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Reform in America

Reform in America: The Continuing Frontier

Copyright Date: 1985
Pages: 280
  • Book Info
    Reform in America
    Book Description:

    "In discussing slavery and woman's rights, social security and the graduated income tax," writes Robert Walker, "the reformers have defined and redefined America." Recognizing in the history of reform a prime source for the discovery of cultural priorities, Walker seeks in Reform in America to organize the reform experience in a new way, so that its collective patterns can be seen.

    Reform in America identifies three principal streams of reform advocacy in American history. Politico-economic issues, the mainstream of reform, are exemplified by a detailed study of the politics of money from 1832 to 1913. Reform on behalf of special groups, the second major category, is illuminated by the examples of movements on behalf of blacks and women and by an examination of the civil liberties and civil rights movements, which again have been principally concerned with the extension of rights and liberties to particular groups. A third category is established by connecting communitarianism, utopianism, and visionary planning to form a tradition through which ideal alternatives are offered to the existing social order.

    Walker's interpretation minimizes the stark contrasts in social activity and underlines those continuous forces that have moved American society steadily in the direction of broadened political participation, increased concern for special groups, and a dynamic sequence of cultural goals. He thus draws our attention to what may be America's most lasting frontier -- the management of social change toward certain general objectives. The appreciation of reform, in the end, requires an adjusted perception of the national character, one that sees competitive individualism as at least balanced and perhaps outweighed by a demonstrated preoccupation with the common weal.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6489-2
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-ix)
    (pp. x-x)
  5. ENCOUNTER 1 Jack London Meets London
    (pp. 1-4)

    At the end of the Boer War the Amencan Press Association wired Jack London in California, asking if this exciting writer of rising reputation would go to South Afnca and do a series of articles on postwar conditions.¹ Putting aside his final corrections forChildren of the Frost,London started eastward by Pullman on the Overland Limited. The soft sheen of the veneered sleeping compartment, the attentive ministrations of dining-car walters, the worldly conversation of the club car—all brought back to his sensitive conscience the memones of an earlier tnp along the same route but in a decidedly different...

  6. Introduction
    (pp. 5-14)

    The immediate purpose of this work is to propose a way of organizing what we know about reform. This is not a simple proposition. It is complicated by our knowing both too much and too little. Our bookshelves are full of biographies of Frances Willard and Horace Greeley, analyses of the silver question and populism, samplings of protest and voting behavior, histories of abolition and chronicles of the woman’s rights movement. Yet there are but a handful of large views of reform. Added to the problem of scope is the fact that insights come from so many directions: not only...

  7. ENCOUNTER 2 Connecticut Meets Abraham Bishop
    (pp. 15-18)

    In the early years of Yale a banner-occasron was the annual Phi Beta Kappa address presented on the eve of the college commencement. The most exciting of these ceremonial occasions took place in the year 1800. The excitement was caused not by the Phi Betta Kappa lecture but by the man who didnotdeliver it. Abraham Bishop was born in 1763 to Samuel Bishop, a respected pillar of Connecticut political life who served fifty years as assemblyman, town clerk, deacon, and mayor¹ The precocrous son qualified for college just before his twelfth birthday and entered the notable Yale Class...


    • CHAPTER 1 The Mainstream and the Politics of Money
      (pp. 21-41)

      Because it was, among other things, a politico-economic reform movement, the American Revolution makes a good starting place for a consideration of the main currents in reform. The Revolution, however, did not open without a prologue—a prologue stretching back to the earliest records of Western civilization. While it is not essential here to make these connections in detail, it is important to note that the impulse which guided the Revolution and pointed the new nation toward a continuing process of social change did not spring miraculously into being with the signing of the Declaration of Independence or the tolling...

    • CHAPTER 2 The Mainstream Analyzed
      (pp. 42-61)

      To superimpose the narrative sketch of a movement (Chapter 2) on a detailed recording of its essential events (Appendix) is to stress one point above all: perspective makes a crucial difference. Although the greater distance provides the final appreciation of the composition, the near view shows the preparation of the canvas and the technique. Each prospect helps in its own way to understand the process of change.

      Even to skim lightly over a recapitulation of events, year by year, is to become unavoidably aware of the intertwining of political and economic events. A tract or a platform takes on its...

    • ENCOUNTER 3 Garrison Meets Walker
      (pp. 62-64)

      Sometimes the reform expenence defines itself in the meeting of two great forces. In the antislavery crusade there were not two men more greatly feared and reviled than William Lloyd Garrison and David Walker. South of the MasonDixon line each had a price on his head that escalated as the verbal war against slavery progressed. Garnson spoke out longer, more directly and uncompromisingly than any other white agitator. Walker’s famous Appeal, found in the hands of a slave, was taken as circumstantial evidence that the slave planned revolt or escape. Garnson and Walker met in print on January 8, 1831....


