Informed by classical and Christian views of the human soul, America's Founders held that human beings are fallible, yet still capable of self-government. Republican government depends upon institutions ruled according to reason, not passion, thus requiring its citizens to practice certain virtues.
Progressives rejected the idea of a fixed human nature, emphasizing instead the malleability of human beings. Government can make human beings better; thus, perfection in politics is possible.
"We must take human nature as we find it. Perfection falls not to the share of mortals."—George Washington, "Letter to John Jay"
"For just as man is the best of the animals when completed, when separated from law and adjudication he is the worst of all."—Aristotle, The Politics
"But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary."—James Madison, Federalist 51
"Perfection is not to be expected in any thing that is the production of man."—Brutus, "Essay I"
"Human nature is the same on every side of the Atlantic, and will be alike influenced by the same causes."—Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, "Query XIII: Constitution"
"As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form."—James Madison, Federalist 55
"Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm."—James Madison, Federalist 10
"Repeal the Missouri compromise—repeal all compromises—repeal the Declaration of Independence—repeal all past history, you still cannot repeal human nature."—Abraham Lincoln, "Speech on the Kansas-Nebraska Act"
"They put forward their ideas as immutable truths good at all times and places; they had no idea of historic relativity, either in general or in its application to themselves."—John Dewey, Liberalism and Social Action
"Changed conditions, it has been thought, must bring in their train different conceptions of private rights if society is to be advantageously carried on."—Frank Goodnow, The American Conception of Liberty
"Social expediency, rather than natural right, is thus to determine the sphere of individual freedom of action."—Frank Goodnow, The American Conception of Liberty
"Pure democracy has again become not merely possible, but natural and appropriate."—Herbert Croly, Progressive Democracy
"These practical conditions of political association have again changed, and have changed in a manner which enables the mass of the people to assume some immediate control of their political destinies."—Herbert Croly, Progressive Democracy
"Men are shaped by their world."—Lyndon B. Johnson, "Commencement Address at Howard University"
"We think of the future, not the past, as the more glorious time in comparison with which the present is nothing. The modern idea is to leave the past and press onward to something new."—Woodrow Wilson, "What is Progress?"