Thursday, May 3, 2007

Books of the Times

One thing I like about used book sales is the totally random nature of the sort of books one will find. A few weeks ago I picked up a dozen or so books at the East Lansing library used book sale (for the grand sum of about $10.00 - another thing I like about used book sales!), and among the non-fiction I found were older works on FDR & Eleanor, Theodore Roosevelt, Churchill, etc. ... and something called "Rendezvous With Destiny," a 1952 account of the history of American reform from the post-Civil War period through 1950 by Eric F. Goldman.

Well, I've never heard of the book (due in part to deficiencies in my own education I'm sure), but in its day it was extremely well-regarded, winning the Bancroft Prize for distinguished American History in 1952, with blurbs from, among others, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

Goldman talks about the history of reform - first, the "liberals" like Democrats Samuel Tilden (the Democratic loser in the 1876 presidential election to Republican Rutherford Hayes - interesting because it was such a close race that it was thrown into the House of Representatives, with Democrats (mostly feom the South) agreeing to support the Republicans' (mostly from the North) candidate in return for the Republicans agreeing to end the post-Civil War Reconstruction and remove federal troops from the South) against the common-man (and all-too-corrupt) Ulysses S. Grant regime; to the increasing dissatisfactions among the masses about the industrialization of the 1880s leading to ever-greater disparities in wealth, epitomized by disgust - leading eventually to the reform-minded Populist movement of the 1890s - with leaders like President Grover Cleveland, who vetoed an appropriation by Congress of $10,000 to aid drought sufferers in buying new grain seed, declaring that "though the people support the Government the Government should not support the people."

Say what? The government doesn't support the people; rather the people support the government? What a crock of s***. As Goldman says, "[Cleveland's statement] was a perfect statement of liberal doctrine, and a perfect illustration why liberalism seemed irrelevant or downright evil to thousands who were quite sure that, even if the government should not help support them, it should certainly help them support themselves."

Anyway, great stuff ... and all in a book published 55 years ago that is no longer on the tip of peoples' tongues, but still contains nuggets and gems on every page.