Ohio History Journal

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Book Reviews




By Jack Tager. (Cleveland: Press of

Case Western Reserve University, 1968.

198p.; bibliography and index. $6.50.)

This is a book about Toledo's erudite

reform mayor, who served from 1906-1913.

The author, who teaches history at the

University of Massachusetts, has organ-

ized his study around a central theme. He

says Brand Whitlock's progressivism can

be explained by his "rejection of authority

images, his denial of authoritarian credos";

"His life can be seen as a progression from

one significant experience to another, each

of which pointed out the flaws and short-

comings of the relationship existing be-

tween society and the individual" (p. 2).

In pursuing this thesis, Tager reveals

how Whitlock first sought to reject his

Methodist heritage with its emphasis on a

rigid moral code. Then as mayor he re-

fused to dally with doctrines like Socialism

or Henry George's "single tax." Such pro-

grams were panaceas, Whitlock believed,

which contradicted his notions of indi-

vidual liberty and creativity. He was best

at articulating the "Free City," an abstract

goal which summed up most of the then

prevalent thinking about honest govern-

ment and social justice for the underpriv-


While he instinctively wanted his ad-

ministration to personify this ideal, Whit-

lock recognized the necessity for organiza-

tion. He worked for institutional reforms

like municipal home rule and waged war

against economic interests such as the

street railway monopoly. These reform ac-

tivities took place in the guise of an inde-

pendent political movement which was

actually an Independent party in every

sense of the word.

The ironic aspect about Whitlock's ca-

reer is that once he saw the improbability

of achieving his aspirations, he simply

gave them up. The brutalization of the

First World War, which he witnessed first-

hand from his post as American Minister

to Belgium, made it easier to forget his

progressivism. A cruel industrial society

could not offer the proper climate for his

libertarian convictions, he decided. Democ-

racy only encouraged mediocrity, and re-

form movements too quickly deteriorated

into moralistic debaucheries, symbolized

for him by Prohibition. As a detached ob-

server, he became so bitter that he raised

a tacit question: Can a reform commitment

so easily dropped have ever been very

genuine? Yet Tager believes him sincere,

even to the point of accepting his ration-

alizations for what went wrong.

Secondary themes raised in the book

need development. Whitlock's carefully

cultivated taste for the aristocratic, for ex-

ample, did not help his admitted inability

to understand the working man whose

cause he championed. His aversion to po-

litical campaigning while savoring its re-

wards may be an anomaly, but it suggests

a lack of candor. Most important, Whit-

lock was primarily a novelist of remarkable

literary craftsmanship. To writing he gave

his best efforts; all else came second. The

best insights come from reading Whit-