The Progressive Party and Social Legislation, September 18, 1912

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The Progressive Party and Social Legislation

During the Convention of the Progressive Party in Chicago, one constantly encountered members of The American Economic Association, the National Conference of Charities and Corrections, the Civil Service Reform League, and similar bodies until one feared that a few students of social conditions were endeavoring through the new party to secure measures which, although worthy, have after all recommended themselves to only a very small group out of all the nation.

To an incorrigible democrat this was naturally very alarming. I was first reassured when I met a friend, whom I had last seen at the earlier Chicago convention before the Resolutions Committee, where he was presenting a plank which later left a slight residuum in the compressed labor paragraph adopted by the Republican Party and where I was presenting an equal suffrage plank which left no residuum at all. I remarked in passing that we were both getting a better hearing than we did in June, and he replied that we were not in the <our [illegible]> position of bringing men around to a new way of thinking but that we were being met more than halfway by men definitely committed to progress in <along> all lines.

I gradually discovered that the situation was in reality the very reverse of what I had feared. The Dean of the <a> University Law Schol acted as Chairman <of the Resolution Committee> and men conversant with the later developments in social legislation supplied nomenclature and information concerning similar legislation abroad, but these men, with the so-called practical members of the committee were not representing the opinion of any individual nor the philosophy of any group. They were trying, as conscientious American citizens to meet that fundamental [page 2] obligation of adapting the legal order to the changed condtions of national life; in the words of a Kansas member, "to formulate our own intrinsic self-vindicating laws." The members of the committee had all experienced the frustration and disappointment of detached and partial effort. They had come to this first national convention of the Progressive Party, not only to urge the remedial legislation which seemed to them so essential to the nation's welfare, but to test its validity and vitality by the "inner consent" of their fellow citizens, to throw their measures into the life of the nation itself for corroberation.

The program of social legislation <[since]> placed before the country by the Progressive Party is of great significance to the average voter quite irrespective of the party which may finally claim his allegiance. Aristotle is reported to have said that politics is a school wherein questions questions are studied, not for the sake of knowledge but for the sake of action. He might have added that politics are <most> valuable as a school because the average voter has an inveterate tendency not to study at all unless he sees the prospect of action ahead of him. During the present campaign measures of social amelioration will be discussed up and down the land, as only party politics are discussed, in the remotest farm house to which the rural free delivery brings the weekly newspaper, certain economic principles will become current and new phrases will enter permanently into popular speech.

It would be interesting if it were possible to take a poll of the people in the United States, who the first of last August were conversant with the phrase "minimum wage" and compare [page 3] it with a poll taken of the people familiar with the phrase on the first of November. As a matter of the education of voters who are facing all the problems of modern industry it is important that they hear of the minimum wage; whether it be from Colonel Roosevelt, who advocates commissions to pass upon its feasibility or for Mr. Wilson, who disapproves of such commissions <is less important>. The point is that a large number of people will find out that wise statesmen have come to consider the vigor and efficiency of the citizen as <a> responsibility of the state.

The discussion of the Progressive Party platform will further surprise many a voter into the consciousness that the industrial situation in America has developed by leaps and bounds without any of the restraining legislation which has been carefully placed about it in Europe. He will be told for instance that although twenty-nine European countries prohibit all night work for women, only three of our states have taken such action. He will learn of the long hours and overstrain to which the working women of America may be subjected. If he is convinced that a girl who pushes down a lever with her right foot eight or nine thousand times a day is making such a poor preparation for motherhood that her work reacts in "an impaired second generation," he will be quick to see that it is the business of governent to protect her, certainly in a republic whose very <continuance> depends upon the intelligence and vigor of its future citizens.

Such matters doubtless have a technical aspect, but <they> do not require any more expert opinion than the tariff which has been discussed in political meetings and leading editorials, for forty years. They are in essence human and intimately allied to the experiences [page 4] of the average voter. But it is only when such needs are discussed in politics that he sees "where he comes in" and begins to be "worried."

