President Bill Clinton presented the keynote address at an academic conference on "The Progressive Tradition: Politics, Culture and History" at Princeton University on October 5, 2000. The conference was the occasion for a major scholarly re-evaluation of the Progressive Era, the two-decade period of political and social reform that began in 1900 and on Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, a Princeton graduate who served as the University's president, as well as on the era's long-term historical legacy.
The conference marks the centenary of Roosevelt's election to the vice-presidency in 1900 and his ascension to the White House a year later, following the assassination of President William McKinley. "Theodore Roosevelt was really the first modern activist American president," said Sean Wilentz, a Princeton University history professor and conference organizer. Woodrow Wilson, though from a different political party and with a different political philosophy, also used the presidency vigorously to meet the enormous domestic and foreign challenges of a new industrializing world."
The discussion was not limited to debate over the presidents. "To understand the Progressive Era requires coming to terms with many great Americans, including settlement-house workers such as Jane Addams, labor leaders such as Samuel Gompers, financiers such as J.P. Morgan, and civil-rights pioneers such as W.E.B. Du Bois," Wilentz said. "It also requires coming to terms with the broader political, social, and cultural currents which all these figures represented."
The scholarly panels took place on Friday, Oct. 6 in Helm Auditorium in McCosh Hall. Speakers and commentators included renowned senior scholars as well as younger historians and writers. Among those scheduled to appear were John Morton Blum, Alan Brinkley, John Milton Cooper, Richard Epstein, Hendrik Hartog, Jackson Lears, Michael Lind, Eric Love, Nell Irvin Painter, Daniel Rodgers, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Christine Stansell, and Henry Yu.
Cosponsored by the Program in American Studies and the Woodrow Wilson
School of Public and International Affairs
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