The American West: A Twentieth-Century History

By Michael P. Malone; Richard W. Etulain | Go to book overview

Chapter Two Politics of the Postfrontier Era, 1900-1930

The turbulence that characterized the western economic order during the first three decades of the century found ready reflection in regional government and politics. A mood-of optimistic reformism high- lighted the years, from 1900 through 1916, a period often referred to as the Progressive Era. Then, during and immediately after America's: involvement in World War I, super- nationalists and conservatives rose to the forefront, smashing power-of the reformers and truly devastating that of the more militant antiwar socialists and radicals, whose fortunes had likewise been on the rise before the war. The country and much of the region remained in a rightist mood during the 1920s; but political unrest continued to dominate the troubled interior reaches of the West, where farmers and ranchers faced severe economic problems. In each of these phases of post frontier political development, the West clearly rode on national currents of events. But the region also exhibited strong tendencies that set it off from the rest of the nation. Both before 1917 and after, many eastern observers viewed the now closed frontier beyond the humid plains as a land of extremists bent on overthrowing the established American order. They were partly right, perhaps, but mostly wrong; for in politics as in economics, the West was in fact moving toward, not away from, the national mainstream.

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