When I first began to study Emmett Wilson and his political peers, I noticed right off they called themselves “progressive Democrats.”
For a while, this confused me — and I wasn’t alone. Many editorials were written in Emmett’s time asking how the progressive Democrats were different from ‘regular’ Democrats.
“Aren’t Democrats considered progressive anyway?” asked one Pensacola newspaper editor. “Why give the impression of divisiveness in the party?”
Add into the mix the ‘progressive Republicans’ or the Bull Moose party, whose issues, at least on the surface, looked very similar to those of the ‘progressive Democrats.’
Keeping these subtle party distinctions straight has been a bit of challenge. However, my institution’s Librarian Overlords came to my rescue and recommended two very good books on the Progressive Era, which I’m happy to share with you.
My first recommendation is The Tyranny of Change: America in the Progressive Era, 1890-1920 by John Whiteclay Chambers II. Chambers is an academic, but this text reads very easily; it contains numerous well written anecdotes and clear examples of what it means to be a ‘progressive’, regardless of party affiliation. Also, Chambers does a very good job giving the reader an insight into the minds of the progressive leaders of the day.
My second recommendation is A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, 1879-1920 by Michael McGerr. McGerr’s books gives an excellent understanding of the societal struggles in the transition from Victorian mores, politics, and economics to a more industrial, ‘progressive’ way of life.
Everything and everyone in Emmett’s time was being restructured. Class differences were more divisive than ever before in the history of the United States; a new ‘reconstruction’ of economy and politics was underway because the middle class felt the leadership, composed primarily of an elite class, were out of touch with the rest of the country. The McGerr text gives you a good overview of these social struggles — and how the country’s political machine managed them — as they unfolded.
Interested in the Progressive Era? Check out both titles, especially Chambers. You’ll find it interesting reading.
Also: If you ever get stuck, ask a Librarian. They are incredible people, and they can save you a boatload of anxiety when doing research.