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  • Tiffany Jones Miller (a1)

Scholarly discussions of the turn of the 20th century progressive movement frequently ignore or give but glancing attention to the progressives’ racial views and policies. Those who do pay greater attention to them nonetheless tend to dismiss them as being somehow “paradoxical” or inconsistent with what they regard as the movement’s core, “democratic” principles. The purpose of this paper, accordingly, is to explain the origin and nature of the movement’s core principles, and to show how the reformers’ racial views and policies, far from being inconsistent with these principles, were in fact their natural outgrowth. The progressives’ support for the colonial subjugation of the Filipinos, as well as the disfranchisement and segregation of American blacks, reflects, in other words, the transformation in the character or content of public policy necessitated by the reformers’ rejection of the “individualism” of the American founding in favor of a new conception of “individualism” chiefly inspired by early 19th century German idealism.

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1 See Leonard Thomas C., “Mistaking Eugenics for Social Darwinism: Why Eugenics is Missing from the History of American Economics,” History of Political Economy 37 supplement (2005): 203: “Eugenic thought not only crossed national borders; it also crossed political ideologies, traversing an extraordinary range of political views.” (But see also, Leonard , “American Economic Reform in the Progressive Era: Its Foundational Beliefs and Their Relation to Eugenics,” History of Political Economy 41:1 (2009): 110, in which he clearly indicates that this characterization overstates the matter.) See too Quinn Peter, “Race Cleansing in America,” American Heritage 54: 1 (February/March 2003), accessed online at “The spreading influence of eugenics not only drew on a conservative fear of lower class behavior, and on the enthusiasm of middle-class progressives seeking scientific answers to the dislocations inflicted by industrialization and urbanization, but also attracted support from those even more radically opposed to the status quo.”

2 Ely Richard T., An Introduction to Political Economy (New York: Chautauqua Press, 1889), 101.

3 Dewey John, Liberalism and Social Action (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2000), 34.

4 Ely Richard T., “Industrial Liberty,” Publications of the American Economic Association 3, no. 1 (Feb. 1902), 63.

5 The Progressives' criticism of the Founders' understanding of equality—and hence the state of nature—is the outgrowth of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's criticism of both John Locke and Thomas Hobbes's teachings on the state of nature. As Myers Peter, Our Only Star and Compass: Locke and the Struggle for Political Rationality (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 1998), 112, well notes, this criticism has “contributed substantially to the discrediting not only of Locke's thought in particular, but more generally of the rationalist, natural-rights constitutionalism that marked the culmination of the political thought and practice of early modernity.”

6 Eugenists repeatedly and pointedly deny the equality principle and its corollaries—e.g., equal, natural rights and limited government. As Peter Quinn, “Race Cleansing in America,” points out, Francis Galton, the very father of eugenics, declares, in his 1869 book Hereditary Genius: An Inquiry Into Its Laws and Consequences, that: “It is in the most unqualified manner that I object to pretensions of natural equality.” As Quinn likewise notes, Harry Laughlin, the superintendent of the Eugenics Record Office (ERO), “hoped to bring about a new social order ‘wherein selection for parenthood will not be held a natural right of every individual; but will be a prize highly sought and allotted to the best individuals of proven blood, and those individuals who are not deemed worthy and are by society denied the right to perpetrate their own traits … will be held in pity by their fellows.’” See also Pickens Donald K., “The Sterilization Movement: The Search for Purity in Mind and State,” Phylon 28, no. 1 (1960): 80, quoting Wolfe A. B., “Eugenics and Social Attitudes,” Eugenics in Race and State: Scientific Papers at the Second International Congress of Eugenics Held at the American Museum of Natural History, Sept. 22–28, 1921 (Baltimore, 1923), vol. II, 413, 417: “‘We are specifically the victim … of a social inheritance of political and economic individualism carried over from the eighteenth century revolt when the emphasis was on individual right rather than where it must now be put, upon social function.’ ”

7 Richard T. Ely, Studies in the Evolution of Industrial Society, 173, 180.

8 Gunnell John G., The Descent of Political Theory, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 2830; Ross Dorothy, The Origins of American Social Science (New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 55.

