By guest author, diogenes (bio below).
From the outset the populists, and the progressives after them, already “alert” (as Eisenhower puts it) from the early 1870s due to the increasingly dire economic consequences for most Americans of the concentration and extension of oligarchic power, realized that in order to become “knowledgeable” and to awaken the “citizenry” at large for common action in support of effective legislative remedies, they would need to inform and educate themselves. The manipulation of the newspapers and other organs of “public” discussion by vested interests made this obvious from the start, partly because until the 1890s there was still a flourishing regional and small town journalism voicing a wide variety of local views and ready to expose salient facts concealed or distorted in the “kept press.”
A central feature of the Grange and the Farmers Alliance movements were activist “lecturers” who circulated among their local groups and spoke at their meetings. “In the fall and winter of 1890, one [Texas] congressional district after another organized its ‘lecturing school.’… It resulted in the instruction and appointment of seven special ‘district lecturers’ to work alongside the regular county lecturers throughout the fifth district…. and [after the 1889 St. Louis Alliance convention] this organizing technique was applied over a large part of the continent. The network of reform editors served as one of the primary organizational bases of Populism … and provided [a] basic internal communication agency.”
Philip La Follette writes of his father, key activist Robert La Follette, “People who do not know Wisconsin have never understood the hostility of the press and the bitterness of people of wealth toward Progressives and progressivism. Throughout my father’s life no more than two daily newspapers supported him at any given time. My father could carry his story to the public only by campaigning in person in every village, hamlet, and crossroads or through the La Follette weekly” which he edited and published himself. Lincoln Steffens recalls that La Follette’s method, as he promoted state progressive activism “was to go around to towns and cross-roads, make long, carefully stated speeches of fact, and appealing to the idealism of patriotism, watch the audience for faces, mostly young faces which he thought showed inspiration. These he invited to come to him afterward; he showed them what the job was, [and] asked them if they would do their part in their district.”
The muckraking magazines represented a breakthrough comparable to the Internet in its opening of new avenues for public information and discussion and played an important role in the rise of progressive activism between 1895 and 1916. After their muzzling and Wilson’s wartime repression, in shocked disarray, progressives learned again what Brooks Adams told Boston University law students in 1908: “Reduced to its last analysis, the problem with which we are confronted is one in education.” With the rise of centralized mass media misinformation this difficulty and necessity have increased. At the 1931 Conference of Progressives in Washington, University of Wisconsin sociologist E.A. Ross spoke at length on the manipulation of public opinion and politics by big money and on the control of publishing by syndicated advertising. Confronting this situation, a principle like “each one teach one” became elementary progressive citizen activist practice.
As soon as populist activists began working to see their legislative initiatives enacted, they realized that they were confronting town and city political organizations which were typically under the sway of chambers of commerce dependent on centralized mercantile credit and absentee investment, often with mobs and bosses like New York’s Tammany Hall working in covert collusion with them and tolerated for their ability to control local politics. They also quickly discovered that state and national parties were dominated by big money and the pervading influence of oligarch donors. This elicited the “Good Government” and “Reform” movements of the 1880s but it also enforced the dual recognition that activists need to take an explicitly non-partisan approach and work from the local level, from the “grassroots,” based on small groups coordinating to promote specific legislative initiatives — just as corporate finance prefers to write the laws it bribes (“lobbies”) legislatures to pass — and that public transparency is of the essence. Legitimate democratic action needs to “keep its tent flaps open” so that voters and fellow activists can observe and monitor its methods.
This experience also offered the instruction (often repeated later) that devoting time and energy to elaborating large scale organizational structures is not only a wasteful diversion from advancing primary legislative objectives, but serves to create power-bases for the pursuit of personal power by aspiring bosses (“leaders”), multiplies opportunities for petty graft and corruption, and results in bureaucratic mechanisms of hierarchical authority by which progressive initiatives can be co-opted and subverted from the top by the big donors that big organizations evolve to require. This is part of what George Norris had in mind when he called partisanship “one of the great evils of our government.” When progressives took control of midwestern parties as “Insurgent Repubicans” or turned to third party movements, it was strictly as an expedient compelled by the so-called “two” party system’s control of the electoral process, and over time they found instruction in the ways in which they were impeded or defeated by the mechanics of partisan politics, which fundamentally contradict and conflict with an effort to promote the public interest and the general welfare. This is why Washington warned against it in his Farewell Address. Minnesota Congressman Charles Lindbergh, Sr., found himself compelled to contend with the growth of corruption in the third party under whose aegis he was elected, the Non-Partisan League. Some of the trouble with partisanship comes from its party-mindedness and favor of partial over public interests, as Washington warns, but another systemic source, which he did not live to experience in full malignant bloom, is organizational.