The [members] of the resolution committee were possessed of knowledge which it is after all a great responsibility not to submit to the nation. If a man knows, for instance, that fifteen thousand of his fellow citizens are killed in industry every year, as if every adult male in a city of seventy-five thousand were put to death, and that half a milion of men are crippled, as if every adult <male> in a state the size of Minnesota were annually maimed, it is not sufficient for his peace of mind to join a small group to know that a small group of public spirited citizens are constantly agitating in various state legislatures for a system of industrial insurance and that a yet smaller group of manufacturers successfully oppose such effort because their interests are threatened. The members of the Committee knew that such problems belong to the nation as well as to the state, and that only by federal control through the Inter-State Commerce Regulations can great corporations be made to assume the injury of workmen as one of the risks of industry; only <that> when human waste shall automatically involve a reduction in profits will a comprehensive system of safe guards be developed, as Germany has clearly demonstrated.

Such facts should be made public to the entire country, for it is no abstract theory which would lead one state after another to act upon this knowledge, it is self preservation. Legislation forced by actual conditions is like the statutory laws, which in the first instance were reactions to felt needs. [page 5]

In addition to the well considered program of industrial legislation, the Resolutions Committee advocated the initiative and referendum, the adoption of womens suffrage, the direct primary system and all of that government machinery which would break through the distrust of the people embodied in our eighteenth century constitution.

Furthermore the platform of the Progressive Party declared itself against certain abuses developed under old conditions, such <as> the unfair use of the injunction in labor disputes. It is certainly a very serious matter when groups of citizens in a republic lose the habit of turning to the law for redress and come to think of the courts as belonging more to one class than another.

The platform of the Progressive Party however thus embodying the convictions and desires of a vast number of people, only became a political document, to fill men with zeal and a sense of indetification with a great cause, when it was adopted in a party convention. The great blocks of delegates from Massachusetts to California had listened to Senator Beveridge's remarkable address on the need of a new party "grown from the people's hard necessities," which would overthrow the "invisible government" and openly promote human welfare; they had heard Colonel Roosevelt's confession of faith with his stirring declaration for social and industrial justice. But they themselves were not fused into a political party until candidates of courage and political experience were nominated who should be their spokesmen, to be accepted or rejected on the merits of their platform [page 6] as well as upon their personalities. This convention, bent upon the realization of its convictions, knew that the most excellent measures will not appeal to the average voter as matters to live and die for, unless the personalities with whom they are associated are able to engage his interest. The candidate from the East, through his experience exalts nationalism; the one from the West has demonstrated the potency of the state as a unit of government. A worthy code of social legislation can only be secured through the [cooperation] of the Nation and the States held to a common purpose through party discipline.

It did not seem strange that women were delegates to this first convention of the Progressive Party, and it would have been much more unnatural if they had not been there when such matters of social welfare were being considered. I am sure that no one who participated in the convention can share the regret which has since been expressed that women should have thus sacrificed their so-called superior non-partisan position.

Certainly we have all learned that new ideas can never gain wide acceptance unless the persons who hold them confess them openly and give them an honest and effective adherence. Then the ideas and measures we have long been advocating become part of a political campaign, which is after all but an intensified method of propaganda, we would certainly be the victims of a curious self consciousness if we failed to follow them there, because women have been slow to learn the goodness does not mean absence of wrong doing, nor does it above all mean absence of any doing lest mistakes be made. [page 7]

When a great political party asks women to participate in its first convention and when a number of women deliberately accept the responsibility, it may indicate that public spirited women are ready to give up the short modern role of being good to people and to go back to the long historic role of ministration to big human needs. After all our philanthropies have cared for the orphans whose fathers have been needlessly injured in industry; have supported the families of the convict whose labor is adding to the profits of a prison contractor; have solaced men and women prematurely aged because they could find no work to do; have rescued girls driven to desperation through overwork and overstrain. Remedial legislation for all these human situations are <is> part of the Progressive Party platform and quite as the old line politician will be surprised to find during this campaign that politics have to do with such things, so philanthropic women on their side will be surprised to find that their long concern for the human wreckage of industry has come to be considered politics.