9 Fries Sylvia, “Staatstheorie and the New American Science of Politics,” Journal of the History of Ideas 34, no. 3 (1973): 392. See also Herbst Jurgen, The German Historical School in American Scholarship: A Study in the Transfer of Culture (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1965), chap. 1; Rodgers Daniel, Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics In a Progressive Age (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1998), chap. 3.

10 Fries, “Staatstheorie and the New American Science of Politics,” 392–95; Gunnell, The Descent of Political Theory, 35, 88; Goldberg Jonah, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 94; Schaefer Axel R., “W. E. B. Du Bois, German Social Thought, and the Racial Divide in American Progressivism, 1892–1909,” Journal of American History, 88 (Dec., 2001): 928.

11 Eisenach Eldon, Lost Promise of Progressivism (University Press of Kansas, 1994), 93; Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings, 97–111.

12 Fries, “Staatstheorie and the New American Science of Politics,” 394–5. As Ross, The Origins of American Social Science, 68, notes, “Bluntschli … joined the idealist and historical branches of Staatswissenschaft into a single theory of the state.”

13 Ely is not particularly well known today, but he played a seminal role in transmitting German idealism to America. In addition to being a prominent member of the social gospel movement, Ely played a pioneering role in the development of the German Historical School of political economy in America, and its offshoots in city-planning, agricultural economics, and conservation—all of which began to exert a significant impact upon public policy in the Progressive era and the New Deal. As a teacher, he helped cultivate a host of significant academics/reformers including Albert Shaw, Frederic Howe, John R. Commons, and Woodrow Wilson. He was the founding father of the American Economic Association (AEA), and played a prominent role in the governance of the highly influential advocacy organizations it spawned, e.g., the American Association of Labor Legislation (AALL), as well as the National Consumers' League (NCL). On Ely's accomplishments generally, see Rader Benjamin G., The Academic Mind and Reform: The Influence of Richard T. Ely in American Life (University of Kentucky Press, 1966). Finally, during his long tenure at the University of Wisconsin, Ely, and especially his former students, like John R. Commons, played a central role in the development of Governor Robert LaFollette's “Wisconsin Idea,” a mode of governance which sought to enhance the influence of the University of Wisconsin faculty over Wisconsin state policymaking. On this score, see Howe , Wisconsin An Experiment in Democracy (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1912), chaps. 2–3.

14 Gunnell, The Descent of Political Theory, 39.

15 On the latter score, see Ely Richard T., Ground Under Our Feet: An Autobiography (New York, New York: The MacMillan Co., 1938), 133.

16 Daniel T. Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings, 94; see also, Richard T. Ely, Ground Under Our Feet, 132–49. For reasons that will be discussed later, the Progressives widely regarded Germany as their beau ideal of the state. “Germany,” as Howe Frederic C., Wisconsin: An Experiment in Democracy (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1912), 38, writes, “has identified science with politics more closely than has any other nation. The state universities, technical and commercial colleges are consciously used for the advancement of the fatherland.” Thanks especially to Robert La Follette's administration, he continues at p. 39, “Wisconsin is making the German idea her own.” See also Schafer Axel, “W. E. B. Du Bois, German Social Thought, and the Racial Divide in American Progressivism, 1892–1909,” Journal of American History, 88 (Dec., 2001): 930.

17 Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings, 86, 101–2. Fox Daniel M., “Introduction,” Simon N. Patten, The New Basis of Civilization (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1968), xixii, notes that Patten, like the other founders of the AEA, e.g., Ely, Henry C. Adams, etc., “[was] deeply influenced by a group of economists called the Younger Historical School.” These economists, including Gustav Schmoller, Adolf Wagner, and Johannes Conrad, were, in turn, “deeply influenced by Hegelian concepts of historical process … [.]”

18 Herbst Jurgen, The German Historical School in American Scholarship: A Study in the Transfer of Culture (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1965), 4346. See also, Ely, Ground Under Our Feet, 142–3.

19 Eisenach, Lost Promise, 70.

20 Merriam, A History of American Political Theories, 315–16.

21 Eisenach, Lost Promise, 187. Merriam, A History of American Political Theories, 308–9: “In the refusal to accept the contract theory as the basis for government, practically all the political scientists of note agree. The old explanation no longer seems sufficient, and is with practical unanimity discarded. The doctrines of natural law and natural rights have met a similar fate.”

