Saturday, January 2, 2016

Where did the "Initiative, Referendum, and Recall" movement begin?

One of the most visible and well known efforts of the early 20th century progressive movement was the movement bearing these three words: Initiative, Referendum, and Recall.

Where does that come from? Those five words are the death-knell of progressivism. "Where does that come from?", whatever "that" happens to be in the context of progressivism.

Most of our past history lessons that address the topic(as much as we remember them) tell us that the Initiative, Referendum, and Recall were born from the progressive movement. Wikipedia's page on the topic carries that same message, since only "reliable sources" can be used on Wikipedia. This doesn't really tell us much, and just restates in a different way what I've already said.

The system of Initiative, Referendum, and Recall, initially just Initiative and Referendum, or sometimes shortened to "I" and "R" or I&R, first came to America by way of watching how people in Switzerland did things at the time. American progressives looked to Swiss socialists and believed that with this single process, the Swiss had a great idea. Much has been written about this, so I'm moving on.

While South Dakota was the first state to move to I&R in 1898, and Utah became the second in 1900, I&R has another name. It is known as "The Oregon System", and it's been known by that name for 100 years.(Link 1, Link 2)

The father of The Oregon System is one William Simon U'Ren, a progressive republican, who is known to have been a proponent of I&R going back to 1892. U'Ren's Wikipedia page is surprisingly quite honest about the fact that U'Ren saw I&R as a path forward to seeing Georgist(Henry George) ideas get implemented in his state and elsewhere.(this early Encyclopedia entry states the same)

This is where the fun begins.

Arthur Nichols Young, a historian of the Single Tax movement, pointed out that "For nearly twenty five years single taxers have advocated the initiative and referendum as a means of getting their measures before the people for discussion." This was the sentence that got me looking. Can we test and prove this to be the case? Well, 25 years would put it at 1891, so the math works. So now we just need to know whom. U'Ren, of course. But what were his influences, and what did he say? We have already established his influence from Henry George, but there's also another important component. U'Ren read a book titled Direct Legislation Through the Initiative and Referendum, but I'll get to this at the end.

As for what U'Ren said on the topic, he stated the following at a Single Tax Conference held in New York, on November 19-20th, 1910:

I read Progress and Poverty in 1882, and I went just as crazy over the Single Tax idea as any one else ever did. I knew I wanted the Single Tax, and that was about all I did know. I thought I could get it by agitation, and was often disgusted with a world that refused to be agitated for what I wanted. In 1882 (sic) I learned what the Initiative and Referendum is, and then I saw the way to the Single Tax. SO I QUIT TALKING SINGLE TAX, not because I was any the less in favor of it but because I saw that the first job was to get the Initiative and Referendum, so that the people independently of the Legislature, may get what they want rather than take what the Legislature will let them have.

If there's one thing you can trust, it's that progressives will use deceit to their advantage whenever necessary.

Now, as to the book Direct Legislation Through the Initiative and Referendum. What's interesting about this book is the book's publisher: "True Nationalist Publishing". What's important about that is that "True Nationalist" was a publishing company formed to push out Edward Bellamy's Nationalist ideas; ideas based on his book Looking Backward, which was the genesis of the Nationalist Movement in the United States.

It should not be any wonder then, why I&R was so successful and became the Progressive Movement's first signature accomplishment. Both of the Progressive Movement's most important early efforts - The Single Tax/Georgists and the Nationalists were on board driving it forward.

This is a very important thing to understand about the beginnings of the progressive movement. Henry George and Edward Bellamy are to progressivism what Engels and Marx are to communism.

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