When we develop the courage to commit our principles to reality, we <will> not only enlarge our concept of the truth, but we give it a chance to become humanized and vital. It is as if we had thrust a dry stick of a principle into moist fruitful earth and as [page 8] if it had returned to our hands so fresh and blooming that we no longer had an impulse to use it as a chastening red upon the evil-doer, but wondering, held it as a new born pledge of the irresistible power of nature to quicken and to heal.

If further reply is needed to the objection that some of us as suffragists, have abandoned the strategic position of detachment, I can only add that political history has many times made evident that new parties ultimately write the platforms for all parties: a cause which a new party alone has the courage and insight to espouse is later taken up by existing political organizations to whom direct appeal had previously proven fruitless. It is hard to see how equal suffrage can again be ignored as campaign material.

In spite of many reassuring experiences on the part of the women who identified themselves with the Progressive Party, during the three days of the Convention there were inevitable moments of heart searching and compunction. But because one felt curiously at home, there was the utmost freedom of speech and a quick understanding of hidden scruples which one was mysteriously impelled to express.

We were first and foremost faced with the necessity of selecting from our many righteous principles those which might be advocated at the moment and of forcing others to wait for a more propitious season -- the period of waiting however to be passed not in the isolated dignity and decorum to which our principles had been accustomed but jostled and marred by others also advocated <discussed> by the Progressive Party; To illustrate from my own experience, for many years I have advocated international peace, to that end I have been a member, sometimes an official, of various international, national and local peace societies, and have zealously written and spoken upon the stirring theme of international arbitration. But when I act as a delegate in the convention of the Progressive Party, I voted to adopt a platform "as a whole" which advocated the building of two battleships a year, pending an international agreement for the limitation of naval forces. [page 9]

I will confess that I found it very difficult to swallow those two battleships. I know only too well the outrageous cost of building and mantaining them, that fatal seventy cents out of every dollar of federal taxes which is spent indirectly for war, and I would fain that the Progressive Party had added no more to this preposterous and unnecessary burden, that it had been ready to commit the future to arbitration.

It was a serious matter even to appear to desert the cause and the comrades with which I had been for so many years identified. Believing, however, as I do that we prepare ourselves for sudden deeds by an infinite series of minor decisions we have previously made and that our convictions are after all determined by our sincerest experiences, I read over the documents of my long advocacy of peace, to find that I had quite consistently pursued one line of appeal. In a much feebler manner than the Baroness Von Suttner's world famous book has revealed the vital devastation and the moral disaster of war, or as David Starr Jordan has steadily made clear and <the> biological waste of war, "the loss of the best blood of the nations," for many years I had contended <followed one line>, pursuing the subject through a long dull book entitled the "Newer Ideals of Peace," <I had contested> that peace is no longer an abstract dogma but that marked manifestations of "a newer dynamic peace" are found in that new internationalism promoted by the men of all nations who are determined upon the abolition of degrading poverty, disease, and intellectual weakness with their resulting inefficiency and tragedy. [page 10]

Whether I did well or ill to believe in that larger sense of justice lying in ambush as it were to manifest itself in governmental relations and now for the first time presenting international aspects, is quite beside the question. I certainly did believe that in time it would do away with war quite as a natural process. As a charter member, I saw in the American Branch of the International Association for Labor Legislation a direct road to the new internationalism, wherein peace implied not merely an absence of war but the nurture of human life.

It is therefore not surprising that I should have been attracted to a party which pledged itself to work uncesingly for "effective labor legislation looking to the prevention of industrial accidents, occupational diseases, overwork, involuntary unemployment and other injurious effects incident to modern industry." The men in every day contact with the economic conditions of our industrial cities have estimated that the total number of casualities suffered by our industrial army is sufficient to carry on perpetually two such wars at the same time as our Civil War and the Russo-Japanese War; that the casualities in the structural iron trade, in the erection of bridges and high buildings, bear the same percentage to the number of men engaged as did the wounded to the total number of troops in the battle of Bull Run. I imagine after all that when a choice was presented to me between protesting against the human waste in industry or against the food for cannon <havoc in war>, the former made the more intimate appeal and I identified myself with the political party which not only protests against such waste but advances well considered legislation to prevent it. [page 11]

Perhaps that same ancient kindliness which "sat beside the <stultified> cradle of the race is <can not> assert itself in our generation, not only against the waste of life and treasure in warfare, but also against <so long as we disregard> the shocking havoc and destruction of <in> industry.