22 Merriam, A History of American Political Theories, 316.

23 Ibid., 322.

24 Dewey, “The Ethics of Democracy,” 236. The Progressives were not only perfectly willing to subordinate the rights of the individual in the Founders' sense where it was believed to conflict with the “general welfare” as they understand it, but, as we shall see, they were also very willing to subordinate the welfare of the individual as they understand it, in a very severe measure, where it was believed to conflict with the wider “general welfare” (as defined in their own terms.) This is why, as suggested earlier, Merriam's formulation indicating that the Progressives elevated the social good or “general welfare” above the individual, is, in the end, apt.

25 Eisenach, Lost Promise, 189.

26 Dewey and Tufts, Ethics, 437.

27 Ely, “Industrial Liberty,” 63.

28 Ely , “Ethics and Economics,” in Social Aspects of Christianity, and Other Essays (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell and Company, 1889), 123–4; see also Ely, Ground Under Our Feet, 66–67: “The end and purpose of all is the true growth of mankind; namely, the full and harmonious development in each individual of all human faculties—the faculties of working, perceiving, knowing, loving—the development, in short, of whatever capabilities of good there may be in us. And this development of human powers in the individual is not to be entirely for self… It is for self and for others…”

29 Willoughby Westel Woodbury, “The Right of the State to Be,” International Journal of Ethics (Jul. 1899), 469. Willoughby, 470–71, stresses that recognition of man's spiritual nature as the foundation of right “does not carry with it the predication of the so-called ‘natural rights’… It carries with it the declaration that there are eternal necessary principles of right and justice, but not that there are rights belonging to individuals in the sense that, apart from a state of society in which mutual restraints and obligations are recognized, there are certain spheres of action in which, under no circumstances, is it ethically justifiable that the individual should be restrained or constrained against his will. Right, apart from any social recognition or creation, exists, but not rights.” On nature as the foundation of right, see also Woolsey Theodore D.'s highly influential treatise, Political Science or the State Theoretically and Practically Considered (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1886; first published in 1877), vol. I, 2: “… we admit that happiness is an end which the individual and the state may rightfully aim at, and an important one, although subordinate to the right and to the ends contained in the perfection of human nature.” See also Dewey and Tufts , Ethics (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1908), 67: “Man would not be here if self-preservation and self-assertion and sex instinct were not strongly rooted in his system. These may easily become dominant passions. But just as certainly, man cannot be all that he may be unless he controls these impulses and passions by other motives. He has first to create for himself a new world of ideal interests before he finds his best life. The appetites and instincts may be ‘natural,’ in the sense that they are the beginning; the mental and spiritual life is ‘natural,’ as Aristotle puts it, in the sense that man's full nature is developed only in such a life.” That Dewey wrote this might strike some as odd. But, as Westbrook Robert B., John Dewey and American Democracy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), 3738, demonstrates, Dewey, in the early decades of his career, was heavily influenced by T. H. Green, the English professor of philosophy who, in the 1870s, played a very important role in encouraging the study of Hegel in Britain. In the 1880s and 1890s, Dewey's understanding of morality “drew heavily on two fundamental concepts of British idealism: the neo-Hegelian understanding of society as a peculiar kind of moral organism and the related notion of individual freedom within this organic society as the positive freedom to make the best of oneself as a social being and not merely the negative freedom from external restraint or compulsion.” Dewey's eventual “deconversion from absolute idealism,” Westbrook subsequently notes, 104–5, “did not affect his identification of democracy with equal opportunity for all the members of a society to make the best of themselves as social beings, and thus he retained the link between self-realization and social service which was such an important aspect of the neo-Hegelian concept of positive freedom.” In other words, Dewey's “deconversion” did not essentially alter the substantive content of moral or human excellence, and its implications for society, that he had advocated in his earlier period; it did, however, significantly, signal a waning confidence in the metaphysical foundations of these ideals and a desire to ground them in some other way.

