The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XXI. Political Writing Since 1850

§ 37. Progressivism

This ideal, rejected by the dominant political parties, led to a revolt. Elaborated into a definite programme with definite methods, it became known as Progressivism, possessing three aims: to remove special, minority, or corrupt influences in the government and to revise the political machinery; to enlarge the functions of government by exercising greater authority over individual and corporate activities; and to provide measures of relief for the less fortunate citizens. The first triumphs of its origins and conflicts, in Wisconsin, are well told in Robert M. La Follette’s Autobiography (1911) and its definite programme in the same State in McCarthy’s The Wisconsin Idea (1912); while progressive achievements along the Pacific coast are described in Hichborn’s Story of the California Legislature of 1911 and Barnett’s Oregon Plan. In municipal affairs the Progressives looked to stricter control of franchises and the commission and managerial forms of government; in the literature of this phase of the movement, Tom L. Johnson’s My Story (1913) is pre-eminent. In national government it brought about stricter Federal control of railways, a definition of restraint of trade, a more democratic banking system, and efforts toward conservation of natural resources. Progressivism was the dominant issue in the presidential campaign of 1912. Its arguments as set forth at that time may be found in Theodore Roosevelt’s New Nationalism and Woodrow Wilson’s New Freedom. Less popular but more profound presentation of its philosophy is given in the writings of Walter Weyl and Herbert Croly.

Aside from its practical merits and achievements, Progressivism marked something of a revolution in American political ideals. Representative government, as understood by the old schools of thought, was to be replaced by direct government; the supremacy of the judiciary was to be questioned if not overthrown; the last limits of government interference in private rights and property were to be removed; and with the breaking of the alliance of business interests with the government, a new type of leader and public servant was to appear upon the scene. The World War, however, so greatly confused the issues and involved the policies of the nation that at the moment Progressivism appears under very different colours from those it wore even two or three years ago, and judgment upon the movement cannot safely be passed.