Monday, February 15, 2010

Book Review - The Great Campaigns by Otis L. Graham, Jr.


Today, I'm going academic on you again by posting another review of a book that I read as a grad student in US History: The Great Campaigns: Reform and War in America, 1900-1928 by Otis L. Graham, Jr. It's out of print, and I got the book from my university library. If you are interested in learning more about Progressive reformers in the early twentieth century, this is a good overview of the topic.

The Great Campaigns, by UC Santa Barbara Professor Emeritus Otis L. Graham, Jr., refers to the many campaigns of Progressivism between 1900 and 1928. Published in 1971, the book analyzes a Progressive era that was complex and often contradictory, spurred by the desire to intervene, bring under control, and redirect the forces at work in industrial America. Graham's study utilizes a wide range of primary and secondary sources, but unfortunately lacks endnotes citing all of the sources used. Following the text, however, is a substantial bibliographic essay of mostly secondary sources on the many different topics vital to hist study--the books that he considered were "most important in helping me make up my mind" (171).

The book is divided into two main sections. The first is Graham's analysis of the Progressives from 1900-1928. He divides the section into three parts: "Reform: 1900-1916", "War: 1914-1919", and "Reform: 1917-1928." The second section consists of a collection of twenty-eight primary documents, divided into the three parts as well. The documents were chosen by Graham because he believes they "present particularly well a leading progressive idea or conjunction of ideas" (199). Included in this documents section are excerpts of works written by Jane Addams, Walter Rauschenbusch, Woodrow Wilson, the National Conservation Congress, and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The book begins with an examination of the conditions of society and politics at the turn of the century. Graham touches on th reasons people sought reform as well as the intellectual barriers to reform--laissez-faire, strict construction, and social Darwinism (18-19). Then he examines reform movements, discussing the settlement movement, "Good Government" progressives, state reforms, and finally national reforms. A main element of his analysis centers on this question: who was getting what? Often, Graham points out, the business interests that progressive legislation sought to regulate played a large part in shaping that legislation. Part two centers on the actions and position of President Wilson during the Great War. The section seems puzzling in a book about the Progressives, as the main discussion examines Wilson's neutral rights policy. Part three helps justify the inclusion of part two by explaining that America might have continued its movement for reform if it had not been interrupted by war. Interestingly, Graham describes the successes of Progressive reform during the war and the irreparable damage the war did to the humanitarian and liberal components of reform. He also points out that although reformers in the 1920s lacked the political power and unity to enact as much reform as they had before the war, they still were able to apply pressure to the Republican Congress. Part three also contains a general examination of the Progressives as a whole and their ultimate successes and failures.

The Great Campaigns is an important review of the Progressive era by a historian examining the topic in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It is an example of a historian who summarized Progressivism by categorizing the important styles among reformers, such as moralists, scientists, New Freedom, and New Nationalism. The extensive bibliographic essay following the text is useful in tracing the historiography up to 1971, but considerable developments within the historical establishment have created new controversies and analyses since then. It is clear by Graham's account that the Progressives had many more failures than successes. He stresses the influence of business on the Progressive movement and how legislation designed to regulate big business was often shaped by business interests or not given adequate funding to enforce them. The book often reads like a bibliographical essay, which is helpful in a book lacking citations. Samuel P. Hays, Richard Hofstadter, Gabriel Kolko, and Robert Wiebe, who he often discusses in his analysis, clearly inspired Graham to write this book.

Scholarly reviewers at the time believed the documents were well-chosen, and generally recommended the book to students of American History. Here are citations to three scholarly reviews:
  • Journal of American History 59:2 (Sept. 1972), 457-8. (J. Leonard Bates, U of Illinois, Urbana)
  • American Political Science Review 68:2 (June 1974), 783-4. (Richard Weiss, UCLA)
  • American Historical Review 79:5 (Dec. 1974), 1655. (Charles A. Barker, Johns Hopkins Univ.)
**Source: I checked this book out from the university library. 

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