THE idea of progress is one of those vague concepts which have been cherished, at least until recently, by a large portion of the modern occidental world. Formerly the subject of much philosophical theorizing by intellectuals, the idea in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has also penetrated to the generality of the people. It has been withdrawn from the exclusive scrutiny of the philosophers to become accepted as a part of the ideology of industrial civilization. Traditionally the idea has been advocated and believed in as a vision of the future, but it also has been invoked as a useful justification and rationalization for the events of the past. Lending itself to varied interpretations and to many uses, it has served divergent interests and classes.
While its influence has been generally recognized, the historical treatment of the idea of progress has been confined mostly to a discussion of the leading philosophical treatises on the subject. In this fashion the history of the idea in Europe has been outlined, but in the United States the literature of progress has been a subject of concern only with regard to its incidental or biographical aspects. The need for a more definite analysis of the American conception of the idea of progress was first indicated by Professor Charles A. Beard, in 1932, in his Introduction to the American edition of J. B. Bury's history of the idea in Europe. Since then it has received the attention of several students of American intellectual history, but no attempt has been made to present a thorough survey of the concept for any extended period of American history.1 This study, therefore, is an effort to portray the American faith in progress during an important period of our history and to analyze the idea in the terms of the interests and groups which it served or promised to serve.____________________