30 Ely, “Industrial Liberty,” 62–3.

31 For “‘the ebb and flow of historical change,’ ” see Dewey and Tufts, Ethics, 428. Commentators typically emphasize the Progressives' empiricism, their reliance upon what Ely, Ground Under Our Feet, 154, 161, 185, called the “look and see” method. But progressive social science, in contrast to contemporary social science, did not draw a sharp distinction between what is empirical (or the “facts”) and what is normative (or “values”). In their view the facts reveal the growth of the ideal. “As has been well pointed out by Professor [Franklin] Giddings,” Ely, “Ethics and Economics,” 119, thus writes, “what is includes what ought to be. The ideal exists, but not universally. The ethical aim of reformers is to render general that excellence which at the time is isolated. Past, present, and future are organically connected. The germs of a better future always exist in the present, but they require careful nursing.”

32 Gamble, The War for Righteousness, 36.

33 See, for example, Newby I. A., Jim Crow's Defense: Anti-Negro Thought in America, 1900–1930 (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1965), 52.

34 Ely, Studies in the Evolution of Industrial Society, 4–5, 21.

35 Fox Daniel M., “Introduction,” in Simon N. Patten, The New Basis of Civilization, ed. Fox Daniel M. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968), xixii. At the University of Heidelberg, Karl Knies was Ely 's major professor. In his autobiography, Ground Under Our Feet (New York: The MacMillan Co., 1938), 4344, Ely declares that “It is Knies … whom I am glad to acknowledge, more than any other man, as My Master.”

36 Ely, Studies in the Evolution of Industrial Society, 9, 148.

37 Merriam, A History of American Political Theories, 316.

38 Dewey and Tufts, Ethics, 427.

39 Ibid., 10–11.

40 See, for example, Hegel Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, The Philosophy of History (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1956), 25: “The History of the World begins with its general aim—the realization of the Idea of Spirit—only in an implicit form (an sich) that is, as Nature; a hidden, most profoundly hidden, unconscious instinct; and the whole process of History (as already observed), is directed to rendering this unconscious impulse a conscious one.”

41 Gunnell, Descent of Political Theory, 55. On the flagrantly Hegelian aspect of Burgess's conception of history, see Ross, The Origins of American Social Science, 71.

42 Rauschenbusch Walter, Christianizing the Social Order (New York: MacMillan Co., 1919), 4041. See also Ely, Studies in the Evolution of Industrial Society, 484: “To an ever increasing extent … society is governed by the operation of self-conscious social forces. There is a dawning self-consciousness of society, and there is clear evidence of a determination on the part of society that the advantages of civilization shall be widely diffused…”

43 Dewey and Tufts, Ethics, 11–12.

44 Dewey and Tufts, Ethics, 429; see also 427: “The moral history of the race also reveals constantly growing emphasis upon the social nature of the objects and ends to which personal preferences are to be devoted.”

45 Ely, Studies in the Evolution of Industrial Society, 429–31. For Ely, ibid., 431, this expectation was no mere ideal but increasingly an empirical reality: “The widening and deepening range of ethical obligation rests upon a basis of solid facts. One of the most characteristic features of the latter half of the nineteenth century is the extension of international connections. Men of all nations are drawing nearer and nearer together in every department of social life.” On the increasingly social development of man economically, see Ely, An Introduction to Political Economy, chaps. 2–3.

46 Ely, Introduction to Political Economy, 70.

47 Ely, Studies in the Evolution of Industrial Society, 430–31. The socializing process of man, which culminates in an awareness of one's obligation to promote the fullest development of others, is an end which cannot be transcended. In Introduction to Political Economy, 101, Ely pointedly declares that this end is one which “[h]uman progress can never pass … for it satisfies the highest aspirations of which we are capable.”

48 Van Hise Charles R., The Conservation of Natural Resources in the United States (New York: The MacMillan Co., 1913), 377.

49 Ely Richard T., Social Aspects of Christianity, and Other Essays (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Company, 1889), 129–30.

50 David H. Burton, “Theodore Roosevelt's Social Darwinism and Views on Imperialism,” 106–7. Burton is quoting Roosevelt Theodore, “Social Evolution,” The Works of Theodore Roosevelt, Memorial Edition (New York, 1923–1926), XIV, 114.

