A History of Progressivism in America

In his 1890 essay, "Leaders of Men," Woodrow Wilson explained that a "true leader" uses the masses like "tools." He must inflame their passions with little heed for the facts. "Men are as clay in the hands of the consummate leader." "No doubt a lot of nonsense has been talked about the inalienable rights of the individual, and a great deal that was mere sentiment and pleasing speculation has been put forward as fundamental principle," wrote Wilson, attacking the very individual rights that have made America great. He rejected the principles of "separation of powers" and "checks and balances" that are the foundation of American government: "Government does now whatever experience permits or the times demand...."

 

Wilson too re-made Princeton, this time on the model of the German university. At a time in which German scholarship was in fashion, he was a champion of Hegelianism, helping to introduce a strain of thought into the American body politic that was fundamentally opposed to the natural rights philosophy of the Founders. Hegel's historicism--the belief that all thought is historically conditioned--was the intellectual foundation of Progressivism and of Wilson's belief that the Constitution was an antique absurdity. Wilson championed the idea of "the living Constitution" which enables activist judges to re-write the Constitution according to the Progressive notions of the day.

 

American Protective League: Formed by A.M. Briggs, a wealthy Chicago businessman, at its zenith the APL had 250,000 dues-paying members in 600 cities of the United States. Authorized to operate by the U.S. Attorney General, Thomas Gregory, the APL assisted the Bureau of Investigation (BOI), the precursor to the FBI. A private organization, the APL nevertheless had a semi-official status; it was officially approved by the Attorney General, who authorized the APL to state on its letterhead, "Organized with the Approval and operating under the direction of the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Investigation.".... pursued suspects of disloyalty on their own initiative and in their own manner.  APL members were accused of acting as vigilantes, allegedly violating the civil liberties of American citizens,... A few months after the Armistice was signed, ending World War I, the League disbanded, in part as a result of opposition by the President's incoming Attorney General, A. Mitchell Palmer.

 

Wilson, like the bulk of progressive intellectuals in fin-de-si├Ęcle America, was deeply influenced by three strands of thought: philosophical Pragmatism, Hegelianism, and Darwinism. This heady intellectual cocktail produced a drunken arrogance and the conviction that the old rules no longer applied.....Hence Wilson argued that the old "Newtonian" vision - fixed rules enshrined in the Constitution and laws - had to give way to the "Darwinian" view of "living constitutions" and the like. With the intellectuals on their side, Wilson recruited journalist George Creel to become a propaganda minister as head of the newly formed Committee on Public Information (CPI). (about a million strong,, went around giving speeches on street corners, making posters, handing out pamphlets,, a very intimidating group all of it's own,. Under the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918,  Wilson's administration shut down newspapers and magazines at an astounding pace. Indeed, any criticism of the government, even in your own home, could earn you a prison sentence. One man was brought to trial for explaining in his own home why he didn't want to buy Liberty Bonds. The APL - a quarter million strong at its height, with offices in 600 cities - carried government-issued badges while beating up dissidents and protesters and conducting warrantless searches and interrogations. Even after the war, Wilson refused to release the last of America's political prisoners.

 

Citizens could not "utter, print, write or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language" about the government or the military. The Postmaster General was given the authority to revoke the mailing privileges of those who disobeyed. ...All in all it is estimated that about 175,000 Americans were arrested for failing to demonstrate their patriotism in one way or another.


Wilson and racism: It was Inauguration Day, and in the judgment of one later historian,  the atmosphere in the nation's capital bore ominous signs for Negroes.  Washington rang with happy Rebel Yells, while bands all over town played Dixie.  Indeed, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who swore in the newly elected Southern president, was himself a former member of the Ku Klux Klan. Meanwhile,  an unidentified associate of the new Chief Executive warned that since the South ran the nation, Negroes should expect to be treated as a servile race.  Somebody had even sent the new president a possum, an act supposedly  consonant with Southern tradition.  This is not an alternate world scenario imagining the results of a Strom Thurmond victory in the 1948 election; it is the real March 4, 1913, the day Woodrow Wilson of Virginia moved into the White House. The details, above and below, are drawn from the work of historian Lawrence J. Friedman, The White Savage: Racial Fantasies in the Postbellum South &. 


Wilson allowed various officials to segregate the toilets, cafeterias, and work areas of their departments.  One justification involved health: White government workers had to be protected from contagious diseases, especially venereal diseases, that racists imagined were being spread by blacks. In extreme cases, federal officials built separate structures to house black workers. Most black diplomats were replaced by whites; numerous black federal officials in the South were removed from their posts; the local Washington police force and fire department stopped hiring blacks. Wilson's own view, as he expressed it to intimates, was that federal segregation was an act of kindness. In historian Friedman's paraphrase,  "Off by themselves with only a white supervisor, blacks would not be forced out of their jobs by energetic white employees."*

 

Woodrow Wilson, elitist, racist, Progressive Democrat. 

I'll bet you never learned that in American history class.

*Source:  
Woodrow Wilson's Constitution by Robert Curry

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