Why the Progressives Rejected the Founding

The Progressive Era was the first major period in American political development to feature, as a primary characteristic, the open and direct criticism of the Constitution. While criticism of the Constitution can be found during any period of American history from 1787 onward, the Progressive Era was unique in that such criticism formed the backbone of the entire movement. Progressive Era criticism of the Constitution came not from a few fringe figures, but from the most prominent think­ers and politicians of that time. Readers are reminded, in almost any progressive text they will pick up, that the Constitution is old, and that it was written to deal with circumstances that had long ago been replaced by a whole new set of pressing social and economic ills. The progressives understood the intention and structure of the Constitution very well; they knew that it established a framework for limited government, and that these limits were to be upheld by a variety of institutional restraints and checks. They also knew that the limits placed on the national government by the Constitution represented major obstacles to implementing the progressive policy agenda. Progressives had in mind a variety of legisla­tive programs aimed at regulating significant portions of the American economy and society, and at redistributing private property in the name of social justice. The Constitution, if interpreted and applied faithfully, stood in the way of this agenda.

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