Instead of organization-building, progressives focused on working in small “grassroots” groups of alert citizens for informed coordinated action from the precinct level, sometimes starting through local clubs or civic organizations or parish groups. In this they harkened back to — and took instruction from — an important method used in the foundation of American democracy, the committees of correspondence of the pre-revolutionary colonies. This kept their expenses small and local with funds to pay them also raised and dispersed locally by such expedients as dues, bake-sales, raffles, etc. so that everyone could see where the money came from and where it went. It was not transferred to an absentee central authority to spend unseen. As they quickly learned, the surrender to monetary “necessity” means, in the end, surrender to plutocratic influence and control. Like political parties, it is crucial to work around it.
In all this they built on a belief, willingness and commitment to practice and trust democracy, encouraged by a recognition that, finally and fundamentally, what matters — if democracy is to be made to work — is not money but our votes. Money can confuse or corrupt voters and corrupt vote counts but, as the progressives trusted and sometimes successfully proved, “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry,” by sustained coordinated attentive personal action in sufficient numbers to make their votes and their representatives effective in passage and enforcement of appropriate legislation, “can compel” just laws and proper government in the public interest. In this belief that an informed public is the “only” force which can “compel” permanent reform and that it must arise and act locally, they acted as “typical descendants of the Jeffersonian tradition.” The essential first element of the progressive program is the restoration of legitimate representative government — a government that represents the public interest (the res publica, as it is called) and “the general welfare,” as our Constitution’s preamble describes it.
Confronting democratic resistance and opposition, the plutocratic response has been characterized by lawlessness, as Brooks Adams bluntly calls it. From Alexander Hamilton to the railroad barons to Morgan to the present day, consolidated wealth in America has typically achieved its legislative ends by corrupting democracy and justice with multitudinous forms of illicit influence and connivance from bribery (“lobbying”) to blackmail to lawyerly chicane and judicial fiat. History presents countless examples from the redemption of depreciated Continental dollars to the bank bailout of 2009 and beyond. Today “Washington is home to five financial lobbyists for each congressional representative.” Since the Civil War oligarchic interests have funded and operated both political parties of their so-called “Two Party System” to deny access to representation for the interests and welfare of most Americans, a majority of whom have always favored and aspired to re-create the economic democracy of an egalitarian society which forms the core and essence of “the American dream.”
This denial of effective access to the primary means afforded by the Constitution for expression of democratic purpose has worked to divert popular political energies into a manifold variety of ineffectual expedients. Partisan responses to the “two-party” charade of opposition have been universally rendered futile by their basis in partisan division and partiality where what is required for success is public unity in service of a common vision of the interest and welfare of the public as a whole. As Brooks Adams points out, of all citizens the plutocrat is most vulnerable — he is one in a thousand. Dividing the public interest — by party, by region, by race, by religion, by class, by political dogma, by social customs — to prevent the formation of a common vision of the common interest has always been an essential component of plutocratic strategy. Pitting a divided public against itself is crucial to maintaining the toll-taking regime and American oligarchs have practiced and perfected this for 150 years.
Beyond denying the public fundamental access to constitutional democratic process, another essential oligarchic strategy has always depended on efforts to drive popular initiatives into lawless behavior — by employing violent repression to incite violence, agents provocateurs, false flag operations, and the like. This was notably true of the “labor violence” (more accurately called “business management violence” or “investor proxy violence”) that was a consistent feature of working life in America from the 1870s through the 1930s — employing hired thugs and private police agencies, public police forces, sheriffs and federal troops to break strikes, prevent union organizing and dragoon workingmen to submit to grotesquely inhumane conditions in factories and mines. In 1894 Kansas Populist Senator William Peffer pointed out to his colleagues that “fourteen states had recently been under martial law because of labor discontent.” This strategy, and its depiction in the “mainstream” kept press, works to delegitimize its victims as dangerous radical marginalized disturbers of public order, to discredit popular initiatives and to “justify” increased repression and regimentation.
This attendant corruption of public discussion — by misinformation, misrepresentation, diversion, confusion etc. — is an essential element of oligarchic strategy. Above all it aims to create the delusion of helplessness and hopelessness, of the invincibility of the system, the impossibility of effecting genuine change for the better, the necessity of accepting things as they are — while advertising an endless fashion cycle of new cosmetics to disguise their steady deterioration.
The system works to drive opposition outside legal bounds, to capture legislatures and exclude citizen initiatives, to force citizens into futile alternative organization building, moving but pointless and fruitless demonstrations and opprobrious violence. Naturally, unlike Brooks Adams, most children of wealth and their favored servants do not see it this way. As they regard the matter, all their powers, privileges and loot are sacrosanct — theirs by right, sanctioned by law and justly defended by whatever means necessary. But this view does not withstand confrontation with the facts. On the other hand, as progressives like Lincoln Steffens and John Commons learned from the limits and failures of their successes, a focus on sin-smiting is a diversion and a distraction. A punitive or vindictive strategy is self-defeating and counter-productive. It heightens resistance and foments revengefulness. It is not necessary to strip the plutocracy of all its wealth; it is necessary to terminate the legal and lawless enablements of its continuing predatory maintenance and increase.
