Perspectives on 20th Century America: Readings and Commentary

By Otis L. Graham Jr. | Go to book overview
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ments of the various segments of the progressive movement. Each student, it is hoped, will attempt this for himself. The scope of this anthology precludes the exposition of every competing view. Most textbooks utilize the liberal framework, presenting the reformers' achievements at democratizing the political process, regulating transportation and industry, making a start toward state protection for the disadvantaged. Hofstadter's synthesis may be consulted in The Age of Reform, Wiebe's in The Search for Order; the latter, particularly, is virtually impossible to condense, and both books should be read in full. Below, as already mentioned, I have reprinted Kolko's compact summary chapter from The Triumph of Conservatism, and Hays's seminal interpretation of urban progressivism. To introduce these two landmarks of progressive historiography, I offer my own reconstruction of the sense of national crisis out of which the progressive movement was born.

Otis L. Graham, Jr.: America at the Turn of the Century

It would seem an inappropriate analogy to individual human life to predict that societies at the end of a century would experience symptoms of weariness, friction, and institutional malfunctioning, or that the dawning of a new century would coincide with an upheaval of social energy and a general spiritual rebirth. Yet something of the sort occurred in America as the nation moved from the nineteenth century to the twentieth. A sense of crisis developed in the 1890s, stimulated not only by the specific problems of economic depression and political radicalism, but also by a general feeling that social disorder was on the increase. In the early years of the twentieth century, the society gradually generated a broad intellectual and political upheaval aimed at rejuvenation, correction, the restoration of momentum toward an improved future. Thus the turn of the century actually did become a bridge between an older world and a newer one, despite the unlikelihood that any society's internal development should correspond to the arbitrary turn of the calendar.

While scholars have agreed that the new century coincided with an era of questioning and new beginnings, it is difficult to establish a rank order among the concerns and hopes of this pivotal generation. The following view from the front edge of the century -- taken from my The Great Campaignsdraws upon contemporary essays, speeches, journalism, letters, autobiographies, diaries. But citizens of that era enjoyed no consensus as to which social developments were most portentous, which problems most pressing, which solutions most efficacious. The arranging, counting, and weighing were necessarily done by the author, and will not satisfy all readers. In particular, the growing apprehension of social disorder, coupled with a strong drive to forge institutions of social control, are concerns that we read some

From Otis L. Graham Jr., The Great Campaigns: Reform and War in America, 1900-1928, pp. 1-13, 171-173. © 1971 by Prentice-Hall, Inc. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

NOTE: Footnotes appear at the end of selections.


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