During his passage on the New Deal, William Leuchtenberg criticizes the cyclical nature of capitalism, claiming that this market is too inefficient in correcting imbalances of supply and demand. The cost of this inefficiency is human lives being torn asunder for years as entire industries adjust at once to changes in market conditions, leaving millions without jobs at the same time, for prolonged periods. However, his government-control “solution” introduces the exact same problem! The passage “This is why, though all of us will undoubtedly have moments of discouragement at the slowness of it…” can be applied with equal validity to the existing industrial system or the proposed government takeovers of the “levers” of the economy.
Leuchtenberg bases his argument on the completely unproven theory that the government will be able to control these levers much better than the private sector has been able to, using recent economic failures as his “proof.” In retrospect, this theory becomes laughable when Leuchtenberg touts “efficiency at least as great as that which we now get out of the United States Postoffice,” an institution losing over billion dollars a quarter currently. In addition to putting too much trust into the government, Leuchtenberg further disproves his own theory by bringing up the unwillingness of the American people to accept the federal government commandeering the levers of the economy. He admits that “people do not change their habits easily,” yet there is an implicit expectation that the government will be able to bend them into compliance for this overhaul. Unfortunately for Leuchtenberg, this assumption, much like all the other ones in this article, is unfounded and detached from reality.
For my response, I chose a Bing Crosby Woodbury Soap Show from the mid 1930s. The introduction was a two minute long advertisement in which a host touts the benefits of Woodbury Soap as not just a regular soap, but a beauty product guaranteed to improve women’s skin. The host talks about the product for the first part of the commercial, and spends the second part talking to a man who apparently has two daughters who use the product.
The meat of the program consists of musical numbers, much like the FM radio we know today. However, instead of blocks of songs bookended by commercials, between each song is a brief interlude with a host introducing the song, sometimes engaging in banter with someone else in the studio (or Crosby) . Every so often, a longer interlude will occur, usually about 90 seconds, which is another Woodbury Soap advertisement.
At the very end of the program, the host plugs Woodbury Soap one more time. Based on my relatively limited knowledge of early TV and radio programming, the setup of this program seems relatively standard. A title sponsor provides advertising revenue, and a celebrity provides name recognition. There were relatively few ads during this 25 minute program, and I imagine that someone with knowledge of popular 1934 singers would have enjoyed the amount and variety of music that this show provided.
History repeats itself. Almost all of the issues revolving around “Americanism” that Bourne touches upon in “Trans-National America” are still the subjects of much present-day political discussion a hundred years later. Bourne asks the question of whether “Americanization [should] take place only on our own terms, and not by the consent of the governed.” America today faces the same questions with immigrants from Latin America and Asia that we faced with immigrants from Eastern Europe a century ago. How much assimilation is necessary to become American? Is there a truly American culture, or is the essence of America the ability to live two different identities, one American and one tied to a mother country?
Bourne treats the American “ruling element” with more disdain than I think is appropriate for this question, both for the start of the 20th century and 21st century. He claims that “the Anglo-Saxon element is guilty of just what every dominant race is guilty of in every European country: the imposition of its own culture upon the minority peoples.” What is culture, if not a series of shared rituals and experiences across a region or country? In the case of Europe, centuries of migration and political shifts dating back to the Roman Empire have shaped the cultures that we know today as French, German, Italian, etc. In the same way, early immigration shaped American culture largely after Britain, with immigrants from the rest of Europe added into the “melting pot” over the next 150 years. The Anglo-Saxon culture combined with other cultures and the frontier to form the beginnings of a distinctly American culture that exists today.
Just as France is known for baguettes and wine, and Italy has pasta and art, American culture consists (partially) of apple pie, hot dogs, and baseball. There’s nothing wrong with delineating cultures in this way, as it gives people of the same nation commonalities to coalesce around. As part of my own Polish heritage, my family celbrates Wigilea, a traditional feast followed by the exchange of gifts, on Christmas Eve after church. I know many Puerto Ricans for whom Three Kings Day is a very important holiday, and they have their own rituals that mark this day. This doesn’t make us any less American, it simply allows us to stay connected to the culture of our forefathers, which is not mutually exclusive from living within a distinct American culture as well.
Theodore Roosevelt’s New Nationalism speech solidifies him as intellectually aligned with many Progressive ideals. “The world has set its face hopefully toward our democracy” sounds like something Wilson might have said when lobbying for U.S. involvement in the League of Nations. Roosevelt talks of “democratic government on a national [rather than federal] scale,” which fits with Wilson’s amalgamation of federal power, from the Federal Reserve Act to the stripping of Senate voting rights from state legislatures. Roosevelt, though from a moneyed New York family, needs to keep his progressive credibility and call out the “great special business interests,” as he considers a possible return to the Presidency in 1912.
This progressivism combines in full force with nationalism (hence the “New Nationalism”) at points during the speech: “The national government belongs to the whole American people, and where the whole American people are interested, that interest can be guarded effectively only by the national government. The betterment which we seek must be accomplished, I believe, mainly through the national government.”