    • CHAPTER 3 Outside the Mainstream: Reform Constants
      (pp. 67-84)

      One facet of the national personality shows the mainstream as a strong current which must be navigated upstream. Floating toward the delta induces a softness and Sybaritism alien to the vigorous New World. To be insinuated into the headwaters without vanquishing the rapids. as by inherited wealth or unmerited privilege, is to have been excommunicated from life’s central religion: self-help, achievement, success. Therefore, since no serious individual would wish more than the chance to rise as far as merit and diligence would take him, extra difficulties come as a kind of blessing. To be born poor (but of honest parents)...

    • CHAPTER 4 The Double Cycle: Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
      (pp. 85-112)

      Politico-economic reform illustrates the classic sequence. Each cause, typically, moves through five stages: random negative, structured negative, random positive, structured positive, and—if the process gets that far—institutionalization. It would appear that the important movements on behalf of special groups follow this same sequence but with a vital difference: they experience ittwice.The first sequence is aimed at rescuing the group from extreme hardship, neglect, or exploitation. The positive stages aim for the creation of an improved setting outside the mainstream but loosely comparable: in other words, “separate but equal.”

      The first cycle culminates in the establishment of...

    • ENCOUNTER 4 Wabash College Meets Lizzie Boynton
      (pp. 113-116)

      Gazing into the clear blue eyes of Elizabeth Morrison Boynton Harbert, one recognizes a sweet reason that has its limits of forbearance. She was not a large woman, but her comely head, rather wide at the cheekbones, was set on a neck that was far from fragile and a pair of sloping shoulders that would have done credit to an Olympic swimmer. An experienced predator would have known, instinctively, to avoid Lizzie Boynton’s nest.

      Yet for all her air of strength and self-sufficiency, this woman would never have sought conflict. Though strongly fashoned, she valued most the social, intellectual, and...


    • CHAPTER 5 Communes and Literary Utopias
      (pp. 119-138)

      Prone, exhausted from endless hours at a power loom, the worker dreams of a world in which no human becomes the slave of a machine. Triumphant after creating an empire of drygoods, the entrepreneur imagines an entire society based on the organization and efficiency that brought him success. Having witnessed warfare—the blood of battle, the brutality of industrial conflict—the visionary labor leader conjures up a way of life exempt from destructive competition. If I were king ...

      The lure of the ideal is universal. Those diverse delegates who assembled to give California a constitution agreed on a limited...

    • CHAPTER 6 Twentieth-Century Models
      (pp. 139-155)

      No single version of the ideal society dominated America in the early days of the present century. The utopian romance, so popular in the 1890s, was fading from view. Although there has never been a time when experimental communities did not exist, these settlements were far from the center of public attention. Yet the utopian spirit was not dead.

      Reformers were finding new ways to offer alternative models. At the more practical end of the spectrum were the planners of model cities, suburbs, and regions who were by no means averse to suggesting that social melioration would result from the...

    • ENCOUNTER 5 California Meets Its Makers
      (pp. 156-160)

      To think of California in 1849 is to think of gold: hillsides pocked with diggings and speckled with hopeful prospectors, picks and rockers in hand. In the valleys erupted the boomtowns, their unpaved roads a muddy avenue to brothels, saloons, and gambling houses. Down by the bay lay that greatest of all the boomtowns, San Francisco, where building sites could be had one day for $15 and the next day brought $8,000, where wheat fluctuated between $20 and $800 a barrel, and where almost everything seemed either too scarce or too plentiful.

      This setting, chaotic in many respects, seems unlikely...


    • CHAPTER 7 Putting It Together
      (pp. 163-186)

      The new nation enjoyed, at birth, a healthy heritage of protest and reform. For this it owed some debts to the colonists who had cultivated the habit of protest against Crown, parliament, and local authority. Along with their Whig counterparts in England they had developed the telling broadside, the incendiary pamphlet, and the well-argued political essay. There was a militant press. There was a large cast of exceptionally strong individual social actors whom we now call the Founding Fathers.

      This social momentum, accelerated by the act of revolution, created a climate which demanded certain political advances. The state and federal...

    • CHAPTER 8 Performance and Values: The Meaning of Reform
      (pp. 187-206)

      Can reform be measured? Does the understanding of social change alter the attribution of cultural values? This chapter accumulates evidence in answer to these questions. Although the inquiries begin from totally different perspectives, they lead to strikingly similar conclusions.

      The first half of the promise of politico-economic reform is to broaden the access to democratic government and to make participation more effective. In many obvious ways this promise has been repeatedly fulfilled. Offices that once were appointive or indirectly elected are now directly subject to the popular vote. Some state and local governments have tried initiative and referendum, proportional representation...

    • ENCOUNTER 6 Gurley Flynn Meets the Midnight ACLU
      (pp. 207-210)

      At eight P.M., May 7, 1940, in the City Club of New York, the Board of the Amencan Civil Liberties Union assembled for what was to be the most unusual meeting in its brief history. The air was filled with the same Intense political emotions as when, only some twenty years earlier, Roger Baldwin and a few likeminded individuals had founded an organization to protect the rights of those who wished to speak out for unpopular views. In the short time since its founding, the ACLU had come to stand, more resoundingly than any comparable group, for the defense of...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 211-236)
  13. APPENDIX: A Chronology of the Money Question
    (pp. 237-257)
    (pp. 258-262)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 263-270)