Radicalism & Reform: The Vrooman Family and American Social Thought, 1837-1937

Radicalism & Reform: The Vrooman Family and American Social Thought, 1837-1937

Radicalism & Reform: The Vrooman Family and American Social Thought, 1837-1937

Radicalism & Reform: The Vrooman Family and American Social Thought, 1837-1937

Excerpt

William Allen White's classic description of the attitude of the "proper people" of Emporia, Kansas, toward the "hayseed reformers" of 1890 illustrates the continuity within the American reform tradition since the Civil War:

Then out of the nowhere into the here came trouble. We laughed at it, of course. I remember one day in the midst of spring, when Senator Murdock came home from one of his predatory excursions to Topeka and Kansas City, I told him with glee about a meeting in the Courthouse of the county committee of the Farmers' Alliance. They were arranging to call a mass convention to put out a county ticket. It was funny. I listed the leaders of the meeting. Among them were all the town and county malcontents who had been blowing off since the days of the Grangers and the Greenbackers, and who had supported Ben Butler in '84 and the Union Labor party in '88, which polled less than 10 per cent of the vote. We knew that the Farmers' Alliance had been organizing in the county, and presumed it was just another of those farmer cooperatives which would start a store and maybe build an elevator, last two or three years, and then dry up and blow away--such things had been happening since the beginning of the settlement of the county.

White's subsequent career as a Progressive reformer raises some questions about the nature of this continuity.

Why are ideas and proposals that are denounced as dangerous heresies in one period of our history regarded as commonsense measures in a later period, even by those who formerly opposed them? Why, after violent debate on reform measures, dire forecasts of disaster, and repeated changes in the law have reforms had so little real impact on the fundamental institutions of our society? Why has our society denounced the reformer, embraced the reform . . .

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