Wikiquote:Transwiki/American History Primary Sources Progressive Era

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Attacking the Problems of the Cities

1895 The question at issue in New York City just at present is... as to whether public officials are to be true to their oaths of office, and see that the law is administered in good faith. The Police Board stands squarely in favor of the honest enforcement of the law. Our opponents of every grade and every shade of political belief take the position that government officials who have sworn to uphold the law shall violate their oaths whenever they think it will please a sufficient number of the public to make the violation worthwhile. It seems almost incredible that in such a controversy it should be necessary to do more than state in precise terms both propositions. Yet it evidently is necessary. Not only have the wealthy brewers and liquor sellers, whose illegal business was interfered with, venomously attacked the commissioners for enforcing the law but they have been joined by the major portion of the New York press and by the very large mass of voters who put the gratification of appetite above all law.... Very many friends of the reform movement and very many politicians of the party to which I belong have become frightened at the issue thus raised; and the great bulk of the machine leaders of the Democracy profess to be exultant at it and to see in it a chance for securing their own return to power. Senator Hill and Tammany in particular have loudly welcomed the contest. On the other hand, certain Republican politicians and certain Republican newspapers have contended that our action in honestly doing our duty as public officers of the municipality of New York will jeopardize the success of the Republican Party, with which I, the president of the Board, am identified. The implication is that for the sake of the Republican Party, a party of which I am a very earnest member, I should violate my oath of office and connive at lawbreaking.... The corrupt and partial enforcement of the law under Tammany turned it into a gigantic implement for blackmailing a portion of the liquor sellers and for the wholesale corruption of the Police Department. The high Tammany officials, and the police captains and patrolmen blackmailed and bullied the small liquor sellers without a pull and turned them into abject slaves of Tammany Hall. On the other hand, the wealthy and politically influential liquor sellers absolutely controlled the police, and made or marred captains, sergeants, and patrolmen at their pleasure. Many causes have tended to corrupt the police administration of New York, but no one cause was so potent as this.... Theodore Roosevelt, “Police Reform in New York City,” in Forum (September 1895).

1901 [Tenement building owners] for the sake of a large profit on their investments sacrifice the health and welfare of countless thousands. New York settlement house worker Lawrence Veiller, who worked for passage of the New York State Tenement House Bill of 1901.

1906 The challenge of the city has become one of decent human existence. Cleveland Progressive Frederick C. Howe.

1909 Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood. Daniel Burnham, architect and urban planner.

1909 Our task is to break up these groups or settlements, to assimilate and amalgamate these people as a part of our American race, and to implant in their children, so far as can be done, the Anglo-Saxon conception of righteousness, law and order, and popular government. Elwood Cubberly, in his book Changing Concepts of Education.

Social Progressivism

1889 There is nothing after disease, indigence and guilt so fatal to life itself as the want of a proper outlet for active faculties. Jane Addams (1860-1935), founder in 1889 of Hull House in Chicago, a “settlement house” where rich women could educate poor women.

c. 1890 The community is one great family [and] each member of it is bound to help the other. Louise DeKoven Bowen, president of the Chicago’s Woman’s City Club.

1901 [There is a need for an] ethical elite [of citizens] who have at heart the general welfare and know what kinds of conduct will promote this welfare. Edward A. Ross in his book Social Control.

c. 1910 They will vote — they will have the same rights as we ourselves though they have grown up ignorant of moral principle.... Let society beware, when the vicious, reckless multitude of New York boys, swarming now in every foul alley and low street, come to know their power and use it! The necessity of educating and developing urban children, according to Rev. Charles Loring Brace, founder of The Children’s Aid Society

African-American Progressivism

1905 I have heard that you are a young woman of some ability but that you are neglecting your school work because you have become hopeless of trying to do anything in the world. I am very sorry for this.... There are in the U.S. today thousands of colored girls who would be happy beyond measure to have the chance of educating themselves that you are neglecting. If you train yourself as you easily can, there are wonderful chances of usefulness before you: you can join the ranks of 15,000 Negro women teachers, of hundreds of nurses and physicians, of the growing number of clerks and stenographers.... Ignorance is a care for nothing. Get the very best training possible & the doors of opportunity will fly open before you as they are flying before thousands of your fellows. On the other hand every time a colored person neglects an opportunity, it makes it more difficult for others of the race to get such an opportunity. Do you want to cut off the chances of the boys and girls of tomorrow? W. E. B. Du Bois, letter to an African American school student.

Women’s Rights

1902 “You cannot trust the ballot into the hands of women teachers in the public schools but you give it to men who can not read or write. You can not trust the ballot to women who are controlling millions... and helping to support the country but you give it to loafers and vagabonds who know nothing, have nothing and represent nothing. You can not trust the ballot in the hands of women who are the wives and daughters of your heroes but you give it to those who are willing to sell it for a glass of beer and you trust it in the hands of anarchists. Swedish delegate Emmy Evald, speaking at the first International Woman Suffrage Conference, Washington, DC in 1902.

