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Theodore Roosevelt, the Progressive Party, and the Transformation of American Democracy (American Political Thought) Paperback – September 14, 2009
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"Lively, timely, accessible, profound, this is a terrific book on the historic election of 1912 and, indeed, on the ideas which inspired the transformation of the American presidency in the twentieth century."—Stephen Skowronek, author of The Politics Presidents Make "Milkis shows better than anyone else how this election marked a profound and permanent departure in American politics."—John Milton Cooper, author of The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt "A brilliant book from one of America’s foremost social thinkers. Exciting, wise, elegant, and altogether pathbreaking."—James A. Morone, author of The Democratic Wish and the Heart of Power "This work is a major reinterpretation that portrays the election of 1912 as one of the formative events of American political history. It is must reading for students of electoral and policy history."—David R. Mayhew, author of Divided We Govern "This book is political and institutional history at its narrative and analytic best. Milkis’s foreshadowing of the New Deal and of the possible consequences of the election of 2008 for the Democratic Party shows a master drawing lessons from the history he writes."—Nancy L. Rosenblum, author of On the Side of the Angels: An Appreciation of Parties and Partisanship "A masterful account of a pivotal moment in American politics. Milkis persuasively shows how the Progressive conundrum—how to reconcile the ideals of democracy with the goals of effective government—took root and how it continues to reverberate throughout our public life today."—Margaret Weir, editor of The Social Divide: Political Parties and the Future of Activist Government
From the Back Cover
"Lively, timely, accessible, profound, this is a terrific book on the historic election of 1912 and, indeed, on the ideas which inspired the transformation of the American presidency in the twentieth century."--Stephen Skowronek, author of The Politics Presidents Make
"Milkis shows better than anyone else how this election marked a profound and permanent departure in American politics."--John Milton Cooper, author of The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt
"A brilliant book from one of America's foremost social thinkers. Exciting, wise, elegant, and altogether pathbreaking." --James A. Morone, author of The Democratic Wish and the Heart of Power
"This work is a major reinterpretation that portrays the election of 1912 as one of the formative events of American political history. It is must reading for students of electoral and policy history."--David R. Mayhew, author of Divided We Govern
"This book is political and institutional history at its narrative and analytic best. Milkis's foreshadowing of the New Deal and of the possible consequences of the election of 2008 for the Democratic Party shows a master drawing lessons from the history he writes."--Nancy L. Rosenblum, author of On the Side of the Angels: An Appreciation of Parties and Partisanship
"A masterful account of a pivotal moment in American politics. Milkis persuasively shows how the Progressive conundrum--how to reconcile the ideals of democracy with the goals of effective government--took root and how it continues to reverberate throughout our public life today."--Margaret Weir, editor of The Social Divide: Political Parties and the Future of Activist Government
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Milkis tells a wonderful tale based on extensive research about this election. It is an historically well written piece albeit filled with consecutive facts but lacking in the interpretation and historical glue to make it a superb work, it is masterful notwithstanding.
The path of the book works back and forth on the New Freedoms of Wilson and the New Nationalism of TR. Milkis discusses these in Chapter 1 and the discussion is a somewhat back and forth discussion of the principles and the time which evoked them. The New Nationalism is best described in the TR speech of the same name in 1910. The New Freedoms is best described by the author on page 205 in a memo from Brandeis to Wilson. There is the ever presence of Brandeis in this book which is a powerful description of the great mind evolving his thoughts through the somewhat academic mind of Wilson. Brandeis states:
"The two parties (Wilson and the Democrats versus TR and the Progressives) differ fundamentally regarding economic policy....The Democratic Party insists that competition can and should be maintained in every branch of private industry...if at any future time if monopoly should appear to be desirable in any branch of industry, the monopoly should be a public one.....the New Party (Progressives) ...insists that private monopoly may be desirable..."
This is a powerful statement which reflected the beginning in many ways of the power of the executive and the dominance of the central Government over the entire economy. Wilson agreed with this statement and what is most telling in the Milkis book is that the 1912 election was truly and election on principles, principle articulated directly by the players in that election. They were direct and forthright and presented their views of how the Government and the country should be run. Lacking was as reflected by Milkis any discussion of what the Constitution and Founders had ever intended. There appeared to be a unanimous agreement that change, as articulated by either Wilson/Brandeis or TR and the Progressives, was well within their purview and powers, independent of the Constitution.