51 Ely, Studies in the Evolution of Industrial Society, 134. See also Ross, The Origins of American Social Science, 198, and Eisenach, “Progressive Internationalism,” 233–4: “The social evolutionary perspective,” articulated by Progressive political economists, “posited both increasing integration of economic units and their increasing interdependence—all pointing to a coming era where individualist competition is increasingly supplanted by cooperation and mutual responsibility.”

52 McWilliams, “Standing at Armageddon,” 114. Gamble, The War for Righteousness, 34, makes much the same point in relation to the Social Gospel Movement: “[A] teleological, pre-Darwinian evolutionary cast of mind certainly characterized the progressive clergy's interpretation of the world.” By “pre-Darwinian,” however, Gamble means that the Progressives were Neo-Lamarckians, evolutionists, who, following the early nineteenth-century French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, believed that behavior acquired over the course of an organism's life could be inherited by its offspring. But, other aspects of Gamble's analysis suggest that German idealism played an important role in forming the Progressives' evolutionary thinking. At p. 32, for example, he notes that Washington Gladden, one of the leading clergymen of the Social Gospel Movement (and founding lay member of the AEA), attributed “the historical sense” that so dominated the thought of his day “to the German thinkers Kant, Fichte, and Hegel[.]”

53 Schafer, American Progressives and German Social Reform, 1875–1920, 17, 47. Much the same confusion characterizes Rader's analysis of Ely in The Academic Mind and Reform, 41–53.

54 One implication of this view, as Ely, Studies in the Evolution of Industrial Society, 48, presents it, is that slavery is not simply unjust, i.e., unjust at all times and in all places: In an “early stage of industrial development, labor, it is generally maintained, had to be forced if there was to be any steady labor at all, and thus slavery may be looked upon as a necessary stage in the evolution of industrial society.”

55 Schafer, American Progressives and German Social Reform, 1875–1920, 47.

56 Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings, 368. My emphasis. See also Ross's E. A., The Old World in the New: The Significance of Past and Present Immigration to the American People (New York: The Century Co., 1914), for an excellent example in this regard.

57 McGerr, Fierce Discontent, 80.

58 Although generally reluctant to use the language of natural rights to describe rights, largely because of the concept's identification with the older and hence “outdated” rights doctrine, more than a few leading Progressives explicitly acknowledged the prepolitical origin of what Dewey and Tufts, 447, refer to as the individual's “right … to spiritual self-development and self-possession.” See, for example, Theodore Woolsey, Political Science, vol. I, 10–11: “[E]very one has a right to be what he was meant to be; that he has a right to develop himself, to maintain and carry out his true nature.” See too Willoughby W. W., The Ethical Basis of Political Authority, (New York: the MacMillan Co., 1930), 245: “[T]he only rights which may be claimed as natural, in the sense of being innate or essential are those which are necessary for the realization of one's highest ethical self … ‘that arise out of, and are necessary for the fulfilment of, a moral capacity without which a man would not be a man.’ ”

59 Merriam, A History of American Political Theories, 322. My emphasis.

60 Ely, Introduction to Political Economy, 92. See also Ely, Studies in the Evolution of Industrial Society, 61: “In many ways, too, our habits of thought have to be changed as we pass from one stage to another. This is irksome, and we resist it for a time. The idea that a business is a man's own and ought not to be interfered with by the public is one that belongs to this early part of the industrial stage, and it has been only with extreme slowness and obstinacy that it is coming to be recognized by business men that such an attitude is an anachronism.”

61 Reinsch Paul S., “The Negro Race and European Civilization,” The American Journal of Sociology (Sept. 1905): 148. Rader, The Academic Mind and Reform, 128, 173, reports that Ely hired Reinsch as an assistant professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin, and that he appears to have played an important role in the elaboration of the “Wisconsin idea.” “The “Wisconsin idea” refers to the progressive transformation of Wisconsin state governance initiated by the election of Robert M. La Follette, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, as governor in 1900. The integration of the University of Wisconsin professoriate into policy-making at various points, as well as the implementation of “social and industrial legislation,” were among the leading features of the “idea.”

