The first half of the twentieth century involved drastic changes in the role of government concerning the cultivation of virtue in its citizens and the economy, as well as in the strength and size of the executive branch and government as a whole. The Progressive and New Deal programs provided a structure for the reformers to implement these changes.
Formative ambition was still a major part of government in both the Progressive and New Deal periods. It was also evident in the pre-progressive industrial era, when the sole mission of organizations like the Knights of Labor was to create a cooperative community of virtuous citizens. Progressives attempted to foster a similar community spirit with their playground, sports team, and tenement reform projects, thus transferring the responsibility of character-forming from the local to the national level. This sense of cooperation is also illustrated by the Darwinian theory of government, where a nation is considered a living thing whose parts all work together for the optimum performance of the organism. Preserving self-government was also one of Progressives' primary concerns, especially Wilson, who attempted to arouse indignance in Americans at the tyranny of political machines' alliance with business.
Formative ambition, though it dissipated in the 1940s, was present in the early New Deal period as well as in the Progressive era. Franklin Roosevelt's defense of a stronger national government rested on such traditional ideas as national unity, class harmony, and control of factions. Also, many of the New Deal programs had not only an economic purpose, but also a moral purpose. One example is the Agricultural Adjustment Act, which restored agricultural prices to a pre-war level; at the same time respecting traditional values of free enterprise and individual freedom. Programs such as the Tennessee Valley Authority sought to create jobs so citizens could be self-sufficient, and thus more self-governing. Yet...
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