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Progressive Era Politics Quotes

They Said It

"The day of the combination is here to stay. Individualism has gone, never to return."

- John D. Rockefeller, age 41, in 188069
"The gospel left behind by [railroad magnate] Jay Gould is doing giant work in our days. Its message is 'get money. Get it quickly. Get it in abundance. Get it dishonestly, if you can, honestly if you must.'"

- Mark Twain70
"The scope of a modern government in what it can and ought to accomplish for its people has been widened far beyond the principles laid down by the old "laissez faire" school of political writers, and this widening has met popular approval."71

- President William Howard Taft, inaugural address, 4 March 1909
"The difference between Mr. Wilson and myself is fundamental. The other day in a speech at Sioux Falls, Mr. Wilson stated his position when he said that the history of government, the history of liberty, was the history of the limitation of governmental power. This is true as an academic statement of history in the past. It is not true as a statement affecting the present....The liberty of which Mr. Wilson speaks today means merely the liberty of some great trust magnate to do that which he is not entitled to do. It means merely the liberty of some factory owner to work haggard women over-hours for under-pay and himself to pocket the profits. It means the liberty of the factory owner to close his operatives into some crazy deathtrap on a top floor, where if fire starts, the slaughter is immense....We propose, on the contrary, to extend governmental power in order to secure the liberty of the wage workers, of the men and women who toil in industry, to save the liberty of the oppressed from the oppressor. Mr. Wilson stands for the liberty of the oppressor to oppress. We stand for the limitation of his liberty not to oppress those who are weaker than himself."72

- Theodore Roosevelt, "The Liberty of the People" campaign speech, 1912
"Repeated experiences with Roosevelt had convinced me that in critical situations his action was often in direct opposition to his utterances; that one could reckon on his doing, not the logical consistent thing to carry out a definite policy, but the expedient thing, the thing that achieves temporary success. These elements in his character were matters of constant disappointment as they revealed themselves to me."73

- Wisconsin Governor Robert M. LaFollette, 1913
"But the intellectuals whom the crisis [World War I] has crystallized into an acceptance of war have put themselves into a terrifyingly strategic position. It is only on the craft, in the stream, they say, that one has any chance of controlling the current forces for liberal purposes. If we obstruct, we surrender all power for influence. If we responsibly approve, we then retain our power for guiding. We will be listened to as responsible thinkers, while those who obstructed the coming of war have committed intellectual suicide and shall be cast into outer darkness. Criticism by the ruling powers will only be accepted from those intellectuals who are in sympathy with the general tendency of the war. Well, it is true that they may guide, but if their stream leads to disaster and the frustration of national life, is their guiding any more than a preference whether they shall go over the right-hand or the left-hand side of the precipice?"74

- Randolph Bourne, a 31-year-old author and critic of intellectuals' enthusiastic support of the First World War, 1917
"The stage is set, the destiny disclosed. It has come about by no plan of our conceiving, but by the hand of God who led us into this way. We cannot turn back. We can only go forward, with lifted eyes and freshened spirit, to follow the vision. It was of this that we dreamed at our birth. America shall in truth show the way. The light streams upon the path ahead, and nowhere else."

- President Woodrow Wilson, address to the U.S. Senate on the Treaty of Versailles, 10 July 191975

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