Was Thomas Jefferson the first "progressive" politician?
"The difference between Mr. Wilson and myself is fundamental. The
other day in a speech at Sioux Falls, Mr. Wilson stated his position
when he said that the history of government, the history of liberty, was
the history of the limitation of governmental power. This is true as an
academic statement of history in the past. It is not true as a
statement affecting the present....The liberty of which Mr. Wilson
speaks today means merely the liberty of some great trust magnate to do
that which he is not entitled to do. It means merely the liberty of some
factory owner to work haggard women over-hours for under-pay and
himself to pocket the profits. It means the liberty of the factory owner
to close his operatives into some crazy deathtrap on a top floor, where
if fire starts, the slaughter is immense....We propose, on the
contrary, to extend governmental power in order to secure the liberty of
the wage workers, of the men and women who toil in industry, to save
the liberty of the oppressed from the oppressor. Mr. Wilson stands for
the liberty of the oppressor to oppress. We stand for the limitation of
his liberty not to oppress those who are weaker than himself."
-"The Liberty of the People" campaign speech, 1912
In the immediate post-Revolutionary era, Thomas Jefferson was an ardent proponent of "partible" inheritance - government mandates for the division of wealth and estate of accomplished citizens among their children. Previously wealth had been transferred in full, unabridged, to the eldest son. Thomas Jefferson effectually proposed a form of wealth redistribution, to such an end is hard to misinterpret:
"There is...an artificial aristocracy
founded on wealth and birth, without either virtue or talents.... The
artificial aristocracy is a mischievous ingredient in government, and
provisions should be made to prevent its ascendancy."
Thomas Jefferson feared plutocracy.
Another factoid supporting the idea that Jefferson was a sort of classically-liberal "progressive" is his amendment proposal - never included in the ratified Bill of Rights - that the public be afforded protections against monopolies on commerce. Included in discussion on Constitutional corporate regulation was a debate on the personhood of corporations - with Jefferson writing to various friends (among them James Madison), that corporations should be barred from contributing to Federal elections.
“I hope we shall…crush in its birth the aristocracy of our
moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a
trial of strength and to bid defiance to the laws of our country.”
–Thomas Jefferson, letter to George Logan, November 12, 1816
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