Industrial Insurance Acts to protect the thousands of young immigrants who each year take the return journey across the Atlantic, maimed and crippled because the republic to which they have given their young strength failed to protect them as they would have been safeguarded at home, may but precede the successful conclusion of arbitration treaties. Certainly the wonderful sanitary system and daily regiment which preserved the life and health of the workers who dug the Panama Canal, ought to make it very difficult for the same government to build upon the very same spot huge fortifications whose very existence threatens with destruction that same human stuff which was <it has> so painstakingly kept alive during many months.

But battleships and fortifications were not the only source of difficulty. During the very first day of the Convention disquieting rumors arose concerning negro delegates and it was stated that although two groups from Florida, one of colored men and one of white, had been excluded because of a doubt as to which group had been authorized to elect delegates that the colored men only from Mississippi had been excluded although <in spite of the fact that> the word "white" had been inserted in the call for the state convention which elected the white men <accredited delegates>. It did not seem sufficient to many of us that the Credentials Committee in seating the Mississippi [page 12] delegation had merely protested against the use of the word "white" and some of us at once took alarm on behalf of the colored delegates <men>. With several others, who were also members of the Society for the Advancement of Colored People, I appeared before the Resolutions Committee to point out the inconsistency of pledging relief to the overburdened working man while leaving the colored man to struggle unaided with his difficult situation, if indeed the action of the Credentials Committee had not given him a setback.

We <In reply> were told that colored men sat as delegates in the convention not only from such northern states as Rhode Island, but that the Progressives of West Virginia, Maryland, Tennessee, <and> Kentucky had also elected colored delegates, setting a standard which it was hoped the states south of them would attain when the matter was left to those men of the South who are impatient in the thralldom of war issues and old party alignments. <It was pointed out> that such are the limitations of local self-government that free political expression can only be secured to the negro through the [cooperative] action of the patriotic and far seeing citizens of the states in which he lives; that only when white men and colored men [together] engage upon common political problems throughout the country will the colored men cease to be regarded as himself a problem. We were reminded that under so-called Republican protection, the colored man has practically lost his vote in certain states, not only through the grandfather clause, but through sheer intimidation in those counties where the line of party cleavage follows the line of race [page 13] antagonism, all the whites being democrats who vote, all the blacks republicans who do not. We were further told that if there was any disposition to continue old shame, that it would be a very simple matter to insert in the Progressive Platform the glittering phrases which had done valiant service for so long a time, not only to blind the colored man himself but to enable the manager of a republican convention to determine the result of <through> the colored vote. By the simple device of appointing to federal officers colored men in the sections where there is no republican party, these men elect themselves delegates to the national convention and naturally repay their party by voting as their office holding interests require. Certainly self government is not being promoted by such political recognitionn by <on the part of> the Republicans of the north any more than it is by the disenfranchising action on the part of the Democrats of the south. The Progressive Convention took neither point of view and challenged at one and the same time the traditional shibboleths of both parties. [page 14]

When I asked myself most searchingly whether my abolitionist father would have remained in any political convention in which colored men had been treated slightingly, I recalled an incident of my girlhood which was illuminating and somewhat comforting. I had given my father an explanation of a most stupid decision whereby I had succeeded in bungling the plans of a large family party and I ended my apology with the quite honest statement that I had tried to act upon what I thought his judgement would have been. His expression of amused bewilderment changed to one of understanding as he replied, "That probably accounts for your confusion of mind. You fell into the easy mistake of substituting loyalty and dependence upon another's judgement for the very best use of your own faculties. I should be sorry to think that you were always going to complicate moral situations, already sufficiently difficult, by trying to work out another's point of view. You will do much better if you look the situation fairly in the face with the best light you have."

