The American Pageant (12th Edition)

Chapter 29 – Page 664

Our Critique

664 “The progressive army was large, diverse, and widely deployed, but it had a single battle cry: ‘Strengthen the State.’”

Bailey and Kennedy are correct. The Progressive Era (1900–1920) was a period where so-called “progressives” emerged with ideas that society would work better if the federal government had more power and individuals, therefore, had less power to buy and sell their labor and their goods at mutually agreed upon prices. Oddly, the preceding era, the Gilded Age (1865–1900), was one of limited government and a great increase in American economic power and standard of living. During the Gilded Age, we had the invention and marketing of the telephone, the typewriter, the automobile, electricity, and cheap oil. Government, with misplaced subsidies to steamships and various transcontinental railroads, had created problems, not prosperity, during the Gilded Age, But Bailey and Kennedy endorse the progressives—as you can tell in the first paragraphs of this chapter.

664–65 “Social and economic problems were now too complex for the intentionally feeble Jeffersonian organs of government. Progressive theorists were insisting that society could no longer afford the luxury of limitless ‘let-alone’ (laissez-faire) policy.”

These two sentences do not display facts; they show the authors’ opinion. They think that the growing American society, with millions of people buying and selling every day, was now “too complex” for limited government. The assumption here is that the conduct of day-to-day business—buying, selling, and the setting of prices—would sometimes be better done by federal government officials and regulations than by the people themselves. But is government logically better able to cater to millions of diverse citizens, or just a few?

Bailey and Kennedy seem to think the presence of big corporations in society means more government is needed to control them. The authors used loaded words to criticize the Founders’ idea that limited government is the best government. They describe the so-called “feeble Jeffersonian organs of government.” What the Founders gave us in the Constitution was a strong dose of individual liberty, but the progressives want to give us a strong dose of government—bureaucrats will increasingly set prices, regulate the size of businesses, and raise taxes to support the new and larger federal bureaucracy.

The textbook also describes “the luxury of limitless ‘let-alone’ (laissez-faire) policy.” Yes, the Founders thought America would work best if people ran their own lives. The Founders believed that growing government greatly increased the chances of tyranny and greatly decreased individual liberty. They did not exactly advocate “let-alone” government or “feeble” government, but government performing its proper role. The Founders believed government was valuable for national defense, for coining money, and for enforcing law and order (courts), but not for making laws on what the size of corporations should be, what people should charge one another for products, or what employers should pay for wages. This chapter could be entitled, “Progressives vs. the American Founders,” or maybe “James Madison and George Washington vs. Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.”