From Watergate to Whitewater: The Public Integrity War

By Robert N. Roberts; Marion T. Doss Jr. | Go to book overview
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Chapter 3
The Public Service Counterrevolution:

We often forget how rapidly public confidence in government returned after decades of despair over public service ethics. Toward the close of the nineteenth century and during the early decades of the twentieth century, a combination of forces made possible an astonishing restoration of public faith in public service and government.1 The civil service, municipal reform and progressive reform movements succeeded in forcing structural and major administrative changes in the way government conducted public business.

The restoration of public faith, however, would certainly have failed without the emergence of a new generation of national, state and local leaders who rebelled against the hedonistic values of post-Civil War America. "The coarse, materialistic civilization that emerged in the United States during the years after the Civil War," wrote historian Richard Hofstadter, "produced among cultivated middle-class young men a generation of alienated and homeless intellectuals."2 Without the influx of a generation of idealists who believed that government could have a positive role in American society, these reform movements certainly would have failed. Much like the constitutional heroes a century before, this new generation of civicminded individuals viewed public service as a calling, not simply as an opportunity to line their pockets. It included men such as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Henry Cabot Lodge, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.3

Woodrow Wilson wrote in 1887 that "the poisonous atmosphere of city government, the crooked secrets of state administration, the confusion, si


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