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Chapter VIII. The Second Decade: The Problem of Lawlessness AFTER January, 1903, McClure's perceptibly changed, al­ though not as much as generally maintained. The magazine invented little; rather it accentuated principles which had characterized it since 1893. McClure's it was difficult to maintain that there was a decisive split between the old mugwump generation and the new progressives.1 Rather McClure's was like a sprout worming its way about in the earth, finally breaking through to find the sun. By an alchemy as old as the Great Revival, McClure's had always closely identified the activities of the saloon and the dance hall with professional thievery and machine politics. But with Theodore Roosevelt's assumption of the Presidency, hailed nationwide by the reform press, the magazine's pro­ gressive principles became more obvious. A careful reading of McClure's editorial in the January, 1903, issue gives the germ idea from which the magazine's contributions to muckraking ensued. The title, "The American Contempt of Law," wrote McClure, "could well have served for the current chapter of Miss Tarbell's His­ tory of Standard Oil. And it would have fitted perfectly Mr. Baker's 'The Right to Work.' All together, these articles come pretty near showing how universal is this dangerous trait of ours."2 The law, the law, all were "breaking the law, or letting it be broken."3 Who was to uphold it? Neither the lawyers, nor the judges, nor the churches, nor the colleges could do so. "There is no one left; none but all of us."4 Illegal rebates, he continued, 1 See Richard Hofstadter, Age of Reform: From Bryan to F. D. R., Vintage edition (New York, 1955), 167. 2 McClure's, xx (Jan., 1903), 336. a Ibid. * Ibid. S E C O N D D E C A D E traction franchises which sold for a bribe, as well as law­ less and violent strikes were worse in America than else­ where. Railroads in particular and corporations in general, the city machines and the unions, exhibited the fatal native flaw of lawlessness. A toleration of vice and a contempt for order meant that vice was on the throne and the disintegra­ tion of society had begun. Newton Bateman could not have spoken moreapocalyptically. A defense of order and propriety that would have been a credit to those more staid fixtures, Century and Scribnefs , pervaded McClure's after 1903. Most of McClure's muckraking articles can be classified as dealing with the breakdown of order, the birth of lawlessness, and the end of propriety. As Henry Adams might have seen it, in 1903 McClure was trying to defend in the twentieth century a unity of values based on moral absolutes, a naive assump­ tion that moral and political laws had a clear meaning, and that answers could quantitatively be proved black or white by counting strikes or murders or other such external results. Henry May, in his The End of American Innocence, finds this is a characteristic of most American literature at the turn of the century. The situation was to change re­ markably within a season, but at any rate the McClure journalists dished up heavy heapings of moral law and by it challenged society as the abolitionists had the slavocracy. To point ahead, it must be said that initially, except where traditional moral judgments were dealt with, any appeal to a higher law, natural and unwritten, such as suggested by the Brandeis brief and the rise of sociological jurisprudence, was rather limited. But a generation with its Adamses, Spenglers, Einsteins, Spencers, Stoddards, McKinters , and Turners showed an unusual tendency to wrestle with metaphysical speculations about the order of the world. It was slowly—and this is the subject of later chapters—that the muckrakers came to terms with natural law and the axiomatic superstructure upon which institu­ tions were built. S E C O N D D E C A D E But more important than moral law in the early McC lure's muckraking were man's conscious rules for gov­ erning himself. These rules were deemed valid by assuming that democracy itself was a moral condition, a metaphysical value. Laws, constitutions, and charters were the cohesive forces of society whose inviolability McClure's insisted upon. This defense of law was made more frantic by the country's condition. The McClure writers, it seems, con­ fused the natural fragmentation of society resulting from social and economic forces—such as immigration...


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