Ministers of Reform: The Progressives' Achievement in American Civilization, 1889-1920

Ministers of Reform: The Progressives' Achievement in American Civilization, 1889-1920

Ministers of Reform: The Progressives' Achievement in American Civilization, 1889-1920

Ministers of Reform: The Progressives' Achievement in American Civilization, 1889-1920

Excerpt

This book is an extended answer to the question, What was progressivism? The central argument is that progressivism was a climate of creativity within which writers, artists, politicians, and thinkers functioned. Progressives shared no platform, nor were they members of a single movement. In general they shared moral values and agreed that America needed a spiritual reformation to fulfill God's plan for democracy in the New World. As the methodological note at the end of the book indicates, I have examined one hundred progressives and stressed the contributions of twenty-one. Some of this smaller group are there because of their intrinsic significance; others had representative experiences; a few were simply present during key events. My choices are mostly progressives with national roles, but I believe that state and local progressives were roughly similar. In an earlier volume, A Hero In Spite of Himself: Brand Whitlock in Art, Politics and War, I examined local activity in detail, and I did not wish to repeat myself.

Born between 1854 and 1874, the first generation of creative progressives absorbed the severe, Protestant moral values of their parents and instinctively identified those values with Abraham Lincoln, the Union, and the Republican Party. But they grew up in a world where the ministry no longer seemed intellectually respectable and alternatives were few. Educated men and women demanded useful careers that satisfied demanding consciences. They groped toward new professions such as social work, journalism, academia, the law, and politics. In each of these careers, they could become preachers urging moral reform on institutions as well as on individuals. In time they tried to impose their moral assumptions about American democracy on Latin America and Europe, only to find to their bewilderment that people living in other climates of creativity did not wish to adopt American values. The structure of the book thus shifts back and forth from individual need to institutional realization, and I stress the psychological origin of progressive achievements in every area of cultural ferment.

As the progressive ethos took shape and spread its influence, it appealed to young people of disparate backgrounds. Roman Catholics, Jews, and people of no religious affiliation found progressive goals attractive and . . .

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