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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 2. Charles R. Crane and the Wilson Administration: A Time of Domestic Reforms, 1912–1916


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“Democracy and Efficiency”: Expertization, Reform, and Wilsonian Thought

Charles R. Crane proved to be a critical player in Woodrow Wilson’s political rise toward presidency. Along with Louis Brandeis and Edward House, he supported Wilson in the formulation and the implementation of the future president’s progressive program, the New Freedom. Given that Crane and especially Brandeis seem to be “expert” advisors in Wilson’s entourage, the program they contributed to should be analyzed by emphasizing the typically progressive traits of Wilson’s administration. These traits allow us to measure and uncover the full scope of Crane’s presence in the highest presidential circles and help situate both him and Wilson in the Progressive movement in general. Indeed, the progressive outlook on power and efficiency in politics shared by Crane, Brandeis, and Wilson has to be viewed in light of Crane and Brandeis’s prior involvement with La Follette as shown in the previous chapter.

Wilson’s style and program at the start of his presidential career can first be characterized by the federal government’s increased involvement in social and political affairs and, especially, by the expansion of the president’s power ← 57 | 58 → in the governmental structure as a whole. For instance, Wilson reinstated certain habits lost since the time of Thomas Jefferson, such as speaking before Congress when presenting his tariff reform program and disciplining certain members of his...

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