In the end there is strength in numbers — a fact which comes to the fore as social situations become more extreme. In 1923 the people of the Ruhr compelled a peaceful end to the draconian and brutal French occupation of their region by a general sit-down strike. Oligarchs are, by definition, the few. Between 1870 and 1916 progressives proved repeatedly, especially at the state and local level but also in Congress, that voters working outside the party system can act together to “compel” enactment of laws in the public interest and see them justly administered. It is not by democratic means but by a fundamental lawlessness that consolidated wealth maintains its power. A sufficiently persistent and widespread insistence on democratic process and justice defeats it.
Progressive activist practice begins from the instructive negative examples of William Jennings Bryan and Theodore Roosevelt: “don’t follow leaders.” Successful passage of effective initiatives in the public interest does not require leadership, it requires good counsel, wise legal design, and an “alert, knowledgeable citizenry” self-directed in effective action to elect committed congressmen closely monitored to see that they follow through — and not “taking it for granted,” as Eisenhower warned us not to. What a democratic citizenry needs first and most is wise objectives, not officers. The fundamental challenge is basic to democracy: if a proposal is not well enough conceived and presented to persuade a majority of citizens to vote for it, either it does not deserve to pass or its advocates failed to present it adequately or they were defeated by corrupt means. The appropriate response is not abandoning democracy, building a bigger organization, fund-raising, counter-corruption, or a resort to violence; it is careful evaluation of the failure, correction of mistakes, improvement of methods, and renewed efforts. The greatest difficulties and dangers arise from bad proposals deceptively presented and corruptly passed into law. The Federal Reserve is an example.
Progressive activism also starts from the equally depressing, crucial historical lesson – one which even today, remarkably and sadly, too many Americans have not yet learned: political parties are by nature designed to baffle democratic purpose and the public interest by selling it out to special interests, power-mongers, demagogues and tyrants, and petty political corruption. Characteristically throughout our history the Two Party System, so called, has worked with consistent effectiveness to thwart citizen initiatives in the public interest — by compromise, delay, decoys and detours, fake counter-proposals, division, phony and diversionary controversies, half-a-loaf concessions and trade-offs, bait-and-switch, trojan horses substitutes, and similar.
Like Social Security, only worse, “Obamacare” is a classic example. Long before its passage an overwhelming consensus on the part of the citizenry at large in favor of a “single-payer” plan existed — over two thirds of us — and was widely known. A thoroughly corrupted Congress, with the complicit cooperation of both parties, blocked the popular insistence on this reasonable proposition, which has been demonstrated effective in dozens of countries for decades, and substituted a monopoly cartel arrangement enforced by law for the benefit of the private corporations and investors of a predatory “health care industry” which for a half century and more has consistently delivered third-world public health levels to the richest country on earth while generating the maximum in profits for one person in a thousand. This is sadly characteristic. For more than a century, America has lagged seriously behind much of the developed world in matters of economic equity and basic social welfare. Toward the end of his survey (1907) of progressive developments around the world, C.E. Russell comments, “Once we taught the nations what to do. Now we teach them what not to do.”
As Robert La Follette put it, “Abolish the caucus and the convention; go back to the first principles of democracy; go back to the people!” From the beginning progressive activists focused on individual citizen-to-citizen education and coordinated action toward common legislative goals by small local non-partisan groups. History has demonstrated countless times what happens when this vital function is left or delegated to leaders, parties, or standing, boughten legislatures. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Instead, progressives directed their primary method of action at the crux of the matter, understanding that it is necessary for citizens seeking to forward the public interest to define and achieve our objectives for ourselves by effective formulation of specific legislation and advocacy to “compel” its enactment and proper enforcement.
Instead of leadership or a party hierarchy, progressive activists devote their support and energies to action on specific proposals (“planks”) summed in a “platform” which the candidates they work to elect by definition commit themselves to promoting. As Philip La Follette recalls, “we always looked on a political platform as a contract between an elected official and the people he represented…. After each election from 1922 to 1928 I made a careful list of pledges and then the specific pieces of legislation that were introduced in the Legislature to fulfill them.” In Congress and in public his father made a steady practice of what he called “reading the roll call,” drawing to the attention of his colleagues and fellow citizens specifically which members voted for initiatives in the public interest and which opposed them — so that betrayal and corruption could not conceal themselves.
