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-siècle 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.”*


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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