Progressives and Government

1902 This is the penalty of a democracy — that we are bound to move forward or [fall backward] together. None of us can stand aside; our feet are mired in the same soil, and our lungs breathe the same air. Jane Addams, in Democracy and Social Ethics

c. 1905 [Government is] an educational and ethical agency whose positive aim is an indispensable condition of human progress. University of Wisconsin economist Richard Ely. 1906 The greatest single hold of “the interest” is the fact that they are the “campaign contributors.”... Who pays the big election expenses of your congressman, of the men you send to the legislature to elect senators? Do you imagine those who foot those huge bills are fools? Don’t you know that they will make sure of getting their money back, with interest? David Graham Phillips, in his article, “The Treason of the Senate”

Muckraker Literature


I have read your book, and I have come to help. Theodore Roosevelt, incoming head of New York City’s Police Commission, to reporter Jacob Riis, author of How the Other Half Lives (1890).

1902 One of the most depressing features... is that instead of such methods arousing contempt, they are more or less openly admired.... There is no gaming table in the world where loaded dice are tolerated, no athletic field where men must not start fair. Yet Mr. Rockefeller has systematically played with loaded dice.... Business played in this way loses all its sportsmanlike qualities. It is only for tricksters. Ida Tarbell, in “History of the Standard Oil Company,” in McClure’s Magazine.

1902 [They] raked up the mud of society and never looked up. President Theodore Roosevelt’s characterization of “exposure journalists” or “muckrakers”.

1906 There was never the least attention paid to what was cut up for sausage.... There would be meat that had tumbled out on the floor, in the dirt and sawdust.... There would be meat stored in great piles in rooms; and the water from leaky roofs would drip over it, and thousands of rats would race about on it.... These rats were nuisances, and the packers would put out poisoned bread for them, they would die, and then rats, bread, and meat would go into the hoppers together. Upton Sinclair, description of sausage-making in his muckraking novel, The Jungle.

1906 I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach. Upton Sinclair, author of The Jungle, on how his book led to passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act.

Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909): Progressive President

c. 1900 If we wish to do good work for our country, we must be unselfish, disinterested, sincerely desirous of the well-being of the commonwealth, and capable of devoted adherence to a lofty ideal. Theodore Roosevelt

1903 Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. President Theodore Roosevelt, a supporter of conservation, on what to do with the Grand Canyon.

c. 1903 In the past, we have admitted the right of the individual to injure the future of the Republic for his own present profit. The time has come for a change. President Roosevelt, on the need for conservation reform.

1905 When I say I believe in a square deal I do not mean, and nobody who speaks the truth can mean, that he believes it possible to give every man the best hand. If the cards to not come to any man, or if they do come, and he has not got the power to play them, that is his affair. All I mean is that there shall not be any crookedness in the dealing. President Theodore Roosevelt, speech on April 5.

The Presidency of William Howard Taft (1909-1913)

c. 1909 “Not one cent for scenery.” Speaker of the House “Uncle Joe” Cannon of Illinois, opposing appropriating money for conservation of natural resources.

1910 The true friend of property, the true conservative, is he who insists that property shall be the servant and not the master of the commonwealth.... The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have themselves called into being. Former President Roosevelt, on the stump at Ossawatomie, Kansas, speaking for anti-Taft Progressive Republican candidates.

1910 “Kick the Southern Pacific Railroad Out of Politics” Election slogan of Hiram Johnson’s campaign for governor of California.

1912 My hat is in the ring. Former President Theodore Roosevelt, using a boxing expression to announce that he would run for president against William Howard Taft.

1912 “Fit as a bull moose.” Theodore Roosevelt, on his health after being shot in the chest in an assassination attempt. The Progressive Party — which nominated him as its presidential candidate — came to be called the Bull Moose Party.

Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921): Progressive President

???? I am sorry for those who disagree with me... because I know they are wrong. Woodrow Wilson

1912 The only way that government is kept pure is by keeping... channels open, so that... there will constantly be coming new blood into the veins of the body politic.... What this country needs above everything else is a body of laws which will look after the men who are on the make rather than the men who are already made. Woodrow Wilson, Democrat Party candidate for president.

1913 We have been proud of our industrial achievements, but we have not... stopped... to count the fearful physical and spiritual cost to the men and women upon whom the... weight and burden of it all has fallen.... This is not a day of triumph; it is a day of dedication. Here muster, not the forces of party, but the forces of humanity. President Woodrow Wilson, first inaugural address (March 4, 1913).

???? “Did you see what that boy did? He made a face at me. Did you see what I did? “No, sir.” “I made a face right back.” Exchange between President Wilson an his Secret Service guard, on meeting a young opponent while he was driving.


1905 Fellow workers, this is the continental congress of the working class. We are here to confederate the workers of this country into a working-class movement that shall have for its purpose the emancipation of the working class from the slave bondage of capitalism. “Big Bill” Hayward, at the founding meeting of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

1908 Competition was natural enough at one time, but do you think you are competing today?.... Against whom? Against Rockefeller? About as I would if I had a wheelbarrow and competed with the Santa Fe (Railroad) from here to Kansas City. Eugene V. Debs, Socialist Party candidate for president in 1908.

1912 [Socialism] would abolish this monstrous system and the misery and crime which flow from it. Eugene V. Debs, Socialist Party candidate for president.