62 Ely, “Industrial Liberty,” 60, 64; Studies in the Evolution of Industrial Society, 62. Commons John R., Races and Immigrants in America (New York: The MacMillan Co., 1907), 34, makes substantially the same point.

63 As Marini John, “Progressivism, Immigration and Citizenship,” in The Founders on Citizenship and Immigration: Principles and Challenges in America, ed. Erler Edward J., West Thomas G., and Marini John (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 2007), 145, points out, the Progressives advanced the very same view of rights advocated by the leading defenders of slavery prior to the Civil War. Some of the reformers acknowledged this parallel: “[F]rom the standpoint of modern political science,” Merriam, A History of American Political Theories, 250–51, writes, “the slave holders were right in declaring that liberty can be given only to those who have political capacity enough to use it, and they were also right in maintaining that two greatly unequal races cannot exist side by side on terms of perfect equality.” On this point, see also Woodward C. Vann, The Strange Career of Jim Crow (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002; orig. published 1955), 95: “Southern sentiment in 1904 suggested to Carl Schurz ‘a striking resemblance to the pro-slavery arguments … heard before the Civil War[.]’”

64 Ely, Studies in the Evolution of Industrial Society, 168. Or, as Commons, Races and Immigrants, 209, puts it, “amalgamation” must be distinguished from “assimilation.” “The term amalgamation may be used for that mixture of blood which unites races in a common stock, while assimilation is that union of their minds and wills which enables them to think and act together. Amalgamation is a process of centuries, but assimilation is a process of individual training. Amalgamation is a blending of races, assimilation a blending of civilizations.”

65 Commons, Races and Immigrants in America, 7. Along with Ely, Commons was one of the single most important architects of the positive state in America. Commons earned his Ph.D. under Ely's direction during the early part of his career at Johns Hopkins. After moving to the University of Wisconsin, Ely hired Commons to teach economics. Among other things, Commons played a key role in the elaboration of the “Wisconsin idea,” as well as in the founding and governance of the American Association for Labor Legislation (AALL). Boulding Kenneth, “Institutional Economics—A New Look at Institutionalism,” American Economic Review 7, supp. 1 (May 1957): 7, sums up his influence by declaring that “through his students,” including the AALL's long-time executive director, John B. Andrews, as well as Edwin Witte (the “father of the Social Security Act”) and Wilbur Cohen (“the man who built Medicare”), Commons “was the intellectual origin of the New Deal, of labor legislation, of social security, of the whole movement in this country towards a welfare state.” On Commons's connections to Ely, and his involvement with the AALL, see Moss David A., Socializing Security: Progressive-Era Economists and the Origins of American Social Policy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), chaps. 1–2.

66 Did the Progressives believe that some individuals and/or races were so far inferior as to fall effectively outside of humanity—outside, that is, the group of those who have a right to develop? They certainly believed that the developmental potential of some in a physical, mental, and/or moral respect was so relatively small, that such groups could rightfully be subjugated, even killed, lest their existence magnify problems that would frustrate (or worse) the moral growth of others. Here, as elsewhere, the “general welfare” takes precedence over the right of the individual. As Merriam, American Political Theories, 314, following John W. Burgess harshly notes, “… the Teutonic races must civilize the politically uncivilized… Barbaric races, if incapable, may be swept away; and such action ‘violates no rights of these populations which are not petty and trifling in comparison with its transcendent right and duty to establish political and legal order everywhere.’ ” See also Roosevelt's stunning indifference to the methods by which the Indians in the American West were overcome in Dyer , Theodore Roosevelt and the Idea of Race (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State UP, 1980), 76, 79. Many Progressives also favored weeding “defective classes” out of the larger population, which is why they widely supported “negative eugenics.” As Vecoli Rudolph J., “Sterilization: A Progressive Measure?Wisconsin Magazine of History (Spring, 1960): 194, explains: “Negative eugenics, i.e., the restriction of procreation among the ‘unfit,’ rested on three policies: segregation, restrictive marriage laws, and sterilization.” The purpose of these policies was to reduce the presence in the population of various classes regarded as “defective,” including, among others, the insane, criminals, paupers, the feeble-minded, and epileptics. In 1907, under a progressive legislature and governor, Vecoli, 195, notes, the Wisconsin state legislature approved a measure which “not only prohibited the marriage of epileptic, feeble-minded and insane persons, but declared it a misdemeanor for such defectives to have sexual intercourse as well as to marry and for anyone to unite such persons in marriage.” Between 1907 and 1913, moreover, there was a determined campaign to authorize the forced sterilization of idiotic, imbecile, and epileptic inmates in state and county institutions. This campaign was heartily endorsed by the University of Wisconsin professoriate, including sociologist E. A. Ross—who looked forward to expanding the reach of the project—and President Charles Van Hise. (Ely, Studies in the Evolution of Industrial Society, 163–88, also enthusiastically advocates segregating the “degenerate classes,” that “sad human rubbish heap,” through institutionalization, as well as denying them the right to marry and procreate by virtue of compulsory sterilization.) As Vecoli, 195–201, concludes: “Thus the State University, which was a powerful force in directing Wisconsin Progressivism, cast its weight on the side of eugenic reform.” In 1913, under a progressive legislature and governor, Wisconsin joined eleven other states which had already approved compulsory sterilization.

