Book Summaries for Comps

Comps Life Book 1 Review


Precis of Roots of Reform

In Roots of Reform Sanders argues that agrarian interests were the most powerful political forces in America from 1877 until the start of World War I. As the United States evolved in the 19th century, various regional economies were clearly formed. Boasting radically different constituencies, these can be roughly designated into three types of regional economies: core, diverse, and periphery. Core regions built an economy based around industrial and manufacturing activities. Diverse regions possess a wide variety of economic activities, including both manufacturing and agriculture. The periphery regions were almost entirely extractive, relying largely upon mining, lumber, or agriculture. Additionally, Sanders identifies thirty-four primary economic trading areas within the United States based on the twelve Federal Reserve cities, twenty-two designated branch-bank cities, and the surrounding territory. Each area is defined based on the value added in manufacturing per capita. Core regions have value of greater than 300 dollars, diverse areas between 200 and 299 dollars, and periphery with less than 200 dollars.
Having established these groups, Sanders then examines the political activities of the farmer and labor movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, focusing especially heavily upon anti-railroad and anti-trust sentiments. As industrialization continued through the 19th century, farmers found themselves on the decline. Lashing out, they blamed their woes upon eastern monopolies, railroads, and the various middlemen in the agrarian market. Farmer movements demanded the state prohibit monopolies, commodity speculation, and trusts while regulating the railroad. By contrast, the labor organizations the farmers frequently wooed focused upon materially improving the lot of the working class. Farmers often found themselves playing the role of statists, pushing for larger government. Conversely, labor sought to halt the expansion of the bureaucracy and statutory state. As a result, labor only offered weak support for agrarian reforms. Unfortunately, farmers found themselves unable to affect change without the support of the urban worker and were forced to rely upon a weak coalition of often competing interests. Consequently, reformers often found their efforts stymied not by opposition but by infighting.


Other Notes:

Arguments: P. 1

It is the contention of this book that agrarian movements constituted the most important political force driving the development of the American national state in the half century before WW1.  And by shaping the form of early regulatory legislation and establishing the centrality of the farmer -labor alliance to progressive reform and the Democratic Party, the agrarian influence was felt for years thereafter.  Indeed, its characteristic ideological conceptions and language are with us still.


Majority of power rested in the periphery.  This group provided the foot soldiers to hinder the concentrations of wealth from the corporate class.  Within the decentralized market to be fostered and policed by the state, they hoped that a genuinely free commerce would flourish and believed that both individual and collective efforts would yield a more just and broadly prosperous society.  The ends, if not the means, were distinctly Jeffersonian and republican.


  1. 6: A major anomaly in American political development: Social Forces profoundly hostile to bureaucracy nevertheless instigated the creation of a bureaucratic state.


Focus on Chapter 4.

  1. 7, Core of agrarian agenda onto the national legislature: the redefinition of trade policy; the creation of an income tax; a new, publicly controlled banking and currency system; antitrust policy; the regulation of agricultural marketing networks; a nationally financed road system; federal control of railroads, ocean shipping, and early telecommunications; and agricultural and vocational education.


  1. 8: When regulation appeared insufficient to achieve the aims of the agrarian regions, direct state control of production and transportation, refuting the popular image of the agrarians as antistatists hamstrung by a constricting “states’ rights” ideology.\


Read chapter 11.

  1. 30 Chapter 3: The Knights of Labor (KOL) willingness to form a farmer-worker alliance upon which the triumph of democratic populism depended. Decline of KOL after 1886 was thus a more critical turning point for both the labor movement and the shape of American democracy than the ebbing of electoral socialism after 1912…By Progressive Era both farm and labor organizations had experience a transformation from social movements to interest groups – that is, from sustained, organized protest by marginalized groups outside formal centers of power, pressing their (relatively radical) grievances on the state or economic elites, to more conservative and institutionalized lobby groups with sufficient formal access to regularly present their moderate demands to political authorities.


Examination of social movements in American politics. P. 31

Read section of different groups: Page 33-100 (Wow!!)


Chapter 4 – P. 101 – Thus, while 19th century industrialization appeared to offer labor a workplace alternative to political action, the commercialization of agriculture made politics all the more urgent for farmers. 


Chapter 5 – p. 149 – There were, in particular, 4 factors that sustained the agrarian reform program in national politics after 1896: a new wave of farmer organization; the direct primary; the national Democratic leadership under William Jennings Bryan; and most fundamentally, regional political economy.


  1. 164 – Who were the Progressives? – Sanders argues that one way to avoid the quagmire of ideological labels is to focus on what people did during this period, as opposed to what they said or what they (presumably) were thinking. Progressive reform – who had the incentive to enact legislation and provided the muscle to put the idea into national law? Analysis of who were the Progressives should begin with the large quantity of “programmatic legislation” and work backward to the supporting coalitions that enacted them.


  1. 169 – It was the periphery democrats and their less numerous northern labor allies who provided the foot soldiers for the progressive program.


  1. 172 – Thus, early progressivism in Congress was not a program of farmers in general but of farmers in the less industrial regions of the South and Midwest.



Other Info for book…… come later!!!!

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