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Charles R. Crane and Wilsonian Progressivism


Zacharie Leclair

This book presents a study of the career of Charles R. Crane, a central player in President Woodrow Wilson’s entourage. In the wake of the U.S. intervention in the Great War, Crane participated in important diplomatic and fact-finding missions. Leclair follows Crane through revolutionary Russia and on the Western front, in the emerging countries born out of the Ottoman Empire, and then in postwar China. In the process, Leclair’s book offers original insights into some of the major domestic and international decisions that define Wilson’s presidency and its legacy in the history of the United States and of international relations, most notably Wilson’s motivation and effort to bring about a new world order under American political and moral leadership. Leclair convincingly portrays Crane as a proponent of the principle of self-determination –one, indeed, whose aversion to colonialism predated Wilson’s international vision as formulated in his Fourteen Points. While a convergence of reform interest and humanitarian concerns brought Crane and Wilson together on some of the most complex issues of the time, Crane’s vision –propelled by a genuine philanthropic commitment—adds substance to what has largely been derided as empty Wilsonian idealism. The thematic structure of this book, the quality of its narration, and the wealth of information it contains, are added elements that make it an excellent contribution to the field of U.S. history. It could be used as a an assigned reading in college or university courses, especially in advanced American history, American Political thought and international relations courses.

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Chapter 1. Social and Intellectual Foundations of Charles R. Crane: From the Crane Company to Woodrow Wilson’s Election, 1858–1912


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The Making of an Urban Progressive

Charles Richard Crane’s proverbial discretion and his relatively late appearance on the public scene might give the impression that he rose up out of nowhere, ex nihilo. The spectacular rise of his political career is doubly shrouded in mystery due to the quasi-complete silence of his memoirs and those of his father about anything relating to the family’s history and relationships. Nevertheless, despite the scarceness of information available on his family background, there are some aspects of his thought and previous life that proved to have a crucial bearing on his public career. Though Crane appears, in many respects, to be a singular and even exceptional figure in his surroundings, an analysis of his environment and formative years is essential and reveals conditions that shaped him and explain his progression and public work. The first step in defining Crane’s personality, time, and accomplishments is thus an analytical narrative of his familial and intellectual foundations as well as his political evolution up until Woodrow Wilson’s election.

Charles Crane was the eldest of nine children. His parents were both from Paterson, New Jersey, which, he later said, was known for producing a great number of famous entrepreneurs. His own family was itself full of adventurous ← 27 | 28 → entrepreneurs, whose spirit he clearly inherited. After working...

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