Progressive activist Amos Pinchot stresses the fundamental need to choose and elect legislators based on their commitment to “a platform embodying specific measures.” In the formulation of legislative proposals, he underlines the need to avoid “superficial reform.” Legislation must focus on fundamental issues, both to be effective and to be persuasive for good reason to the citizenry at large, who rightly will not find inspiration or devote commitment to paltry cosmetic adjustments and who will back persuasive effective proposals for genuine necessary change. Single-payer health care is again an excellent example. After the 1916 Progressive debacle Pinchot wrote Theodore Roosevelt, “you say that you fear that our party has lost votes because it has been too radical. I believe that the trouble with us has been that we have not been anything like radical or fundamental enough.”
Pinchot points out the importance of willingness to wage campaigns devoted to specific initiatives even when they lose for the sake of their value as public education to promote future successes. He continues: “To succeed it is necessary to advocate for a clear, understandable, and brief program which will be so obviously unacceptable to the interests that carry on the invisible government that they will have nothing to do with it. The issue must be drawn so clearly between the public and the economic interests that prey upon the public that there will be no confusion. The issue will automatically assign … to believers in democracy and to believers in autocracy, their respective positions.”
Progressive platform planks cover three fundamental areas of concern to the public interest (as contrasted with vested private interests): public welfare, public utilities, and public credit. In the years before the First World War they achieved notable though limited successes with the first, which is most immediately and obviously of concern and persuasive to the citizenry at large, and least challenging to the underlying system of corporate and financial predation. “At each Republican [National] convention since 1908, Wisconsin Progressives had presented a minority report [from the platform committee] in the form of a substitute platform. At each of the five prior conventions, it was received with hoots and yells of derision. Now , twenty years later, Bob [La Follette, Jr.] could point out the remarkable fact that almost all the [public welfare] planks presented by the Progressives since 1908 had been enacted into law.” These included legislation devoted to woman and child labor, workplace safety, sanitation and hours of labor, workmens safety and compensation, a parcel post, direct election of senators, initiative, referendum and recall and presidential primaries (in many states), civil service and corrupt practice reforms, neutrality in foreign relations, a Federal Trade Commission to monitor corporate practice, pure food and drug laws, and woman’s suffrage. Other early progressive public welfare proposals included public housing, unemployment insurance and old-age pensions.
Because the progressives were never a majority in Congress the legislation passed was sometimes limited in scope or effectiveness by compromise, dilution or subversive provisions for enforcement by courts or regulatory bodies (characteristically soon “captured” by the objects of their regulation), but even when this was the case it established important precedents to build on. Initiatives that were blocked included legislation regulating trusts and monopolies, patent law reform, public manufacture of munitions (as in Britain, as an alternative to a private-profit making, government-corrupting military-industrial complex), public works proposals (including the St. Lawrence Seaway), a mandated referendum before declaration of war, abolition of labor injunctions, legalized collective bargaining in industry, trade, and farming, legislation promoting cooperatives, public ownership of railroads, ending judicial usurpation of congressional legislative powers (which has contributed most to the illicit powers of corporations, such as “corporate personood”), and securities and exchange legislation including ending Federal Reserve credit funding of stock market speculation — timely and thwarted in 1928.
As the power of corporate finance expanded and social and economic conditions deteriorated after the First World War, two fundamental interlocking areas of economic concern moved to the fore of progressive attention and began to be entertained more widely, even in Congress: public credit and financial reforms and public utilities and works. Both were essential progressive programs from the beginning. James Baird Weaver, presidential candidate of the Union Greenback party in 1880 and the People’s Party in 1892 “said that … two issues overshadowed all else in America. One was the threat to our institutions and liberty that lay in the swift advance of corporation power… The other was the menace, quite as great, that lay in the control of the world’s finances by a group of bankers and large bondholders… The real issue went far deeper; it was the control of the government by the money power. If that were not destroyed or checked it would produce an iron-heeled autocracy.”
Brooks Adams contended “that the government had definite responsibilities to promote the general welfare … One of these responsibilities was to protect the people from servitude; [and] he held servitude to arise whenever monopoly prices were extracted for essential goods or services.” To terminate the enablements of this servitude progressives couple advocacy of public ownership of public utilities with legislation to control and limit corporate powers (largely the creation of judicial fiat), including anti-trust, anti-monopoly and anti-speculation laws, securities & exchange reforms, and social welfare controls to prevent investment detrimental to the public interest and general welfare — domestic and foreign. The primary cause of illegal immigration from Latin America today is the predatory meddling of American corporations in the economies and politics of these countries. President Kennedy’s attempts to control these abuses were a significant factor in Wall Street hostility to his administration.
