Looking back a century ago, and as we saw in Tuesday's posting, we often find that words and language were used in ways that seem a little alien to the people of today. Things that once seemed not quite right are now deemed the height of virtue, while goods things have now become something pretty bad, or at least very different from what they were.
|William Jennings Bryan|
Take, for instance, the terms “populist” and “progressive.” Back in the 1912 presidential campaign both of these terms meant someone tending to the moderate middle rather than the conservative or liberal extremes. The difference was that a populist started from the liberal end of the spectrum, while a progressive came from the conservative end. In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt was the quintessential progressive, while William Jennings Bryan was the populist icon.
It is therefore no exaggeration to say that Roosevelt was to progressivism what Bryan was to populism. Whatever their flaws (and historians have been quick to focus on the faults of both men, rather than on their numerous strengths and virtues), Roosevelt and Bryan had solid principles. They were not afraid to act in accordance with those principles. They might do the wrong thing, sometimes rather spectacularly, but no one could ever justly accuse either one of them of being dishonest, insincere, or equivocating.
Their respective goals, however, were different, often substantially so.
Roosevelt directed most of his efforts toward the breakup of monopolies. Bound by the slavery of past savings, however, he was convinced progress inevitably meant that ownership as well as the physical capital itself must be concentrated. He therefore believed himself forced to tolerate some monopolies, as long as the State regulated them properly.
|J. Pierpont Morgan|
This toleration sometimes manifested itself in ways that to us, secure in the knowledge that ownership does not have to be concentrated, come across as wrongheadedness, not to say pure hypocrisy. For example, Roosevelt was determined to destroy John Davison Rockefeller’s (1839-1937) Standard Oil, and at the same time lauded John Pierpont Morgan’s (1837-1913) U.S. Steel as a model of industrial organization! Naturally, the Steel Trust repaid Roosevelt’s support by endorsing Wilson for president. (Theodore Roosevelt, “Governor Wilson and the Trusts,” speech given at Oyster Bay, New York, November 2, 1912, Social Justice and Popular Rule: Essays, Addresses, and Public Statements Relating to the Progressive Movement (1910-1916). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1926, 346.)
Not that Bryan was in favor of monopolies; he condemned them just as heartily as Roosevelt. (“The Trusts the Issue, Says Bryan: New York Speech of Democracy’s Leader Devoted Largely to the Evils of Monopoly — Advocates Court of Arbitration for Capital and Labor,” The Spartanburg Herald, Friday, August 31, 1906, 1.) Where Roosevelt wanted to reform the corporate form of business organization, however, Bryan wanted to eliminate it, a goal reflected in Wilson’s speeches.
|Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.|
Thus, where Bryan recommended State control to achieve desired results, Roosevelt emphasized government regulation intended to prevent either “capital” or “labor” from taking unfair advantage of the other. Roosevelt looked toward the implementation and maintenance of equality of opportunity, not results — what he called “a square deal”:
Our country — this great Republic — means nothing unless it means the triumph of a real democracy, the triumph of popular government, and, in the long run, of an economic system under which each man shall be guaranteed the opportunity to show the best that there is in him. That is why the history of America is now the central feature of the history of the world; for the world has set its face hopefully toward our democracy. (Theodore Roosevelt, “The New Nationalism,” speech at Osawatomie, Kansas, August 31, 1910. Social Justice and Popular Rule: Essays, Addresses, and Public Statements Relating to the Progressive Movement (1910-1916). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1926, 5.)
Roosevelt, however, seemed to be thinking in terms of owners and workers as separate classes. This was in contrast to one of his “trust busters,” Judge Peter S. Grosscup.
Grosscup was just as forceful as Roosevelt and Bryan in his denunciations of the trusts, and as adamant as Roosevelt that the corporation be reformed. In 1907, in fact, Roosevelt asked Grosscup to work up a plan to reform the corporate structure.
|Peter S. Grosscup|
Judging from Grosscup’s writings, he believed that the chief reform needed was to spread out ownership of corporations. From 1905 through 1919 Grosscup wrote a series of insightful articles, both popular and scholarly, on the absolute necessity of workers becoming part owners of the corporations that employed them. Even then, however, he spoke in terms of equality of opportunity, not results imposed by coercion. (Peter S. Grosscup, “The Government’s Relation to Corporate Construction and Management,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Vol. 32, Federal Regulation of Industry (July, 1908, 3-29), 18-19.)
While Grosscup, too, was trapped by the slavery of past savings, he promoted a number of plans that, had they had strong legislative support and the cooperation of business leaders, might have worked. Grosscup’s proposals, in fact, bear a strong resemblance to those outlined by Pope Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum.
We have no way of knowing whether Grosscup was influenced by Rerum Novarum and Leo XIII’s writings directed to America. There is a possibility, however. Chicago, where Grosscup was headquartered as justice on the United States Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, is not too far from Saint Paul, Minnesota, where John Ireland was archbishop.
|Archbishop John Ireland|
Roosevelt was a friend of Archbishop Ireland. Ireland was a strong progressive, albeit today often incorrectly characterized as a populist, and an avid supporter of an orthodox interpretation of Rerum Novarum. Ireland was in sharp contrast to the type of “Americanist” that the renegade priest Father Edward McGlynn, a friend and avid supporter of Henry George represented.
Where McGlynn subordinated religious truth and Church administration to the positivism that was taking over the civil order, the archbishop was an “Americanist” of the type Leo XIII praised in Testem Benevolenitae Nostrae; Ireland worked to reconcile the religious and the civil order to work together instead of at cross-purposes. Ireland and Grosscup were acquainted and may have exchanged ideas, as they both served on the Committee on Arrangements of the National Conference on Trusts and Combinations in 1907. (New York National Civic Federation, Proceedings on the National Conference on Trusts and Combinations Under the Auspices of the National Civic Federation, October 22-25, 1907. New York: The McConnell Printing Company, 1908, 15. Grosscup spoke on the inadequacy of the anti-trust laws then in force (ibid., 221-231).)
Ireland was a strong advocate of widely owned capital in land. He initiated what, according to some authorities, “was the most extensive and successful wholesale Catholic colonization effort in American history.” (Rev. James P. Shannon, “Bishop Ireland’s Connemara Experiment,” Minnesota History magazine, March 1957, 205-213.) Two progressive Roosevelt men would have found common ground on many subjects — such as broad-based capital ownership, especially as an alternative to State power as a way of breaking up the power of the monopolies.
Grosscup and Roosevelt had some other differences, however, and that would cause problems, as we will see.