Monday, March 6, 2017

Woodrow Wilson describes progressive democrats and progressive republicans

In A People Awakened, a book detailing his bid for governor of New Jersey, Woodrow Wilson stated the following at a campaign speech on November 2nd, just days before the gubernatorial election: (page 203)

I feel as I look over an audience like this that something has happened in New Jersey. We have tried to introduce a new kind of political campaign, and it seems to take, for we are not interested in commending a party to you, we are not interested in commending persons for office, but we are deeply interested in commending certain political purposes to you, we are deeply interested in discussing the means of advancing the welfare of the Commonwealth to which we should be devoted.

We have heard a great deal in recent months of Progressive Republicans and of Progressive Democrats and of progressive men of this, that and the other creed or persuasion. I suppose that the implication is that there are also retrogressive Republicans and retrogressive Democrats and men of every sort or other who wish to stand still or to pull things back to a period which we hope we have left behind us. But whatever our understanding of the meaning of these designations may be, this thing is clear, that only those who profess progressive principles are now likely to attract the attention or to hold to themselves the purposes of this free country.

There is no means of health except progress. Nothing can be kept, nothing that lives can be kept at a single point without disease and decay. When you speak, therefore, of a Progressive Republican I understand you to mean a man who wishes to carry forward to the uses of a new age the ancient principles of an old party. When you speak of a Progressive Democrat I understand that you mean not a man who will always be standing upon a literal interpretation of quotations of Thomas Jefferson, but one who will try to carry forward in the service of a new age the spirit of Thomas Jefferson, the spirit of this man who tried to comprehend the things of the people, and to serve them by political combinations and concerted action.

What we want, therefore, and what I dare say a company of men like this is united in wanting, is a progressive Government. But it is one thing to use these general terms and to be sure that you want to make progress, and it is another thing to know what progress is and wherein it consists. The fact that a man is moving all the time does not prove that he is progressive; it depends where he started and in what direction he is going.

I have seen men stumble on the right track, and I have seen men keep to the right track by a sort of an indulgent Providence, but neither sort of man is the leader of progress. Progress consists of movement from day to day, foot by foot, through a long series of practical details. We never invented and never shall invent the airship in politics; we have to keep our feet on the ground, to accommodate ourselves to slow movements and a united life in order to make progress.

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