Progressives address the financial problem by advocating public credit along the lines proposed by Jerry Voorhis and banking reform in accord with the “Fisher Plan” to insure that private banks do, and only do, what they have always pretended to do: loan out the money of depositors, and stop the practice of “fractional banking,” to create fiat money, which is the government’s constitutional prerogative (sovereignty). “Listen,” John A. Simpson, President of the Farmers Union told the Conference of Progressives in 1931, “I am here to tell you that back of all this is the money question. That is more fundamental than all the rest.” Public credit issued by the Treasury on behalf of the combined collateral and interest of the nation as a whole, rather than by a consortium of private banks for their own profit, is the key to freeing public finance to work for the public good. There is no risk for a municipality, region, or state in paying over time the cost of suitably building and properly operating its own power system, water system, communications, transportation, health care system etc. in order to provide public utilities, necessities which everyone requires and pays for and which are fundamental to the general welfare and the public interest, and there is no sense in subjecting the public welfare at large to a toll extracted by a very few in order to acquire and maintain them. The risk is entirely the creation of an artificial dependence on private finance and financial fraud enforced by illegitimate legislative enablements. The difficulty lies in the cost of money when purchased by usury from private banks or by paying interest to private investors in bonds, or both. The essential (“prohibitive”) factor is the cost of money, and public credit is the simple, obvious, easy solution.
It is merely basic good practice and good government to see that public credit is well-managed in the public interest and that public utilities are well designed, built to appropriate scale and well operated. (As progressives used to point out, the country that could build the Panama Canal — or go to the moon — could build and operate a street railroad.) Of course, public utilities and public credit practices can be poorly designed and corruptly operated, the same as privately owned utilities and private finance — and it is fundamental good public business and good public finance to prevent it. Conversely, corruption of government in their own interest has always been a prominent endemic feature of private utilities from the beginning and continues to be, as is attested by a California neighborhood in San Bruno recently incinerated along with a number of neighbors, due to predatory bad management by a privately owned utility with the connivance of a Public Utilities Commission ostensibly created to prevent it.
Public utilities and public works are bad for private finance and its investors, the one-in-a-thousand, insofar as they supplant its predatory operations, but they are good for business because they foster economic activity genuinely beneficial to the general welfare both in their infrastructure development and in their costs of operation. If they genuinely well serve the public interest they are plainly worthy of public credit. The public wins, constructive useful business wins, workers win. It makes no sense for the res publica to allow private finance to hold public necessities and works hostage to its tolls and controls and corruptions. Funds spent on utility infrastructure and maintenance are not inflationary. They do not create asset inflation and speculative bubbles, as they do in the hands of investors. They stimulate useful economic activity to create and promote genuine material wealth in the interest of public wealth and welfare.
The same is true for financing public works to support and enhance public infrastructure in general (roads and bridges, schools and museums, reservoirs and reforestation) and for financing worker buy-outs and cooperative formation in small businesses. And it is true for private housing, which is a fundamental universal necessity and right, elementary to the public welfare and as such genuinely a “public utility.” Public credit can readily, easily and promptly liberate from private investor toll-taking and thereby at a stroke of the public pen legally emancipate countless millions of mortgage and rent slaves — a fitting if belated sequel to Lincoln’s emancipation of chattel slaves in 1863, near the commencement of the rise of the financial slaveholding oligarchy that today usurps our constitutional government. There is a fundamental distinction to be drawn between the proper inalienable right to private ownership of one’s own home and personal possessions, tools, garden, workshop, studio, and a legally contrived specious “right” to ownership of 1500 people’s apartments or of mortgaged “equity” in their houses — or of a strip mine, or the patent to a medicine, or 100 shares of corporate stock enabling other forms of toll-taking on public resources, services and welfare. What is required by plain justice in a democratic republic is protection of the public interest, which is total, from the predatory designs and enslavements of markets, speculation, financial and corporate fraud, bad food, dangers to public safety, etc. It is not a question of creating a centralized all-powerful “faceless” state control. Very much the contrary, this is plainly to be avoided at all costs., as we can see from the present situation where we confront the necessity of disenabling the centralized all-powerful faceless control of irresponsible, unaccountable private corporate finance.
These ideas and their potential have been banished from discussion around America’s table since the Second World War. For over a century thwarting them — rendering them and their advocates baffled and confused, co-opted, diverted, dirty-tricked, subverted, deluded, drugged senseless and consigned to opprobrious oblivion — has been a major theme of American political history (from which valuable constructive practical lessons can be derived). Nonetheless, an “alert and knowledgeable,” vigilant, intelligently purposeful and individually active citizenry — a comparatively small proportion of us — can pass progressive agendas by sufficiently persistent electoral activism directed to mandating representatives to enact specific legislation, monitoring their performance and re-electing them (or not) accordingly, and by the same method see that it is properly administered. Progressives successfully employed these methods and others in many states between 1895 and 1925, by working along the lines outlined here.
