The Issue of Federal Regulation in the Progressive Era

By Richard Abrams | Go to book overview

III THE ISSUE OF FEDERAL REGULATION IN THE PROGRESSIVE ERA

THE STUDENT MAY WONDER ABOUT THE RELEVANCE AS WELL AS THE TENACity of the Sumnerian view, if in fact Americans had for so long made extensive use of government to enhance their life chances. Part of the answer lies in historians' "monumental error" in failing to reveal that fact. For, as Professor Lively suggests, the error itself derived from a kind of self-inflicted blindness due to both interested and innocent motives, to the desire of vested interests to avoid public regulation, and to endemic perceptual limitations. When an occasional scholar, such as Guy Callender, discovered in 1902 the true measure of government intervention in finance, he was unable to account for ". . . this remarkable movement toward State enterprise here in America, where of all places in the world we should least expect to find it." Perhaps that expectation too often circumscribed the limits of scholarly inquiry, just as it clearly obfuscated contemporary thought. Then, too, when Americans have argued the merits of "government" intervention, from Jefferson's day to the present they have usually meant the Federal government. From the very moment that the Federal government first competed for authority with the several states, political rhetoricians have found it convenient to pair "the people" and "the states" as if they were identities having in common the dread of Federal power.

In any event, Americans did nor readily understand or acknowledge the fact of broad government intervention, state and Federal, and in the late nineteenth century the prevailing Sumnerian view did not approve of the fact--did not consider it good or justifiable. Therefore, the issue of Federal intervention had to be debated during the Progressive Era virtually ab initio as to whether or not it was good social theory and equally as important as to whether or not it was good social policy."

Much of the debate, of course, was primarily interested. The excerpts presented here, however, have been selected for the manner in which they express a relatively high-level disinterested argument for or against intervention or particular forms of intervention. An effort has

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