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How the Eighteen Issues advanced in this Website relate to the Republican Party platform of 1860 and the Progressive Party platform of 1912


The Republican Party convention of 1860, which nominated Abraham Lincoln for President, adopted a set of resolutions that were mainly concerned with preventing dissolution of the union and opposition to the spread of slavery. These are no longer of concern today.

Two issues raised in the platform of 1860 continue to be relevant: (1) concern over lavish government spending, especially to benefit the favored few, and (2) trade protection to promote the nation’s industrial development. The resolution reads:

“ 6. That the people justly view with alarm the reckless extravagance which pervades every department of the Federal Government; that a return to rigid economy and accountability is indispensable to arrest the systematic plunder of the public treasury by favored partisans ..”

“ 12. That while providing revenue for the support of the general government by duties upon imports, sound policy requires such an adjustment of these imposts as to encourage the development of the industrial interests of the whole country.”

 

The Progressive Party convention of 1912, which nominated Theodore Roosevelt for President, adopted a platform which raised issues that continue to be relevant in the 21st century. Some of its more notable propositions were women’s suffrage, direct popular election of U.S. Senators, and the progressive income tax. These became law through constitutional amendment.

In a statement on “the old (Democratic and Republican) parties”, the platform states: “ Political parties exist to secure responsible government and to execute the will of the people. Instead of instruments to promote the general welfare, they have become the tools of corrupt interests which use them impartially to serve their selfish purposes. Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people.”

Under “corrupt practices”, it declares: “We pledge our party to legislation that will compel strict limitation of all campaign contributions and expenditures, and detailed publicity of both before as well as after primaries and elections.”

Today’s critics of the Federal Reserve system (created in 1914) should find this plank interesting: “The issue of currency is fundamentally a Government function and the system should have as basic principles soundness and elasticity. The control should be lodged with the Government and should be protected from domination or manipulation by Wall Street or any special interests. We are opposed to the so-called Aldrich currency bill, because its provisions would place our currency and credit system in private hands, not subject to effective public control.”

Those who are upset by judges who legislate from the bench may be inspired by this recommendation: “The Progressive party demands such restriction of the power of the courts as shall leave to the people the ultimate authority to determine fundamental questions of social welfare and public policy. To secure this end, it pledges itself to provide: (1) That when an Act, passed under the police power of the State is held unconstitutional under the State Constitution, by the courts, the people, after an ample interval for deliberation, shall have an opportunity to vote on the question whether they desire the Act to become law, notwithstanding such decision. (2) That every decision of the highest appellate court of a State declaring an Act of the Legislature unconstitutional on the ground of its violation of the Federal Constitution shall be subject to the same review by the Supreme Court of the United States as is now accorded to decisions sustaining such legislation.”

However, the main concern to be addressed in this page is the extent to which the website’s eighteen issues accord with provisions of the 1912 Progressive Party platform. It would appear that nine of the eighteen issues receive direct support in the platform while the other eight are not addressed. The supported issues are #1, #2, #3, #6, #7, #13, #14, #15, and #16. None of the other nine issues are in opposition to any plank in the Progressive Party platform. They are simply not addressed.

Let us discuss the eighteen issues in turn.

 

1. Should the United States maintain a strong military to defend our territory and project American power to advance our interests abroad; or should we cut back on military spending and rely more on international institutions such as the United Nations to maintain global security?

Neither the League of Nations nor the United Nations existed in 1912 so there was no consideration of international institutions. However, the platform generally criticizes war as a means of settling political conflicts. It states:

“The Progressive party deplores the survival in our civilization of the barbaric system of warfare among nations with its enormous waste of resources even in time of peace, and the consequent impoverishment of the life of the toiling masses. We pledge the party to use its best endeavors to substitute judicial and other peaceful means of settling international differences.” (Peace and National Defense section)

 

2. Should the U.S. government rely on stimulus spending and public works to ease unemployment during recessions; or should government address the long-term employment problems by reducing the hours of work?