In recent years especially, the American table has become so tilted that nearly all the silverware slid off into the lap of the big bully seated, firmly and menacingly and uninvited, at its head. Many of us are staring at empty plates and things are starting to look tippy. Leveling the table without upsetting everyone’s dinner is a fundamental practical objective envisioned in the progressive approach to addressing the consequences and causes of the maldistribution of wealth. It is getting to be time to start forming committees of correspondence. Alternately, as a “philosopher given to lightning summaries” proposed around 1933, “if we can’t all sit at the table, let’s kick the legs out from under the table and all sit together on the ground.”
WOODWARD: On the uses of the kept press from the beginning, see. e.g. p. 124 & n. 6: Railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington instructed his chief executive factotum David Colton in a letter of June 24, 1876 concerning a scheme to “lobby” through Congress “bipartisan” legislation requiring the Treasury to buy back from the railroads at twice the standard price inferior parcels among the many millions of acres granted them gratis by a bribed Congress (200 million before the end of “the great barbecue,” in Mark Twain’s phrase): “Have the newspapers take the ground that this land ought to be taken by the government and held for the people, so that when they wanted it they could have it, etc. Something that the demagogues can vote and work for.”
GOODWYN p. 224-225 & 233 quoted (“In the fall …”). In the 1890s a similar group of editors were instrumental in creating the movement of California progressives that finally elected Hiram Johnson in 1910.
P. LA FOLLETTE 1970 p. 128-129 quoted.
STEFFENS p. 459 quoted.
Brooks Adams, “Unity in Modern Education,” Boston University School of Law, Bulletin 1908 p. 5 quoted (cited by ANDERSON p. 103).
P. LA FOLLETTE 1970 p. 147 writes: “An important feature of the ‘Wisconsin Idea’ … was the Legislative Reference Library begun under the creative mind of Charles McCarthy.” Its purpose was to provide research for state legistlators writing bills, working with the important assistance of the faculty and staff of the University of Wisconsin, itself an important contributor to the progressive movement.
PROCEEDINGS p. 82-87 records Prof. Ross’s remarks. He is followed by Senator Gerald Nye, who speaks on the corruption of elections and campaigning by big money (p. 87-90). The keynote speaker of this session of the Conference, New Mexico Senator Bronson Cutting also takes up this subject (p. 67-68).
THELEN p. 3 quoted (“tent flaps”).
PROCEEDINGS p. 163 reports Norris’s dismissal of partisanship. A consensus in favor of non-partisan action is plain throughout the Proceedings. Party membership was insignificant to progressive activists: many began as “insurgent” Republicans, some later ran in their states as Progressives or Independents or Non-Partisans; others began as Democrats; some were Farmer-Labor, some Non-Partisan League, or Labor, or Socialist. Progressive activists focused on practical policies and programs, effective legislation, good government practice, not party-building or partisanship.
LARSON = Bruce L. Larson, Lindbergh of Minnesota: A Political Biography (New York, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973) discusses Congressman Lindbergh’s experience with the Non-Partisan League.
P. LA FOLLETTE 1970 p. 129-130 discusses inexpensive progressive campaign methods.
PINCHOT p. 69 recounts the compromise, defeat and destruction of the Progressive Party of 1912 by its funding.
DAVIS on progressive Jerry Voorhis quoted p. 194 (“the Jeffersonian tradition”). It is a telling instance of an oligarchic agenda today to degrade American democratic tradition and native intelligence that Jefferson is now portrayed by mainstream institutions chiefly as the father of a child by a mother among the plantation slaves he inherited, all of whom his will manumitted upon his death, which he might reasonably think, in the world he and they lived in, the best thing he could do to protect her comfort and theirs while he lived, and Alexander Hamilton, the most active and effective post-revolutionary proponent of plutocratic advantage, including America’s first central bank, is exalted — and this is presented as “history.”
M. KENNEDY p. 90 quoted (“Washington is home …”).
LAFEBER p. 237 quoted on Senator Peffer.
On political demonstrations:
As a participant in a sufficient number of demonstrations over several decades, an observer of more and a reader of history, I conclude that, as a democratic means to effect political change demonstrations are at best of limited value, often canceled by their defects. They can usefully cap or underline a movement expressing public will (the Washington civil rights demonstration of 1963, the Vietnam Moratorium), but are less effective at promoting or forwarding action. The fundamental point and worth of political demonstration is to the individual, to bear witness, and sometimes this is necessary. Beyond this, they can function as a pep rally (which too often serves to expend and dissipate the energy it means to foster), as a means of advertising the cause (often counter-productive in many eyes, a result the mainstream media, police and others often work hard to create), and as an opportunity for leaders to preach to the choir and advance their own power. This is not a reflection on the causes, necessarily, but on the method. From the beginning until the present day they offer inviting targets for covert incitements to violence by agents provocateurs and false flag operations which aim to subvert and reverse their political effect (the 1886 Chicago Haymarket Square and 1916 San Francisco Preparedness Day bombings are famous examples) and thereby turn them into pretexts for overt coercive repression. The anarchist saying, that the purpose of demonstration is to reveal the violence on which the system is founded, amounts to a despairing repudiation of democratic process in favor of revolutionary upheavals which, Alain Renoir pointed out, “the generals always win.” Despair supports the plutocratic system. Marches are for armies. They are not well suited to forwarding democratic process.
