Conservatism in a Progressive Era: Massachusetts Politics, 1900-1912

Conservatism in a Progressive Era: Massachusetts Politics, 1900-1912

Conservatism in a Progressive Era: Massachusetts Politics, 1900-1912

Conservatism in a Progressive Era: Massachusetts Politics, 1900-1912

Excerpt

With some exceptions, the American progressive movement derived its outstanding leaders from the western and southern states. On the national level those leaders often had to contend with the resistance of the chief spokesmen for the eastern states. Men like Wisconsin's Robert LaFollette, Iowa's Albert Cummins, and Nebraska's George Norris stand out in the fight for reform; while Rhode Island's Nelson Aldrich, Pennsylvania's Boise Penrose, and Massachusetts' Murray Crane and Henry Cabot Lodge count among the chief villains of the story. Historians who tell the story have, in fact, tended to describe those who opposed the progressive movement as laissez-faire idealogues, narrow-minded obstructionists, or callous representatives of "the vested interests," who abounded especially in the East.

There is unquestionably a great deal of truth in this presentation. But it occurred to me when I began my study of Massachusetts politics that there might also be a more "generous" explanation for the eastern states' evident opposition to reform on the national level. It seemed hard to accept the view implicit in the orthodox treatment that the eastern states produced chiefly callous and obstructionist leaders. Yet, there was little in the literature on the period to suggest otherwise. I have come to believe that one reason for this is that, in undertaking to tell the story of reform, historians have confined their attention to the conditions which justified the reformers' rationale. Moreover, the leading historians of the period have focused on national politics, where the campaign for progressive reform was indeed the most significant story of the day, so that few historians have found something other than reform to write about. This seems quite as true of the few state . . .

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