Many scholars agree President Franklin Delano Roosevelt fundamentally altered the American government by ushering in programs and projects under his New Deal. FDR’s inspiration for these taxpayer-funded ventures came from Progressive Era thinkers. So to understand The New Deal and how American life and government changed in the twentieth century and beyond, it is vital to understand the Progressive Era…
Progressives believed restricting government to only protecting citizens’ life, liberty, and ability to pursue happiness was simplistic. They believed that as time went on, human beings evolved for the better, thus becoming better at self-governance. Thus people should not fear the ever-expanding role of government because modern Americans, whom progressives believed were smarter and more advanced than colonial Americans were, created and devised it.
In 1923, Wilson delivered a speech outlining progressivism. He denounced the Declaration of Independence as irrelevant to modern Americans unless it can be translated and expanded to fit the problems facing twentieth-century Americans.
“The Declaration of Independence did not mention the questions of our day. It is of no consequence to us unless we can translate its general terms into examples of the present day and substitute them in some vital way for the examples it itself gives, so concrete, so intimately involved in the circumstances of the day in which it was conceived and written. It is an eminently practical document, meant for the use of practical men; not a thesis for philosophers, but a whip for 20 tyrants; not a theory of government, but a program of action. Unless we can translate it into the questions of our own day, we are not worthy of it, we are not the sons of the sires who acted in response to its challenge.”