Certainly the Abolitionists followed the best light they had, although it differed from that possessed by the frames of the constitution, <when light had also> come from the eighteenth century doctrines of natural rights and of abstract principles, when ideas were pressed up to their remotest logical issues, without much reference to the conditions to which they were applied. Shall we be less fearless than they to follow our own moral ideals formed under the influence of new knowledge, even although the notion of evolution has entered into social history and politics, and although "abstract" in the tongue of William James came to imply the factitious, [page 15] the academic, and even the futile.

Certainly we all believe that a wide extension of political power is the only sound basis of self government and that no man is good enough to vote for another, but we surely do not become mere opportunists when we try to know something of the process by which the opinion of the voter has been influences and his vote secured. If it is done through bribery, we easily admit that the whole system of representative government has broken down and we are not accounted to have lost our patriotism when we estimate how much of a given vote is due to the liquor interests or to manufactured opinion, only on the political status of the colored man is it still considered unpatriotic to judge, save as one who long ago made up his mind. Is it not time that the nation cease to treat the negro as a group of children who are asked to contentedly amuse themselves with red, while and blue counters while their inscrutable elders hold the cards in their hands and play the real game above their heads. Many of them, who have already discovered that they are engaged in an empty occupation and have anxiously inquired the meaning of the cards and the amount of the winnings are not content with the reply that the cards are ugly and incomprehensible things, that the winnings are mere trifles, but that the tri-colored counters, which they hold in their hands are the highest gift of the nation.

Even in that remarkable Convention where, for the moment, individual isolation was dissolved into a larger consciousness and where we caught a hint of the action of "the collective mind," so often spoken of and so seldom apprehended, I was assailed by the old familiar discomfort concerning the status of the negro. Had I felt any better about it, I speculated, when I had tried in vain for three [page 16] consecutive years to have the question discussed by a great national association to whose purposes such a discussion was certainly germain. Was I more dissatisfied with this action than I had often been with no action at all. I was forced to acknowledge to myself that certainly war on behalf of the political status of the colored man was clearly impossible, but that there might emerge from such federal action as the interference with peonage, perhaps, a system of federal arbitration in interracial difficulties, somewhat analogous to the gunction of the Hague tribunal in international affairs. In fact, it has already been discovered at the Hague that many difficulties formerly called international were in reality interracial. Through such federal arbitration it may in time be demonstrated that to secure fair play between races living in the same nation is as legitimate as it is when irrational race hatred breaks out on those fringes of empire which the Hague court calls "spheres of influence." At least the <Progressive Party had taken the> color question had been taken away from sectionalism and put upon <it in> a national basis <setting> which might clear the way for a larger perspective.

During the three days of the progressive convention, one felt not only the breakdown of the old issues which had furnished both parties with their election cries for half a century, but the <inevitable> emergence of a new position. Although like the psychic uproar which accompanies a great religious conflict "when the sword of the spirit fairly turns in its sheath," at times the destruction of the old seems more prominent than the making of the new. <At moments> the transition <between the two was obvious, a> man occasionally got up to speak whose early political training in words visibly contended with his wide [page 17] knowledge of actual affairs <so that one> was reminded of the tale of Gladstone who, <unable to escape his boyhood's notion of etiquette always> treated the queen "like a public meeting" although he envied Disraeli's ability to treat her as a woman.

Nevertheless, A new code of political action is formulated by men who were <are> striving to express a sense of justice, socialized by long effort to establish <secure> fair play between contending classes. Men who have learned that it cannot be done by a prior reasoning but must be established upon carefully ascertained facts.

Through the action of the Progressive Party, remedial legislation is destined, not only to be discussed, in every city town and cross roads of the entire country, but eventually to be introduced into Congress and into every state legislature by men whose party is committed to the redress of social wrongs and who have promised their constituents specific measures adapted to the changing and varied conditions of our industrial life.

Jane Addams. [signed]


Chicago.> [page 18]

Best copy of McClure article. Sent to N.Y. Sept. 18"

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