Roots of Reform: Farmers, Workers, and the American State, 1877-1917

By Formisano, Ronald P. | The Journal of Southern History, August 2001 | Go to article overview

Roots of Reform: Farmers, Workers, and the American State, 1877-1917


Formisano, Ronald P., The Journal of Southern History


Roots of Reform: Farmers, Workers, and the American State, 1877-1917. By Elizabeth Sanders. American Politics and Political Economy. (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, c. 1999. Pp. x, 532. Paper, $16.00, ISBN 0-226-73477-3; cloth, $48.00, JSBN 0-226-73476-5.)

This book should have a powerful impact on the content delivered by textbooks and lecturers in survey courses, injecting far more continuity between the Populist and Progressive periods than historians have allowed. The conventional narrative recognizes some linkage between the People's Party's Omaha platform of 1892 and post-1900 reform, but that convention stresses that the social bases and leadership of reform shifted from farms and rural America and third party activists to cities and urban middle classes and Progressive presidents. Elizabeth Sanders powerfully revises this narrative, arguing that "the dynamic stimulus for Populist and Progressive Era state expansion was the periphery agrarians' drive to establish public control over a rampaging capitalism. The periphery generated the bulk of the reform agenda and furnished the foot soldiers that saw reform through the legislature" (pp. 3-4). The first 147 pages of this book cover the period up to 1896 and offer nothing new in a general way, but this reader's impatience with that situation was allayed by Sanders's bold arguments on many particulars. Regarding the Populists' inability to appeal to workers, Sanders dismisses the notion that the Populists bore full responsibility for that failure. Rather, from the Greenbackers on, Sanders asserts, agrarian reformers, including Bryan in particular, issued strong and consistent appeals to "labor" and "workers," but the latter simply did not respond. Although the book's first section is necessary, it is not an easy read. It is rewarding but might have been briefer given the book's density.

Sanders rejects the "capitalist-dominance" thesis that views Progressive Era reform as managed by business and political elites. The capitalist response to new regulation was rather "reactive and largely negative" (p. 4), expressing itself mainly through the executive and the Supreme Court. Whereas earlier interpretations also have centered on presidential leadership, intellectuals, or new professionals, Sanders sharply shifts the focus to the regional political economies of the South and West and, especially, to the congressional representatives of these regions. She also argues that the post-1896 Democratic Party constituted the major vehicle responsible for the federal government's regulatory response to the imbalances of the new industrial-financial economy. William Jennings Bryan emerges in this story as a failing presidential candidate--in 1896, 1900, and 1908--but one who exerted great influence over the Democratic platforms, congressional agenda, and Wilson's New Freedom. Building on the agrarian protests from the 1870s on, and stimulated by renewed rural organization after 1900, Sanders argues that periphery agrarians brought significant government action to "the redefinition of trade policy; the creation of an income tax; a new, publicly controlled banking and currency system; antitrust policy; the regulation of agricultural marketing networks; a nationally financed road system; federal control of railroads, ocean shipping, and early telecommunications; and agricultural and vocational education" (pp. 7-8).

The evidential heart of this book is analysis of roll-call voting in Congress from the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 through the Taft and Wilson administrations. Dividing the country into economic regions and subregions, Sanders establishes her argument via three categories of Congressional districts, based primarily on per capita value added in manufacturing: core, diverse, and periphery. Time and again, legislators' votes tended to be polarized between manufacturing-business core and peripheral agrarian districts, with legislators from diverse areas divided or siding with the agrarians. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Roots of Reform: Farmers, Workers, and the American State, 1877-1917
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.