Off and on, since the 1880’s, Progressivism has brought out the best and worst in us. It took rights from some and gave rights to others. Was that right? I don’t know. I do know that Progressivism (like the devil) generally appears as an angel of light. What I also know is that progressive activities (good and bad) frequently fell into that uneasy category of “unconstitutional”.
Since the Constitution is our safeguard against government tyrany, any weakening of it, even for a good cause, potentially leads to disaster. Long after Progressivism humanely took little kids out of factories and filth out of our foods, etc. we are left with a bitter aftermath as we watch an out-of-control Progressive administration spend us and generations to come into oblivion. Now it is nolonger kids in factories that need rescue, it is the entire nation.
It is too bad that certain people with wealth and power did not choose to do the right thing at the right time some hundred or so years ago when we were still living in an entirely democratic republic so that the puppet masters of Progressivism could never have gotten a toe-hold. Still, we must learn from past mistakes. The following is a very brief look at Progressivism in our history.
The first wave of Progressivism lasted from the 1880’s through World War II. It held the concept of a “Living Constitution” which should be altered to meet the demands of the times. It held that the founding fathers had framed the Constitution with very limited government in a desperate response to the tyrany of King George III, but that it had outlived its usefulnes by the late 19th Century as the “robber barons” of the Industrial Revolution become the new tyrants.
There was a feeling that the American people now wanted the government to take more control and rid them of this oppression. Therefore, they were not usurping power from the people, but giving power to them. In the 1902 Cold Strike, Teddy Roosevelt is said to have commented, “To hell with the Constitution when people want coal.”
Woodrow Wilson felt that the presidency was the only office that had the potential to speak directly for the people. Therefore, it was his intent to expand the powers of the presidency beyond the original balance of power between the 3 branches of government.
In his 1887 essay, “Socialism and Democracy”, he writes that socialism is the logical extension of democracy since it gives all power to the people in the collective capacity to carry out their will”. He continues that it is, “the absolute right of the community to determine itsown destiny”. Note that there is no reference to the rights of the individual.
Teddy Roosevelt, in his “New Nationalism”, called for the state to take an active role in effecting economic equality by superintending the use of private property. He saw private property rights as subject to social usefulness.
Roosevelt has no problem with an individual acquiring his fortune. However, he states that, “we should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community“. He continues, “this, I know, implies a policy of a far more active government interference with social and economic conditions…but…such…is now necessary”.
Outright Socialism, however, seemed to Progressives to be a movement of the lower classes and was attached in many people’s minds with violence and revolution. The Progressives were elitist and wanted gradual and peaceful change (perhaps a change so peaceful and grandual that it was barely perceptible as far as the dangerous underlying mechanics that enabled it. Only the surface “good” would be seen and applauded and no questions asked.
Indeed, Progressives were outwardly critical of the Socialists and both Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson ran against the Socialist candidate, Eugene Debs, in the 1912 presidential election.