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Friday, April 24, 2020

Changing Perceptions of the Federal Government

I was curious the other day to see what President Woodrow Wilson said or did in response  to the 1918 pandemic. The answer is basically nothing. He said nothing publicly, and the  only "federal response" was by the military, which of course had to figure out how to deal with the cases within its ranks.  

Maybe this lack of presidential action can explained by the fact that World War I was on and everything else took a back seat. Still, I don't think that Wilson simply ignored all domestic issues in the Fall of 1918. Rather, I think the answer is that few thought that the federal government was supposed to handle a pandemic (even a progressive like Wilson). It was seen as a state and local matter. We still have some of that sensibility today, but now there is a greater sense that federal officials are supposed to lead the response.

Posted by Gerard Magliocca on April 24, 2020 at 07:34 AM | Permalink


Craig, was not racism a core part of the progressive ideology at the time?

Posted by: Jr | Apr 29, 2020 5:43:58 AM

Here is a snapshot, including sympathy wishes from the First Lady:


With it affecting D.C. (including the Supreme Court), the military, his staff, etc., hard for him to really say nothing about it. But, here is something that suggests he didn't say anything publicly about it as such:


Still, the flu again affected things the executive department would directly be involved in -- the military alone did not work in some sort of vacuum that did not affect civilians -- so even if it was not supposed to "handle" it, it clearly had SOME significant role to play.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 26, 2020 12:24:31 PM

Interesting conversation with historian Nancy Bristow, on the Hidden Brain podcast, about the responses to the so-called Spanish Flu (which originated in Kansas), bears out and expands on the Wikipedia take above. https://overcast.fm/+YsrhbmdCo

And was Wilson really a “progressive”? Certainly not on many issues, race being the most obvious.

Posted by: Craig Martin | Apr 24, 2020 12:43:58 PM

Gerard, was the New Deal the sea change regarding the role of the federal government in domestic affairs? My impression is that Hoover, who had a track record as a competent and accomplished manager (compare the present), didn't view responding to the 1929 crash and the ensuing economic turmoil as a federal responsibility.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Apr 24, 2020 12:02:57 PM

Interesting, the author of the post, should investigate rather, another theory, I quote from Wikipedia:

" To maintain morale, World War I censors minimized early reports of illness and mortality in Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and the United States. Newspapers were free to report the epidemic's effects in neutral Spain, such as the grave illness of King Alfonso XIII, and these stories created a false impression of Spain as especially hard hit. This gave rise to the name Spanish flu. Historical and epidemiological data are inadequate to identify with certainty the pandemic's geographic origin, with varying views as to its location."




Posted by: El roam | Apr 24, 2020 8:40:19 AM

ok, that is good idea.

Posted by: سایت شرط بندی فارسی | Apr 24, 2020 8:23:45 AM

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