Charles Edward Russell, The Uprising Of The Many (New York, Doubleday, Page, 1907) p. 303 quoted. Russell quotes (p. 335) New Zealand’s premier, Richard Seddon, “there are still places where you can poison people; you cannot poison them in New Zealand.”
CHARLES & MARY BEARD = Charles A. Beard & Mary R. Beard, The Rise of American Civilization (New York, Macmillan, 1934 — 2 volumes in 1 College Edition 1930, rpr. w/ additions 1934, rpr.1947) vol. 2 p. 555 La Follette quoted (“Abolish the caucus …”)
PROCEEDINGS: Several speakers mention the operations of big money in manipulating elections by getting people to fight over phony issues, while the real agenda is moved through on the side.
P. LA FOLLETTE 1970 p. 141 quoted on platform as “contract.”
PINCHOT p. 47 quoted on “specific measures.”
PINCHOT p. 57 quoted on “superficial reform.”
PINCHOT p. 209 quoted, Pinchot to Roosevelt.
PINCHOT see p. 52-53 on the educational value of failed campaigns.
PINCHOT p. 228 quoted (“to succeed …”)
P. LA FOLLETTE 1970 p. 123 quoted (“At each Republican …”).
Wisconsin Progressive Minority Platforms:
Official Report of the Proceedings of the Fourteenth Republican National Convention (Chicago 1908): p. 125-139 . On-line: catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001749522.
Official Report of the Proceedings of the Fifteenth Republican National Convention (Chicago 1912), (New York, Tenny Press, 1912): Minority Report of the Platform Committee by the Wisconsin Progressive Delegation p. 315-365.
Official Report of the Proceedings of the Sixteenth Republican National Convention (Chicago 1916), (New York, Tenny Press, 1916). Minority Report of the Platform Committee by the Wisconsin Progressive Delegation p. 95-102.
Official Report of the Proceedings of the Seventeenth Republican National Convention (Chicago 1920), (New York, Tenny Press, 1920): Minority Report of the Platform Committee by the Wisconsin Progressive Delegation p. 109-113.
Official Report of the Proceedings of the Eighteenth Republican National Convention (Cleveland 1924), (New York, Tenny Press, 1924): Minority Report of the Platform Committee by the Wisconsin Progressive Delegation p. 116-124.
Official Report of the Proceedings of the Nineteenth Republican National Convention (Kansas City 1928), (New York, Tenny Press, 1928): Minority Report of the Platform Committee by the Wisconsin Progressive Delegation p. 133-143.
Official Report of the Proceedings of the Twenty-first Republican National Convention (Cleveland 1936), (New York, Tenny Press, 1936): The platform includes progressive anti-monopoly, pro-peace, and “traditional foreign policy” planks and castigates New Deal departures from genuinely progressive policies, bureaucracy, and use of federal funding to further partisan political ends.
Official Report of the Proceedings of the Twenty-Second Republican National Convention (Philadelphia 1940) (New York, Tenny Press, 1940) p. 133 ff. The platform includes a progressive “money plank” urging that government take control of currency in accord with the Constitution (p. 146); note Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. in support (p. 153).
NACE: See passim on corporate personhood and other enablements of corporate predation.
Stanley P. Caine, “The Origins Of Progressivism,” in The Progressive Era, ed. Lewis L. Gould (Syracuse UP, 1974) p. 11-34: See 17-18 on proposals for public housing, unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, public ownership of utilities, etc.
Upton Sinclair, The Way Out: what lies ahead for America (New York, Farrar & Rinehart, 1933). In his 1934 bid for the California governorship which advanced numerous progressive proposals including public credit Sinclair was defeated by what is widely described as the crookest campaign in California history. This book lays out his program.
P. LA FOLLETTE 1970 p. 169: “Public utilities and public power had always been an important item in Progressive platforms and policies in Wisconsin and in the nation. One of our greatest Progressive leaders, Senator George W. Norris of Nebraska, was the father of the Tennessee Valley Authority. We in Wisconsin have always favored public ownership of enough — not all — power utilities to provide a real yearstick of competition and to break the private monopoly control of this vital key to industrial and agricultural development.”
