Elections: Then and Now

As the final homestretch of the 2016 election approaches and peoples’ passionate responses to the candidates hits an all-time high, we at the Project are reading up on the 1912 election where Jane Addams is knee-deep in the political consequences of supporting the Progressive Party. Moving forward and making “progress” is the aim of both the Progressive Party of 1912 and the 2016 Democratic Party, who call to their 2016 Party platform as the most progressive ever. What was progressive in 1912 is not necessarily progressive now, especially with a hundred year gap. Such as a reform close to Jane Addams’ heart, woman’s suffrage. In 2016, progressive voting reform stands against voter discrimination and intimidation. The Progressive Party, as a third party, was a counter to the Democratic Party of 1912, led by Woodrow Wilson, and the Republican Party of 1912, led by William Taft and stood out as the first party to support universal suffrage. It was also the last third party to come so close to the Presidency, though ultimately the split in the Republican Party left the Democrats in control of the White House. Though by our standards the Progressive Party of 1912 is quite conservative, for the time it was remarkably radical.

The Democrats were still the “white man’s party” that they had been during the Civil War era but they were also very focused on wasteful spending and commercial concerns. Republicans were also concerned about money and the protection of American rights at home and abroad.  Progressivism focused primarily on improving the practical conditions of workers. The Progressive Party supported a minimum, living wage, as well as legal, comprehensive safety measures for workers, full and public disclosure about the wages and labor conditions.  In 1912, the Progressives called for a minimum wage and limited work hours specifically for women and “young people” and not for all workers. In 2016 the Democratic platform calls for a minimum wage of $15 for everyone, regardless of race, age, or gender. Both the 1912 Progressives and the 2016 Democrats support of the right of individuals to organize to protect their rights as workers.

The Progressive Party also had strong views on suffrage. While they did support women’s suffrage, the Party in general and Teddy Roosevelt in particular, were less kind to black people. Despite the 15th Amendment, passed in 1870, giving the right to vote to any man, regardless of race, some members of the leadership thought it should be taken away from them. This debate is not shared by the modern Democratic Party, who is firmly behind the right of all people to vote, and more importantly, to vote without intimidation. 2016 Democrats believe in making voting easier by making the voting booth more accessible, particularly for seniors and disabled Americans, an idea that follows the Progressive ideal of granting more rule to the people. Although not so easy that you can text it in quite yet! Maybe one day we will vote from the comfort of our homes, but for now everyone still has to vote by absentee ballot or at the polls. Prior to the passage of the 17th Amendment in 1913, US senators were appointed by the state legislature. The Progressive Party strongly opposed this practice, claiming that the people should have a right to elect their representatives more directly, yet another reform that made modern democracy possible

A progressive platform in 2016 goes far beyond the imaginations of Jane Addams and her fellow Progressive 100 years ago. Where they supported women’s suffrage, and Addams was criticized for taking an active role in traditional politics, the Democratic Party of 2016 has nominated a woman to fill the highest office in the country. The rights of minorities, including people of color and those in the LGBT community have taken center stage in 2016 in a way they never did in 1912. The world, including the United States, has changed dramatically since 1912.

And still, the roots of the same types of concerns that were discussed in 1912 are still discussed today. Things like women’s rights, workers’ rights, discrimination, Big Business, healthcare, and voting were hot topics then just as much as they are today. Legal protections for women do not necessarily extend to their paychecks, despite the Equal Pay Act. Class differences are still stark and spark protests, like Occupy Wall Street. Workers rights are still being trampled on, especially for people who are here illegally or are impoverished. There is still work to be done and voting is one way to help make your voice heard.

Don’t forget to vote tomorrow, Tuesday, November 8th!

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