Progressivism and the New Democracy

By Sidney M. Milkis; Jerome M. Mileur | Go to book overview

Progressivism
A Century of Change and Rebirth

Alonzo L. Hamby

In the summer of 1900, a sixteen-year-old boy named Harry Truman attended the Democratic National Convention in Kansas City and heard the inspirational voice of the family hero, William Jennings Bryan. Four years later, Truman, by then a young bank clerk, listened to Theodore Roosevelt make a campaign speech not far from the convention hall. By 1912 Truman, now a farmer south of Kansas City and a subscriber to "muckrake magazines," closely followed the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination between Missouri's Champ Clark and New Jersey's Woodrow Wilson. He favored Wilson, the scholarly progressive. In 1917, at the age of thirty-three, "stirred in heart and soul" by Wilson's call for a crusade to make the world safe for democracy, he enlisted in the National Guard and went off to World War I.

Ten years later Truman was the chief executive officer of a metropolitan county, attempting to practice "business progressivism" within a framework of machine politics, promoting honesty and efficiency in public works, and advocating significant administrative reforms. In another ten years he was a U.S. senator, launching withering rhetorical blasts at Wall Street and the nation's leading financial institutions, which he accused of looting and bankrupting the railroads. Preaching the virtues of decentralization, he also advocated massive regulation of the nation's transportation system, and won the plaudits of such old heroes

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