LARSON p. 257: programs advocated by the Non Partisan League in 1918 included “the eight-hour day, workmen’s compensation, equal rights for women, and public ownership of railways, steamships, banks, packing plants, grain terminals, and telegraph and telephone companies.”
RUSSELL p. 63 & 70 quoted on Weaver.
GOODWYN p. 241-242: “In ideological terms … [Farmers] Alliance radicalism — the greenback interpretation of American finance capitalism — was Populism.”
ANDERSON p. 205 quoted (Adams contended “that the government …”).
GORDON passim on Wall Street hostility to the Kennedy administration.
Brooks Adams on constitutionality of public regulation and ownership of utilities:
Brooks Adams, “Nature Of Law: Methods and Aim of Legal Education” in Centralization and the Law, ed. Melville M. Bigelow (Boston, Little Brown, 1906) p. 20-62,
Brooks Adams, “Law Under Inequality: Monopoly” in Centralization and the Law (above) p. 63-134. He says (p. 134) that “the community is passing from [the rule of ] contract to servitude” under the power of corporate-financial monopoly.
Brooks Adams, Railways As Public Agents (Boston, Plimpton Press, 1910), with Frederick O. Downes: second part of brief filed in Spokane RR discrimination case before Interstate Commerce Commission, considers legal & historical background of delegation of public powers to railroad franchises & attendant abuses. As background or foundation to reading of US Constitution as enabling public utilities.
P. LA FOLLETTE 1970 p. 221: The Wisconsin Plan in 1935 proposed to fund public works projects by means of “plainly speaking, a state bank” (such as South Dakota’s).
VOORHIS 1943 passim on public credit and banking; and see notes in Part 3.6 above.
BROWN passim on public credit and banking.
Irving Fisher, 100% Money (New Hven, City Printing Co., 3rd ed. 1945).
PROCEEDINGS p. 45 quoted (John A. Simpson).
ANDERSON p. 162 ff.: Brooks Adams “advocates a Œsocialist¹ nationalization of monopolies to make them trusts in the public interest paying dividends to the public.”
P. LA FOLLETTE 1970 p. 169: “Public utilities and public power had always been an important item in Progressive platforms and policies in Wisconsin and in the nation.”
OLIN p. 39: “Under the provisions of the act [reorganizing the California Railroad Commission], public utilities were defined to include common carriers, gas, electricity, telephones, telegraph, water distribution, pipelines, and warehouses used in conection with the transportaiton of property by common carriers or vessels.”
PINCHOT p. 48 & 50 records progressive advocacy of “public ownership of water power, forests, coal, oil, and all other sources of energy; municipal ownership of public utilities; and breaking up the ownership of large segments of land…. government ownership of railroads and natural monopolies and the abolition of patent privileges.”
Robert Morss Lovett, All Our Years (New York, Viking, 1948) p. 181: “public ownership of utilities was obviously a progressive doctrine.”
PROCEEDINGS p. 145-148: Willis Spaulding, manager of municipal power for Springfield, IL, talks about the rigging of utility rates, corruption of regulation & government by private utilities and the negative effect on the economy at large of its “fictitious prices” based on “over-capitalization.”
PROCEEDINGS p. 8-10: Senator Norris indicts the Power Trust and its corruption of government citing “recent investigations by the FTC.
KARP p. 19: “In 1890 a pressure group known as the Farmers’ Alliance swept one million rural Southerners onto its membership rolls and began demanding that southern office seekers pledge their support to the alliance program of agrarian reforms. Initially, the southern oligarchy decided to bend.” Subsequently, the southern oligarchy revived and intensified its “white supremacy” racialist stratagem of splitting the people (black and white southern farmers understood their common plight and cause and often worked together for populist ends). Lynchings and other violence increased dramatically over the next 20 years, contributing to the northward exodus where industrialists took advantage of black migrants as strike-breakers and inciters of further racist division.
M. KENNEDY p. 5 writes that “Most people believe that only a committed majority can bring about changes. But that is not true. Recent research demonstrates that if only 10% of the population learn something that makes them change their behavior, others will follow.” Her n. 6 on p. 97 cites “J. Xie, S. Sreenivasen, G. Korniss, W. Zhang, C. Lim & B.K. Szymanski, Social consensus through the influence of committed minorities, arXiv:1102.3931v2 (physics.cos-ph).”
CHARLES & MARY BEARD vol 2 p. 712 cite the “philospher given to lightning summaries” — Will Rogers, perhaps?
Diogenes is an over-educated landless American peasant. His great-grandfather, a co-operative orchardist, helped California progressives topple Southern Pacific’s corporate political machine in 1910. He thinks advance should be re-established and greatly extended, not reversed, nationally, and regards progressive successes in many states during this era as a recommendation for their non-partisan grassroots methods of public information and action.