In 1912, the era of government deficit spending as recommended by Keynes had not yet arrived. With respect to working hours, the eight-hour day was then labor’s principal objective. The five-day week came along in the 1920s and 1930s. The Progressive Party adopted the following position in work hours:

“ The supreme duty of the Nation is the conservation of human resources through an enlightened measure of social and industrial justice. We pledge ourselves to work unceasingly in State and Nation for: ... the general prohibition of night work for women and the establishment of an eight hour day for women and young persons; one day's rest in seven for all wage workers; the eight hour day in continuous twenty-four hour industries” (included in Social and Industrial Justice section)

 

3. Should taxes never be raised, even upon the wealthy; or should tax increases be an option, along with reduced spending, when government runs deficits?

The Progressive Party took a strong stance in favor of the federal income tax and the inheritance tax, affecting primarily wealthy persons. The party platform declared:

“We believe in a graduated inheritance tax as a National means of equalizing the obligations of holders of property to Government, and we hereby pledge our party to enact such a Federal law as will tax large inheritances, returning to the States an equitable percentage of all amounts collected. We favor the ratification of the pending amendment to the Constitution giving the Government power to levy an income tax.” (Inheritance and Income Tax section)

 

4. Is the increased national debt is not a major concern because the United States is big enough to finance the world economy; or do we need to take steps now to reduce the deficit and consider long-term strategies for dealing with the staggering sums of dollars held by foreigners?

The national debt, then being low, was not a significant issue in 1912. The Progressive Party platform does not address it.

 

5. Is the Civil Rights model of politics beneficial for Americans; or is it time to put racial, gender, and other divisions behind us, adopt color-blind policies, and let all types of people have self-determined, positive identities?

A significant omission by the standards of today’s politics would be the failure of the 1912 Progressive Party platform to address racial problems, discrimination, and other issues that have come to the fore since the 1950s. In 1912, many former slaves were still alive and the southern segregationist system was intact. Yet, the party platform was silent on such matters.

Theodore Roosevelt’s own stance on the race question had become clear when in 1901 he invited Booker T. Washington to lunch in the White House. It is also clear that the issue of slavery was not yet the demonizing agent that it later became. The Progressive Party platform included this recommendation in its Pensions section:

“(W)e approve the policy of the southern States in granting pensions to the ex-Confederate soldiers and sailors and their widows and children.”

 

6. Would government be intruding on the free market if it mandated certain rights and protections for employees; or is the right of businesses to operate in a community predicated upon the health and well being of that community, including its working people?

The Progressive Party took a strong stance in favor of worker protection, including the right of working people to form unions. It held that government had an obligation to intervene in the free-market economy where workers’ safety and well being were at risk. The platform declared:

“The supreme duty of the Nation is the conservation of human resources through an enlightened measure of social and industrial justice. We pledge ourselves to work unceasingly in State and Nation for:

Effective legislation looking to the prevention of industrial accidents, occupational diseases, overwork, involuntary unemployment, and other injurious effects incident to modern industry; The fixing of minimum safety and health standards for the various occupations, and the exercise of the public authority of State and Nation, including the Federal Control over interstate commerce, and the taxing power, to maintain such standards; The prohibition of child labor; Minimum wage standards for working women, to provide a "living wage" in all industrial occupations;

The general prohibition of night work for women and the establishment of an eight hour day for women and young persons; One day's rest in seven for all wage workers; The eight hour day in continuous twenty-four hour industries; The abolition of the convict contract labor system; substituting a system of prison production for governmental consumption only; and the application of prisoners' earnings to the support of their dependent families;

Publicity as to wages, hours and conditions of labor; full reports upon industrial accidents and diseases, and the opening to public inspection of all tallies, weights, measures and check systems on labor products; Standards of compensation for death by industrial accident and injury and trade disease which will transfer the burden of lost earnings from the families of working people to the industry, and thus to the community; The protection of home life against the hazards of sickness, irregular employment and old age through the adoption of a system of social insurance adapted to American use ...

We favor the organization of the workers, men and women, as a means of protecting their interests and of promoting their progress.” (Social and Industrial Justice section)

 

7. Are concerns about degradation of the natural environment generally overblown; or do today’s policy makers have an urgent obligation to conserve and protect natural resources for the sake of future generations?

