Analyze the factors that led to a political shift away from the conservatism of the 1890s and towards the electoral success of presidential candidates who identified themselves as progressives.

Use the documents and your knowledge of the period 1896 to 1912 to answer the question.



We have escaped from what a large number of people supposed was an immense danger, the danger of having our currency adulterated and our form of government changed, and a band of ignoramuses and anarchists put at the head of what remained of the great American republic. Probably no man in civil life has succeeded in inspiring so much terror, without taking a life, as Bryan.

. . . The whole episode has been utterly discreditable to our politics, as conducted by politicians. Could anything better reveal the character of our nominating system than the fact that the nominating convention of one of our two great parties could be taken possession of by a few adventurers, that the platform could be drawn, in the main, by a noted anarchist, and an unknown man nominated on it simply because the audience was pleased with one of his metaphors, and that it should drive away from it all the party’s men of light and leading before going to the country?

Source: The Nation, November 5, 1896.



Source: News photograph, Galveston, Texas, September 9, 1900



          If there was a combination or conspiracy in violation of the act of Congress, between the stockholders of the Great Northern and the Northern Pacific Railway Companies, whereby the Northern Securities Company was formed as a holding corporation, and whereby interstate commerce over the lines of the constituent companies was restrained, it must follow that the court, in execution of that act, and to defeat the efforts to evade it, could prohibit the parties to the combination from doing the specific things which, being done, would affect the result denounced by the act. To say that the court could not go so far is to say that it is powerless to enforce the act or to suppress the illegal combination, and powerless to protect the rights of the public as against that combination.

Source: The Supreme Court decision in Northern Securities Co. v. United States, 1904




Source:  McClure's Magazine cover, July, 1905.



Mr. Chairman, I remember twenty years ago when the Interstate Commerce Act was being

discussed in this House. I remember with what zeal that measure was attacked as destructive to the great interests of the country, revolutionary in character, full of socialism. It was a measure that was to introduce then, as now, European methods in place of American, and was in the direction of an experiment that would be fatal to the great commercial institutions of the country, and it was amidst denunciations of that character, prophecies of that doleful nature, that the legislation was had and that the bill became law. What one of these prophecies in the fullness of time do we now recognize as facts? Not one.

Source:  Representative William P. Hepburn, February 7, 1906.



When La Follette began his open fight against the System in 1894, he took up the issues of inequalities in taxation, machine politics, and primary elections . . .

. . . So La Follette had to go on with his fight. He would not "behave." His followers wanted him to lead an independent movement for Governor; he wouldn’t do that, but he made up his mind to lead a movement for reform within the party, and his experience with corrupt delegates set him to thinking about methods of nomination. The System loomed large with the growth of corporate wealth, the power of huge consolidations over the individual, and the unscrupulous use of both money and power. Democracy was passing, and yet the people were sound. Their delegates at home were representatives, but shipped on passes to Milwaukee, treated, "entertained," and bribed, they ceased to represent. The most important reform was to get the nomination back among the voters themselves. Thus La Follette, out of his own experience, took up this issue – direct primary nominations by the Australian ballot . . .

Source:  Lincoln Steffens, The Struggle for Self-Government, 1906.



It may well be that the determination of the government to punish certain malefactors of great wealth has been responsible for something of the troubles, at least to the extent of having caused these men to bring about as much financial stress as they can in order to discredit the policy of the government.

Source:  Theodore Roosevelt letter, August, 1907.



. . . screaming men and women and boys and girls crowded out on the many window ledges and threw themselves into the streets far below. They jumped with their clothing ablaze. The hair of some of the girls streamed up aflame as they leaped. Thud after thud sounded on the pavements. It is a ghastly fact that on both the Greene Street and Washington Place sides of the building there grew mounds of the dead and dying . . . From opposite windows spectators saw again and again pitiable companionships formed in the instant of death – girls who placed their arms around each other as they leaped.

Source:  The New York World, March 26, 1911.



Number of Socialist Votes, 1900 – 1912

Election Year




















Source:  Congressional Quarterly’s Guide to U.S. Elections (for gubernatorial and congressional),
Historical Statistics of the United States
(for presidential).



          What we dimly see to-day is not the promise of a permanent plutocracy, nor democratic institutions graciously conceded by repentant money lords, but the native growth of a democratic spirit . . . 
           That this democratic evolution is already preparing is overlooked by him who runs. The development is too multiform and bewildering, and we are too near. If we fix our gaze at one point in progress, we conclude that results are small. If, however, we look over the field and note progress in a succession of social efforts, we are amazed at our advance. A democratic reform is instituted in one of our States with a blazon of trumpets. Thereafter we hear rumors of its working ill or well. Then silence. A dozen years later, we are surprised to learn that half the States have adopted the new institution, and soon we forget the evil conditions which preceded, and think of the reform no longer as an improvement, but as a thing upon which we are absurdly slow to improve . . .

Source:  Walter E. Weyl, The New Democracy, 1912.





The Nation, November 5, 1896  as quoted from Bailey and Kennedy The American   Spirit, vol 2, 8th ed.  (pgs. 164-165).
B Library of Congress photograph, a GIF file downloaded from The 1900 Storm: Galveston  Island, Texas     
@    http://www.1900storm.com/   
Excerpt from the Supreme Court decision in Northern Securities Co. vs. the United States, 1904  available at  FindLaw: Supreme Court Cases  @   http://laws.findlaw.com/US/193/197.html   
 McClure's Magazine cover, July, 1905  scanned image from Chernow, Ron. Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. NY: Random House, 1998.  (facing page 522)
William P. Hepburn, Speech on Railroad Reform, February 7, 1906  --  as quoted from Richard & Beatrice Hofstadter's Great Issues in American History, vol. III (pages 268-269)
Steffens, Lincoln. "The System of Bob La Follette: A Muckraker's Tale."  Sources of the American Republic: A Documentary History of Politics, Society, and Thought. vol.2, Meyers, Marvin, Alexander Kern, and John G. Cawelti. Fair Lawn, NJ: Scott, Foresman, and Company, 1961.  (quoted from pages 112-113)
August, 1907 letter from Theodore Roosevelt  --  as quoted from  Lord, Walter. The Good Years: From 1900 to the First World War. NY: Harper & Brothers, 1960.  (page 180)
The New York World, March 26, 1911  --  as quoted from Zinn, Howard.  A People's History of the United States: 1492 - Present. NY: HarperPerennial, 1995.  (page 319)
 Chart - "Number of Socialist Votes, 1900 - 1912"  --  as quoted from Boyer, Paul.  Todd & Curti's The American Nation. NY: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1995.  (page 546)
Weyl, Walter E. "'The New Spirit:' Piecemeal Revolution" The New Democracy, 1912 --  as quoted from Meyers, et al. Sources of the American Republic: A Documentary History of Politics, Society, and Thought. vol. 2  (page 120)


DBQ Question created by:

Mr. Bob McHugh
Saucon Valley H. S.
Hellertown, PA
created in:  April, 2000