As soon as President Obama invoked Theodore Roosevelt’s name last night, we started digging through the archives in search of details about the Bull Moose’s call for health-care reform. It was a tougher get than we expected, as the proposal amounts to little more than a single line in the Progressive Party’s final 1912 platform; it was evidently a late add, as the language doesn’t appear in the August version (PDF). Roosevelt’s call-by-proxy basically goes as so:
The supreme duty of the Nation is the conservation of human resources through an enlightened measure of social and industrial justice. We pledge ourselves to work unceasingly in State and Nation for…the protection of home life against the hazards of sickness, irregular employment and old age through the adoption of a system of social insurance adapted to American use.
In other words, as the PolitiFact crew noted a while back, the Progressives were basically calling for a version of Social Security plus health care. At least TR’s spirit can look down from the cosmos and know that the former came to fruition.
But once we found that health-care nugget, we couldn’t help but give the entire party platform a read. What a fascinating peek into the issues that mattered to left-of-center folks back in the day—the language gives us an excellent sense of just how hard life must’ve been for those on the bottom rung of the economy. Check out this plea for:
The abolition of the convict contract labor system; substituting a system of prison production for governmental consumption only; and the application of prisoners’ earnings to the support of their dependent families.
We never really understood how big of an issue this was until we unearthed this disturbing article on the history of 19th-century penal labor. This stat sorta blew our minds:
In 1885, some 67 percent of working prisoners were employed in the private sector.
In other words, America’s evolution into the world’s business leader was greatly aided by the incarcerated. And that revelation really makes us curious to read Slavery by Another Name.
UPDATE A great post on this very topic here, via Microkhan ally Oliver Tatom.