The Progressive Party, party of Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, also took a strong stance on conservation of the natural environment. Among other things, its platform said:

“ The natural resources of the Nation must be promptly developed and generously used to supply the people's needs, but we cannot safely allow them to be wasted, exploited, monopolized or controlled against the general good. We heartily favor the policy of conservation, and we pledge our party to protect the National forests without hindering their legitimate use for the benefit of all the people ... We believe that the remaining forests, coal and oil lands, water powers and other natural resources still in State or National control (except agricultural lands) are more likely to be wisely conserved and utilized for the general welfare if held in the public hands.” (Conservation section)

 

8. Should those who entered the United States illegally be sent back to their country of origin, be given full citizenship; or be allowed to stay but be required to register and their employers be required to pay a surtax to cover the social costs incurred by local governments?

In 1912, there were few restrictions on immigration so the issue of “illegal immigration” did not exist. The Progressive Party platform dealt with immigration from the standpoint of treating immigrant populations humanely and integrating them into the American melting pot. It declared:

“Through the establishment of industrial standards we propose to secure to the able-bodied immigrant and to his native fellow workers a larger share of American opportunity. We denounce the fatal policy of indifference and neglect which has left our enormous immigrant population to become the prey of chance and cupidity. We favor Governmental action to encourage the distribution of immigrants away from the congested cities, to rigidly supervise all private agencies dealing with them and to promote their assimilation, education and advancement.“ (section on The Immigrant)

 

9. Do local governments have an absolute right to conduct building and other inspections any way they please; or should their decisions be subject to review by a higher authority when they appear unrelated to building safety or public health?

This issue was not addressed.

 

10. Can the American people trust that their government’s greatly expanded intelligence and security apparatus continues to serve their interest; or is it time to investigate the potentially violent networks that exist within the federal government and, in particular, conduct a new inquiry into the tragic events that occurred on 9/11?

In 1912, the FBI was a small agency called the Bureau of Investigation and the CIA did not yet exist. The United States did not maintain a far-flung military empire. The tragic events of 9/11 were far in the future.

 

11. Should political correctness rule; or should government continue broadly to uphold the right of free speech and free thought?

The modern varieties of political correctness that have proved so pernicious did not yet exist.

 

12. Should the current war on illegal drugs be continued; or should we consider legalizing all or some of them?

In 1912, alcohol was the drug that ignited a war. Political progressives and others worked to make it illegal. That experiment ultimately failed. We should learn from experience. Governmental power has limits. Let those who would contaminate their own bodies learn their own limitations and renounce drugs on their own accord or accept treatment. We must provide other options.

 

13. Does the United States, embracing the principles of free enterprise, have the best system of medicine in the world, or should government play a greater role in the health care industry, either as a health insurer or a direct provider of medical care?

Progressive Republicans did not have a phobia about socialized medicine but thought government had a role in promoting public health. It favored prevention of illness as opposed to the more expensive treatment pushed by today’s medical lobbying groups. The 1912 party platform included this statement concerning health:

“ We favor the union of all the existing agencies of the Federal Government dealing with the public health into a single national health service without discrimination against or for any one set of therapeutic methods, school of medicine, or school of healing with such additional powers as may be necessary to enable it to perform efficiently such duties in the protection of the public from preventable diseases as may be properly undertaken by the Federal authorities, including the executing of existing laws regarding pure food, quarantine and cognate subjects, the promotion of vital statistics and the extension of the registration area of such statistics, and co-operation with the health activities of the various States and cities of the Nation. (Health section)

 

14. Has the federal government done enough to address the abuses on Wall Street, or should other steps be taken to limit the power of large financial institutions?

