The National Civic Federation and the Making of a New Liberalism, 1900-1915

The National Civic Federation and the Making of a New Liberalism, 1900-1915

The National Civic Federation and the Making of a New Liberalism, 1900-1915

The National Civic Federation and the Making of a New Liberalism, 1900-1915

Synopsis

Founded in 1900, the National Civic Federation (NCF), a broad-based, nongovernmental social and policy reform organization, emerged throughout the Progressive Era as one of the nation's most powerful policy research and lobbying groups. Amidst the strong demand by rank-and-file Americans for economic and social reform, the NCF proposed that the government begin to assume a more prominent role in managing the nation's economy and providing for the needs of the country's weakest and most vulnerable citizens. The organization constructed broad-based coalitions of business leaders, labor leaders, social scientists, and politicians with diverse backgrounds to fashion model legislation and promote public policy aimed at meeting the demands created by modern capitalism.

Excerpt

INSIDE THE NATIONAL CIVIC FEDERATION

Americans at the start of the twentieth century bore witness to a world that in many ways appeared much different than what they had known during the closing decades of the nineteenth century. Amidst the new opportunities promised by revolutions in technology, industrial growth, and a burgeoning consumer culture, there existed a dark underside. By the end of the nineteenth century, the days of Jefferson’s yeoman farmer and small shopowner, and of Jackson’s rugged frontier individualist, had been replaced with an expanding wage-earning class crowded into America’s growing cities. The American farmer, an icon of republican self-reliance, gradually disappeared in the face of a chaotic and monopolistic freight system, overwhelming debt, and unremitting competition from a developing system of corporate agriculture. Meanwhile, the increasing automation of factory production rendered obsolete in fairly short order the work of many skilled tradesmen. Finally, the modern business corporation, which grew throughout the late nineteenth century to previously unimaginable size, changed the largely regional character of the American economy to one that was truly national in scope. The implications resulting from this economic transformation were beyond the ken of most people’s thinking, and redress to the conditions engendered by this transformation were found nowhere within any existing governmental or extragovernmental system.

This change proceeded not according to any rational plan, but along unmarked paths where there existed capital, natural resources, labor, and markets. These paths sprouted up all over the nation: many crossed; many existed wholly apart from one another; and many were abandoned as quickly as they were established. The crazy-quilt nature of the nation’s economic growth proved emi-

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