67 Gilman Charlotte Perkins, “A Suggestion on the Negro Problem,” American Journal of Sociology 14, 1 (July, 1908): 7980.

68 McGerr Michael, A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, 1870–1920 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 191–92.

69 Simon N. Patten, The New Basis of Civilization, 32.

70 Dewey and Tufts, Ethics, 445; see also the section entitled “Restrictions from Inadequate Economic Conditions,” 447. See also Miller Tiffany Jones, “Transforming Formal Freedom into Effective Freedom: John Dewey, the New Deal and the Great Society,” Modern America and the Legacy of the Founding, ed. Pestritto R. J. and West Thomas G. (Lexington Books, 2006).

71 Patten, The New Basis of Civilization, 208.

72 Ibid., 33.

73 Commons, Races and Immigrants in America, 211 and 97 (in relation to the “French Canadians”). See also Edward Alsworth Ross, The Old World in the New, 232–33: “As this country fills up with the densely ignorant, there will be more of this sort of thing [thousands of people gathering at a shrine in Ohio “reputed to possess miraculous healing virtue”]. The characteristic features of the Middle Ages may be expected to appear among us to the degree that our population comes to be composed of persons at the medieval level of culture.” From the Progressives' standpoint, importantly, Americans who continued to advocate the relevance of the Founding principles to American governance were also effectively clinging to the “Social Heredity” of an earlier period. See, for example, Ely, Studies in the Evolution of Industrial Society, 61.

74 Patten, The New Basis of Civilization, 33.

75 See Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “A Suggestion on the Negro Problem,” 78: “Transfusion of blood is a simple matter compared with the transfusion of civilization; yet that is precisely what is going on between us and the negro race.”

76 Merriam, A History of American Political Theories, 313–14.

77 See ibid., 315, note 1.

78 Albert J. Beveridge, “In Support of an American Empire,” Record, 56 Cong., I Sess., pp. 704–12, accessed online at:

79 Burton David H., “Theodore Roosevelt: Confident Imperialist,” The Review of Politics 23 no. 3 (July, 1961); 363, 366.

80 As quoted in ibid., 370, note 42. See also Thomas G. Dyer, Theodore Roosevelt and the Idea of Race 140–41: “Roosevelt regarded both Filipinos and Latin Americans as occupants of low rungs of the civilization ladder…. As ‘backward peoples’ these individuals occupied positions of inferiority in Roosevelt's scheme of things and thus were fair game for American imperialistic desires…. Like the American black, Filipinos and Latin Americans would have to proceed through the slow process of racial evolution before acquiring the skills necessary to manage their own affairs. And like the blacks, Latin Americans and Filipinos could count upon the supervision of white ‘stewards’ as guardians of civilization.”

81 Woodward C. Vann, The Strange Career of Jim Crow (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002; orig. pub. 1955), 7273.