Wall Street abuse was evident a century ago and progressives took the lead in urging government to control it by more aggressive regulation. Members of Congress were then able to be elected without contributions from the financial-services industry. The Progressive Party took this position on investments:

“The people of the United States are swindled out of many millions of dollars every year, through worthless investments. The plain people, the wage earner and the men and women with small savings, have no way of knowing the merit of concerns sending out highly colored prospectuses offering stock for sale, prospectuses that make big returns seem certain and fortunes easily within grasp. We hold it to be the duty of the Government to protect its people from this kind of piracy. We, therefore, demand wise, carefully thought out legislation that will give us such Governmental supervision over this matter as will furnish to the people of the United States this much-needed protection, and we pledge ourselves thereto.” (section on Government Supervision over Investments)

Under its policies relating to business, the Progressive platform declared:

“We therefore demand a strong National regulation of inter-State corporations. The corporation is an essential part of modern business. The concentration of modem business, in some degree, is both inevitable and necessary for national and international business efficiency. But the existing concentration of vast wealth under a corporate system, unguarded and uncontrolled by the Nation, has placed in the hands of a few men enormous, secret, irresponsible power over the daily life of the citizen, a power insufferable in a free Government and certain of abuse.” (Business section)

 

15. Should the U.S. government continue to pursue policies of free trade, or should it work with other national governments in developing a new model of trade that encourages better business practices with respect to labor and the natural environment?

Progressive Republicans would hardly know what to make of the dire warnings made concerning “protectionist” policies other than to recognize that such appeals emanated from the same business interests (and their academic wards) that abused the public in other areas. Of particular interest is the progressive principle that trade policy ought to serve the needs of working people. Outsourced jobs to low-wage countries would not qualify. The Progressive Party platform favored a tariff that would equalize the terms of competition between producing nations. It said:

“ We believe in a protective tariff which shall equalize conditions of competition between the United States and foreign countries, both for the farmer and the manufacturer, and which shall maintain for labor an adequate standard of living. Primarily the benefit of any tariff should be disclosed in the pay envelope of the laborer. We declare that no industry deserves protection which is unfair to labor or which is operating in violation of Federal law.” (Tariff section)

 

16. Should the U.S. government put increasing amounts of money into higher education because this is an “investment in the future” that will make our nation more competitive; or is the requirement of a college education without suitable jobs an injustice placed upon young people, especially when student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy?

Support for higher education was not discussed at the 1912 Progressive Party convention.

 

17. Is urban traffic a problem best left to individuals and the free market; or should the federal government fund research and demonstration projects designed to cut down on urban traffic congestion and the resulting use of petroleum products?

From the beginning, the Republican Party has supported federally funded programs for transportation infrastructure. The party's platform in 1860 calls for a Congressional appropriation "for river and Harbor improvements of a National character" and for "a railroad to the Pacific ocean" that would facilitate "overland mail service." The Progressive Party platform of 1912 states: "We recognize the vital importance of good roads and we pledge our party to foster their extension in every proper way, and we favor the early construction of National highways." (Good Roads section) It also stated: "The rivers of the United States are the natural arteries of this continent. We demand that they shall be opened to traffic as indispensable parts of a great Nation-wide system of transportation, in which the Panama Canal will be the central link, thus enabling the whole interior of the United States to share with the Atlantic and Pacific seaboards in the benefit derived from the canal." (Waterways section) Third, President Eisenhower pushed the development of the Interstate highway system.

Today's transportation need concerns highway congestion and the need to reduce gasoline consumption. In viewing the federal government as a source of funding, we are consistent with earlier progressive Republican policies.

 

18. Should the U.S. government put all its resources toward meeting people’s needs on earth; or should it support a program to create a sustainable human colony in outer space?

This topic was not discussed at the 1912 Progressive Party convention.

 

In summary, the Progressive ("Bull Moose") Party in 1912 adopted a set of specific policy proposals. Some became law and some remain unfinished business. I think it's fair to say that the eighteen issues or policy positions proposed in this website's "progressive Republican" agenda bear a reasonable resemblance to them. We progressives can claim the mantle of the Republican tradition at least as well as our conservative friends. And, remember, it was Republicans rather than Democrats who popularized the term, "progressive", in U.S. politics. By the time that Henry Wallace embraced it in 1948, the progressive movement was a fraction of its former self.

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