Date of Award
Senior Scholars Paper (Open Access)
Colby College. Government Dept.
This study has attenpted to explain the nature of the institutions from 1865-1905 that made it inevitable that manipulators of persons on the grand scale should emerge to take control where there was, temporarily, a political-sccial vacuum to be filled. A nation of individuals., accustomed to the idea that each person must fend for himself as an independent unit, moved into an age of interdependence. The people, however. were slow to recognize this fact and slow to organize the institutions which such an era required. Ray Stannard Baker in his American Chronicle has caught the feelings of the average man in this traumatic period: What a different world I knew from that of our ancestors! They had the wilderness, I had crowds. I found teeming, jostling, restless cities; I found immense smoking, roaring industries...I found hugeness and disorder...I found dishonest politics and greedy businessmen. While we were not without evil enough there on the frontier, it was not concentrated and complex and overpowering. In short, it was a crowded world I found; how was I to 1ive in it? How was a man to look at it; what was he to do? was it possible for any man ... to live hnppily in it? This terrible new struggle for existence among tne people was brought about, in large part, by the phenomenal growth of American business and, especially, of the corporation. The uprooted villagers and farmers who had come to live and work in the city were used to a life based on primary human contacts- the family, church, and neighborhood--and now the actuality of the community was on the decline. The major characteristic of this new economic unit was its impersonality and unprecedented distance from its customers if any malpractices occurred. This new unrighteousness did not advertise its vileness, and so it was possible for inquity to flourish greatly. There was little likelihood that a new set of ethics could suddenly spring into being to accomodate the new, abstract relations between manufacturer and consumer. It was inevitable that all these problems connected with the economic and social aspects of American life should be carried over into politics, for these population centers had to be run, and politics was the method by which communities worked out their common problems. Politics demand organization, and organization calls for leadership. There must be men with the genius to organize and lead the people. The greatest weakness of this period seems to me to be the failure of responsible people to assume this leadership in politics. "Good" people were too busy to care about how local, state, or national government was administered; to them, politics was a dirty game. Because of this prevalent attitude, a political vacuum was created in which a man like Tom Watson, who appealed to the people through his crusades against the "menaces" or James Blaine, who had glamour or "magnetism" to offer his constituents, could gain much more power than they were capable of handling. Neither is it hard to understand that a country enamoured of organization would accept a highly organized political machine to cope with the problems of politics. My case studies of Watson, Blaine, Hanna, and the city boss have been of men who saw their opportunities and took them in this period of maximal transition from a rural to an industrial nation. The conditions and temper of tne times influenced these men -- they received their power through an appeal to the prevailing frustrations of their constituents. Only when these "frustrations" were removed could one expect to see a different type of political leader achieve success. I have included Bob LaFollette in this paper because I believe that he was the first of these new leaders. His rise to power came about only because the attitude of Americans toward politics had changed gradually since 1865. By 1900, the average citizen could see that there were definite benefits to the emering organization of life in the United States, but that this same organization was also destroying the value of individualism. America was losing its soul; what was to be the future of the unorganized man - the artist, the writer, the professional man, and the farmer? As business continued to grow, men were haunted by the fear that private power would become far greater than that power possessed by state and federal government. Once the American man began to follow this line of thinking a genuine and sincere awakening to the social, economic, and political ills that had so long afflicted the country came about under the label of Progressivism. In writing this paper, I have come to realize that our politicians are what they are--for better or for worse--because of ourselves; the myth of the "blameless public" has been indulged in too long. Courage and timidity, indignation or complacency register in the makeup of our politicians and through them are impressed upon our national character. Americans must learn to see themselves as others politick them.
Political corruption, United States, History, United States -- Politics and government -- 1865-1900, United States -- Politics and government -- 1901-1909, United States, History, 1865-1921
Recommended CitationCameron, John, "Political behavior in a time of crisis, 1865-1905" (1957). Senior Scholar Papers. Paper 39.
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