82 On Douglass's advocacy of “the most perfect civil and political equality,” see Peter C. Myers, “Frederick Douglass's America: Race, Justice and the Promise of the American Founding,” accessed online at

83 Woodward, The Strange Career, 53–54.

84 Newby, 143.

85 On the exclusion of whites, see Woodward, The Strange Career, 84. See also McDonagh Eileen L., “Race, Class and Gender in the Progressive Era,” in Progressivism and the New Democracy, eds. Milkis Sidney M. and Mileur Jerome M. (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999), 157. Newby, Jim Crow's Defense, 151, suggests that the exclusion of lower class whites was no less deliberate than that of blacks: “‘The restriction of suffrage in Mississippi was the wisest statesmanship ever exhibited in that proud Commonwealth, and its results have been … beneficent and far-reaching,’ said Congressman Eaton J. Bowers in 1904. ‘We have disfranchised not only the ignorant and vicious black, but the ignorant and vicious white as well, and the electorate in Mississippi is now confined to those, and to those alone, who are qualified by intelligence and character for the proper and patriotic exercise of this great franchise.’ ” See also Murphy Edgar Gardner, Problems of the Present South: A Discussion of Certain of the Educational, Industrial and Political Issues in the Southern States (New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969; originally published in 1904), 192–93: “But there were two defective classes—the unqualified negroes of voting age and the unqualified white men. Both could not be dropped at once…. The unqualified white men of voting age might be eliminated by gradual process, but they must first be included in the partnership of reorganization. Such a decision was a political necessity.”

86 Woodward, 85.

87 Ibid., 97–100. My emphasis.

88 Newby, Jim Crow's Defense, 7–8.

89 Woodward, 90–91.

90 Merriam, A History of American Political Theories, 313.

91 Commons John R., Races and Immigrants in America (New York: The MacMillan Co., 1907), 42–43, 51–52. On the pervasiveness of Commons's view among the Progressive historians, including John W. Burgess and William A. Dunning, see Newby, Jim Crow's Defense: Anti-Negro Thought in America, 1900–1930, 64–67. (Dunning was one of Charles Merriam's teachers and the man to whom Merriam dedicated A History of American Political Theories.) As Dyer, Theodore Roosevelt and the Idea of Race, 92, 97, explains, this was also Theodore Roosevelt's view: Roosevelt “harbored no conviction that the mass of blacks were ready for active involvement in political matters, constitutional amendments notwithstanding. Even the ‘white’ races had to pass through developmental stages before they became fit for self-government…. ‘Such fitness,’ Roosevelt explained in Lamarckian terms, ‘is not a God-given natural right, but comes to a race only through the slow growth of centuries, and then only to those races which possess an immense reserve fund of strength, common sense, and morality.’ For blacks, self-government would be a ‘slowly learned and difficult art which our people have taught themselves by the labor of a thousand years.’ ”

92 Commons, Races and Immigrants, 45; see also Newby, Jim Crow's Defense, 158: “… [A]nti-Negro spokesmen were frequent advocates of the educational, economic, and social improvement of Negroes.”

93 McGerr, Fierce Discontent, 192–3.

94 Newby, Jim Crow's Defense, 48. Murphy, Problems of the Present South, 3–8, 21, 190.

95 Murphy, Problems of the Present South, 176; Murphy, as quoted in McGerr, Fierce Discontent, 192–3. McGerr, ibid., 196, also notes that there were a “few progressives,” like Jane Addams, who disputed segregation on the ground that it discouraged, rather than promoted, the improvement of blacks.

96 Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “A Suggestion on the Negro Problem,” 79.

97 Ibid., 79, 81. As David A. Moss, Socializing Security: Progressive Era Economists and the Origins of American Social Policy, 51, notes, many AALL members “supported the idea of industrial colonies,” like those Gilman proposes for blacks, for “the habitually unemployed.” Moss quotes Elizabeth S. Kite, of the New Jersey Department of Charities and Corrections: “‘The remedy [for “the habitually unemployed”] seems to be segregation… Colonized upon waste land, this class can be made to contribute largely to its own support. Once recognized to be only children in mind, responsibilities beyond their power will no longer be placed upon these dependents or permitted to them. Being children they can easily be made happy and their comfort assured at a cost not exceeding what is at present so ineffectually expanded upon them by charity organizations, while the benefit to society at large and to the labor problem in particular will be immeasurable.’”

98 Schafer, American Progressives and German Social Reform, 1875–1920, 69–70.

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