By Kevin C. Murphy, Copyright 2013. All Rights Reserved.
III. Cast of Characters
Also covered in this study are the writers and intellectuals of The New Republic, The Nation, and The Survey, among them Herbert Croly, Walter Lippmann, Bruce Bliven, Paul Kellogg, Oswald Villard, Freda Kirchwey, and Ernest Gruening. These journalists and scholars, "middle class in background and deeply committed to the progressive movement," argued Charles Forcey in 1961, "were leaders among the men who sought to move liberalism in [a] new direction," both during and after the Progressive Era.2 "Journals like The New Republic and The Nation," argues Lynn Dumenil, "continued at the center of liberal thought" in the 1920's. Also part of this tale is H.L. Mencken, the acerbic and venerable columnist for the Baltimore Sun. While Mencken fits in no easy box, his voice would be both one of the more prescient and most distinctive of the era.3
Leaders of the women's suffrage movement, as well as other prominent progressives concerned with combating gender inequality, such as Florence Kelley, Alice Paul, Margaret Dreier Robins, Carrie Chapman Catt, and Jane Addams, all play a role in this story, with Addams in particular something of the patron saint of progressivism during the decade. As Robert Johnston noted in his survey of recent Progressive literature, "the overwhelming sense from recent scholarship is not only that women as a general collectivity were indeed empowered by and through Progressivism, but that women were chiefly responsible for some of the most important democratic reforms of the age."4
The old, capital-P progressives that had congregated around Teddy Roosevelt -- Harold Ickes, Raymond Robins, Amos and Gifford Pinchot, William Allen White -- have a part to play as well, with Ickes' falling away from Bull Moose Republican to FDR Democrat throughout the period a particularly useful window into the progressive politics of the decade. We will also see urban reformers such as Al Smith and Fiorello LaGuardia of New York. Historians such as John Buenker have argued that such urban reformers constituted a "vital part of the Progressive Era" and have often been overlooked, to the detriment of our understanding of the period.5 Obviously, Smith and his ilk are particularly important in understanding the political events of 1924 and 1928.
Smith's 1928 opponent, Herbert Hoover, has been deemed by historians such as Ellis Hawley and Joan Hoff-Wilson as the "Forgotten Progressive." As Hawley notes, Hoover was at the center of "the most rapidly expanding sector of New Era governmental activity…[the] transformation and expansion of the commerce secretariat."6 African-American progressives such as W.E.B. DuBois, James Weldon Johnson, and Walter White prove particularly valuable in examining how the ideology and rhetoric of progressivism was transformed by the exigencies of racial and cultural conflict. Socialists and former radicals -- Eugene Debs, Victor Berger, Crystal Eastman, Margaret Sanger, Roger Baldwin -- are also present in this story, as they made common cause with progressives in American life.7
While these reformers do not all impact equally on every subject of discussion, taken together I believe they form a wide-ranging palette with which to examine the questions that drive this study.
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2. Charles Forcey, The Crossroads of Liberalism; Croly, Weyl, Lippmann, and the Progressive Era, 1900-1925 (New York,: Oxford University Press, 1961), vii-ix. 3. Lynn Dumenil, The Modern Temper (New York: Hill and Wang, 1995), 23. The differences between The Nation and The New Republic also highlight the generational differences within progressivism. In the words of historian John Diggins: "The New Republic represented the twentieth century pragmatic strain of progressivism, The Nation the nineteenth-century liberal strain. The difference between these two liberal currents was, among other things, the difference between a relativistic approach to reform on one hand and a traditional faith in the standard democratic road to social justice on the other, the difference between the empiricism of social engineering and the humanitarianism of 'good hope.'…Where The Nation had been, even during the war years, vigorously antinationalist, the New Republic had looked to nationalism as the driving reform stimulus." John Diggins. "Flirtation with Fascism: American Pragmatic Liberals and Mussolini's Italy." The American Historical Review, Vol. 71, No. 2, (Jan., 1966), 499-500.
5. Buenker, Urban Liberalism and Progressive Reform, 221.
6. Hawley, 117.
7. As Lynn Dumenil put it in The Modern Temper, citing the work of historian Nancy Weiss: The NAACP's effort in the 1920's "exhibited the hallmarks of the progressive movement. It used careful investigations and publicity, similar to the muckrakers' approach, to expose an evil. And it tried legal tinkering - court cases and expanded suffrage - to achieve democracy. As Du Bois put it in 1920, 'The NAACP is a union of American citizens of all colors and races who believe that Democracy in America is a failure if it proscribes Negroes, as such, politically, economically, or socially.' The black leaders in the NAACP, like progressives, clearly believed in the promise of American life, in the system, and wanted to expand that promise to African Americans." Dumenil, 291.
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