8 - Progressivism, Democratic Style  pp. 229-254

Progressivism, Democratic Style

By Robert Harrison

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“The chief difference between the Democratic and the Republican parties,” declared Woodrow Wilson in 1910, “is that in the Republican party the reactionaries are in the minority, whereas in the Republican party they are in the majority.” Senator Francis G. Newlands agreed that the Democratic party had for years been the chief repository of progressive sentiment. “Our propaganda embraced every feature of the contentions since so vigorously voiced by Roosevelt, La Follette and Cummins…. Every plank of every progressive Republican platform which … has been adopted is but a replica of previous Democratic platforms.” Only the dramatic interjection of Theodore Roosevelt into the political arena had obscured the extent to which the Republican party remained, essentially, the party of reaction. His success in “forcing Democratic measures upon his reluctant and disgusted party … has tended to check the trend of events, which was rapidly creating a distinct cleavage between the two parties, along the lines of radicalism and conservatism.” But it was a mistake to suppose that he had “radicalized the Republican party,” whose leadership remained steadfastly conservative. What success he had achieved was due instead to the support of Democratic members of Congress.

In view of their proven need for Democratic votes, insurgent Republicans were remarkably contemptuous of their occasional allies. George Norris dismissively remarked that “the progressive and independent members are confined almost entirely to the Republican party in the House of Representatives,” forgetting the extent to which the passage of his own resolution for rules reform depended on Democratic votes.