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Title:Crisis and progress: The rhetoric and ideals of a nineteenth century reformer, George William Curtis (1824-1892)
Author(s):Kennedy, Robert Charles
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):McColley, Robert
Department / Program:History
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
History, United States
Abstract:George William Curtis and his fellow reformers were part of the new knowledge elite of journalists, academics, and other professionals that developed in the second half of the nineteenth century. The rise of a national press allowed more pervasive and persistent publicity of reform agendas. Sympathetic editors and journalists, like Curtis, considered their role to be that of sentinels and tribunes of the "public interest". In this role, they were instrumental in setting the parameters and defining the terms of debate over government's role in fostering the "good society" in America. These reformers disdained theory, particularly that of laissez-faire and limited government, in favor of pragmatism and utilitarianism.
Curtis and the other reformers borrowed vocabulary and techniques from medicine and the nascent social sciences, and developed methods of political action--media saturation, lobbying, drafting model legislation--which were intended to be applied to various reform efforts. Some historians have seen a dichotomy between scientific and moralistic reformers, or have depicted an evolution from moralism to scientism, but, for Curtis and other mid- and late-nineteenth century reformers, moralism and scientism co-existed in their rhetoric and ideals, if at times uneasily.
The rhetoric of crisis was one of the major tactics the reformers used to generate public attention, popular support (or the perception thereof), and political action on behalf of their various causes. Repeatedly when calling for reform, Curtis and other members of the emergent knowledge elite used rhetoric that engendered a sense of crisis in which the government was presented as the only, or at least the most effective, agent capable of intervening to stave off the crisis in the name of an ill-defined "public interest."
These reformers were usually, like Curtis, affiliated with the Republican party, which recent historiography has shown to be the party of government in the second half of the nineteenth century. The reforms urged by Curtis and other reformers, which entailed the use of government intervention, occurred primarily at the state level, but succeeded at the federal level, too, when Republicans dominated the political process. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)
Issue Date:1993
Rights Information:Copyright 1993 Kennedy, Robert Charles
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-07
Identifier in Online Catalog:AAI9411668
OCLC Identifier:(UMI)AAI9411668

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