The Socialists agenda under Debs is somewhat articulated by Milkis and he states on p 23 that Debs viewed the Progressives as "a reactionary protest of the middle classes, built largely upon the personality of one man and not destined for permanence." Ironically it would be Wilson who imprisoned Debs for his ideas, as well as my grandmother who headed the Socialist Party in New York. Wilson would leave Debs to rot for years until the Republican Harding pardoned him.
TR is quoted in his New Nationalism speech on p 40 as saying:
"The New Nationalism puts national need before sectional or personal advantage...Nationalism regards the executive as the steward of the public welfare. It demands of the judiciary that it shall be interested primarily in human welfare rather than property...."
It was this denial of the Lockeian property construct which was at the heart of the Constitution. Milkis on the same page reinforces the TR stance of "human rights" trumping "property rights". There does seem to be the conflict, perhaps of the time, that humans have property and that in many ways it was property via Locke that defines the individual as compared to a vassal of the King. TR and the Progressives seem to be driven by the Trusts and their "property" and the general hatred for these same Trusts.
On p 44 Milkis discusses the conflicts of TR and the Constitution. I would have liked to see this better presented, it is discussed but it is in itself a key element of importance who relation to the present is key. This returns again on p 91 where Milkis states:
"In the end, TR and his political allies proposed to emancipate public opinion from the restraining influence of the Declaration (of Independence) and the Constitution..."
TR was clearly a man who had his own ideas and the facts and history of the country be damned. The Wilson plan of the New Freedoms was in contradistinction to TR. On p 202 the author compares and contrasts them but in many ways they had much in common. Monopolies seem to dominate the discussion. TR was advocating for the referendum, recall and the like, pushing the power down to the people, and even to the extent of having recall of the President (see p 219). In contrast Wilson was defending natural rights but stopped way short of recalls as TR had done (p 226)
Overall the book is a superb introduction to these many issues. The growth of the larger electorate, the conflict between large industries and labor, the expansion of the middle class, and even the conflicts on racial issues. TR had become an idealists with a platform designed to attract the largest group of common voters. He had developed his own ideas as how the country should be run and his New Nationalism was in a sense a new Constitution, drafted by a single man who then set out to sell it. Wilson was driven by the intent to concentrate mow power in both the executive as well as in Washington.
The book by Woodrow Wilson: A Biography by Cooper is a wonderful companion to this book. As a final note, the discussions on pp 274-275 places Wilson is the poorest of light as he deals with the civil rights of the blacks. Milkis details the occasion when Trotter, a black leader and editor of the Boston Guardian, was thrown out of Wilson's office abruptly because he disagreed with the President's refusal to even discuss the separate but equal position of the Democrats. Wilson as a Virginian had strong ties to the south and the south was the core to his ongoing efforts. This truly was a sad day.
Milkis has prepared a superb book worthy of reading today. It tells the tale of how many of the changes we see again coming up today are in many ways a replay of a century ago. The only critique that I have is that it should have been longer and included some greater detail. But it stands quite well as it is.
The Industrial Age was in full swing and mass production made prices fall to all-time lows. Everything from Teddy bears to automobiles were mass produced. Theodore Roosevelt, President from 1900 to 1909 attempted to oversee the rapid development of the country through the establishment of new laws and government agencies such as the Pure Food and Drug Act and putting vast new areas of land under Federal protection with the conservation laws.
In 1909 Roosevelt left the Oval Office, confident that his hand-picked successor, William Howard Taft, would continue his policies. Such was not to be the case and Roosevelt challenged Taft in the election of 1912, which is the subject of this book. There were four major contenders for the presidency - Roosevelt, Taft, Woodrow Wilson and Eugene V. Debs. Debs, a Socialist, captured 5% of the vote, the party's best showing ever. Drama enough, but as author Milkis argues, the real story of 1912 lies in the area of public policy and the Progressives, who set in motion political events that resound to this day - direct democracy and the expansion of federal power.
This election saw the rise of the middle class, unions, workers, women and black Americans. U.S. Senators would finally be popularly elected in 1913 and women would have the vote in 1919, jus two examples as results of this "revolution."
Milkis' book is loaded with more details of this fascinating period of U.S. history. His depiction of the Progressive Party as a collection of activists whose sole purpose in life was the pursuit of reform with the end results of direct democracy, social justice and a redefinition of citizenship is right on the money. Of course, the major result of the 1912 election campaign was the election of Wilson, the the first Democrat to hold the office since the 1890's. Wilson was a reform Democrat and, as that party's only other choice of candidates was four-time loser William Jennings Bryan, they took their chances.
This is fascinating stuff well written and researched