Date of Award

5-2013

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Legacy Department

History

Advisor

Grant, Roger

Committee Member

Grubb , Alan

Committee Member

Andrew , Rod

Abstract

In the decades immediately following the Civil War, the impetus for
industrialization and technological development which had helped propel the Union
to victory began to dramatically pick up speed, engendering staggering changes in
almost every facet of American economic and social. Indeed, by the end of the
century, such changes had helped precipitate the closing of the frontier, the United
States' emergence onto the international scene as a major imperialist power, and the
rise of the populist movement, which climaxed in the great realigning Presidential
election of 1896. The last of these was particularly significant in that it was arguably
the first large-scale attempt to seriously address the various problems created by
the rapid urbanization and industrialization of the late nineteenth century and
would moreover serve as the prelude to a much larger and more fundamental
awakening in American political life, that vast tangle of reforms and prescriptions
which beggars all generalization, best known to us today as the progressive
movement. In the quarter century to follow, the three greatest leaders of this
movement at the national level, William Jennings Bryan, Theodore Roosevelt, and
Woodrow Wilson each articulated a distinct conception of or approach toward
reform, inspiring and antagonizing each other in ways which significantly shaped
both the thought and action of the progressive era. This interaction between the
three men and the ideas they espoused can be understood as following a roughly
dialectical pattern, with Bryan's agrarian and insurgent brand of reform functioning
as the thesis, Roosevelt's more patrician and paternalistic approach as the
antithesis, and Wilson and his New Freedom as a sort of synthesis of the two. By
more closely examining the careers, public statements, and political convictions of
these three archetypal figures, we may be able to better understand the origin,
development, and effects of this political dialectic not only within its own time, but
throughout the following century, leading down to our own day.

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