to protect the nation. Roosevelt said “It was the man on the farm who had consistently done the nation the best service in governing himself in time of peace and also in fighting in time of war.” The city was the place where the problem parts of collectivism were at while in the West which was mostly rural where every man minded his own business had no place for anarchy or communism.
Mowry also stated that the Progressives had feared labor union as they did with trusts. A Democratic Progressive said, “There is nothing ethical about the labor movement. It is coercion from start to finish.” “To the small employer and to many middle-class professionals, unions were just another kind of monopoly created for the same reasons and having the same results as industrial monopoly” (Mowry 261)....
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