Jane Addams’ brand of progressivism, focused on “betterment” and spiritual “regeneration” can be seen peeking through the cracks of this passage. Additionally, the overarching focus on nationalism was co-opted by Wilson’s administration for war propaganda, to convince citizens to buy “liberty bonds,” and rename sauerkraut “liberty cabbage” during World War I.
TR cannot quite prevent his affinity for war and struggle from shining through in this speech. He advises the crowd to “hunt out of public life” any politician who breaks a promise. Not vote out, not drive out, but “hunt.” He pays lip service to the evil perpetrated during the Civil War, but wants Americans to “fix our eyes with pride only on the good that was accomplished.”
This faith in government that manifests itself most often in how it operates a war also extends to how it can care for its citizens in peacetime. Roosevelt praises “the wisdom of Washington and Washington’s colleagues” at the beginning of the speech, but the latter half of the speech places him much closer to Wilsonian progressivism’s revision of Constitution. “The right to regulate the use of wealth in the public interest is universally admitted” is not a quote that “Washington’s colleagues” would have taken kindly to. Moreover, child labor, women’s work, and education, while not objectionable causes, are brought to the federal, rather than state level, under this “broad and far-reaching nationalism.”
During her “Solitude of Self” speech, Elizabeth Cady Stanton immediately ties the women’s suffrage movement in with morality, stating that “the right of individual conscience and judgement” is a “Protestant idea.” This fits very well with other progressive notions of the day, as vices such as gambling and alcohol were other targets of the Progressives at the turn of the 20th Century. Stanton also speaks of “natural rights,” undoubtedly a reference to Jefferson’s inalienable “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
However, for most of the rest of the speech Stanton treats women’s rights as a political issue. Individual citizenship is a “republican idea,” and Stanton repeatedly refers to “selfs-“: self dependence, self-sovereignty, self-respect. Individual liberty is paramount to Stanton, and she sees herself as entitled to it just as male citizens are. Stanton decries the practice of defining women as mothers, sisters and daughters, since men are not defined solely as husbands or fathers. She implores the Senate not for a special place for women, but to be included with men to share the basic rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
It seems to me that Stanton draws much of her argument from slavery and the black rights movement. Just as DuBois wanted to stand on equal footing with the white man culturally (attend the same plays, learn at the same schools, hold the same public offices), Stanton desires for women to be on equal footing as men in a citizenship sense. “To refuse political equality is to rob the ostracized of all self-respect,” Stanton claims. She even compares the plight of women to a Shakespeare character whose tongue and hands are cut off, which may also be an indirect reference to the similarities of the women’s suffrage movement and the horrors endured by slaves.
In the closing of her speech, Stanton makes sure to note that the Progressive vision for women is a modernistic one. Modern women, she argues, have made great strides in art and literature: “the poetry and novels of the century are theirs…” Just as technologies such as the spinning wheel have faded into the past, so should political constraints placed upon women. In an increasingly industrialized nation, this analogy is a powerful way for Stanton to make her case, and position her cause as the way of the future.
In his “Significance of the Frontier in American History,” Frederick Jackson Turner divides American into two distinct spheres. Turner sees the Atlantic coast (the “European Frontier”), as sharply different from the “really American part of our history,” the Western frontier, the isolation of which increased its “peculiarly American tendencies.” Although he may not admit it outright, Turner also implies that expansion into Indian territory made settlers more like Indians, “planting Indian corn and plowing with a sharp stick.” Turner’s theory is one of “transforming” the wilderness into something distinctly American, but he does not give enough credit to the influence of Indian culture on settlers. In moving away from the “European frontier,” the Americans adopted the ways of the Indian not as a phase in the development of a new American culture, but as a way of life in order to survive in the wilderness. They had no existing infrastructure or network of cities to fall back on during expeditions, so out of necessity they provided solely for themselves, lived off the land, and simply attempted to survive, a lifestyle much more closely related to the Indians than their fellow Americans east of the Appalachians.
This is not to say that most settlers treated the Indians as equals: the settlers used Indian land as hunting grounds, train routes, and farmland. Turner argues that Americans “[poured] an ever-richer tide” through the “arteries made by geology,” perhaps implying that Indian culture wasn’t rich enough to adequately fill this vast wilderness between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. This theory made it easier to justify taking Indians lands for western use, and I would also argue that this was a necessary step, if one assumes that Manifest Destiny was a foregone conclusion. The American land system was based on private property rights, a concept that did not exist within Indian civilization. Thus, the two systems were incompatible, and one needed to win out over the other. Americans were not going to respect property rights that didn’t exist, so making the lands their own private property was the only solution.
Turner’s description of how the frontier changed America’s nationalism is puzzling. He claims that “the West and the East began to get out of touch with each other.” However, in the postbellum period, a movement extolling the virtues of American citizenship united the country in a way that this collection of states linked by a federal system had never been united before. This led to the imperialist mindset that Europe had long ago adopted, partially fueled by the “White Man’s Burden,” giving America the moral authority not only to achieve Manifest Destiny, but to acquire land outside of America, such as Hawaii and the Philippines. It would seem to be a paradox that the states were becoming “out of touch” with each other at the same time that America was beginning a nationalist, and some would argue imperialist, expansion policy.