The first use of the term in commercial publishing was in 1912 in Chapter 1 of Senator Robert LaFollette's Autobiography . Speaking of his education at the University of Wisconsin, he says "In those days we did not so much get correct political and economic views, for there was then little teaching of sociology or political economy worthy the name".
Sen. La Follette of Wisconsin later ran for President in 1924 on the Progressive Party platform. The University of Wisconsin Madison campus has often been cited as the birthplace of political correctness. Donna Shalala, former Clinton Secretary of Health & Human Services and University of Wisconsin Chancellor has been called the founder of political correctness.
Here is an extended excerpt of the passage:
It is difficult, indeed, to overestimate the part which the university has played in the Wisconsin revolution. For myself, I owe what I am and what I have done largely to the inspiration I received while there. It was not so much the actual courses of study which I pursued; it was rather the spirit of the institution--a high spirit of earnest endeavor, a spirit of fresh interest in new things, and beyond all else a sense that somehow the state and the university were intimately related, and that they should be of mutual service.
The guiding spirit of my time, and the man to whom Wisconsin owes a debt greater than it can ever pay, was its President, John Bascom.
I never saw Ralph Waldo Emerson, but I should say that John Bascom was a man of much his type, both in appearance and in character. He was the embodiment of moral force and moral enthusiasm; and he was in advance of his time in feeling the new social forces and in emphasizing the new social responsibilities. His addresses to the students on Sunday afternoons, together with his work in the classroom, were among the most important influences in my early life. It was his teaching, iterated and reiterated, of the obligation of both the university and the students to the mother state that may be said to have originated the Wisconsin idea in education. He was forever telling us what the state was doing for us and urging our return obligation not to use our education wholly for our own selfish benefit, but to return some service to the state. That teaching animated and inspired hundreds of students who sat under John Bascom. The present President of the university, Charles R. Van Hise, a classmate of mine, was one of the men who has nobly handed down the tradition and continued the teaching of John Bascom.
In those days we did not so much get correct political and economic views, for there was then little teaching of sociology or political economy worthy the name, but what we somehow did get, and largely from Bascom, was a proper attitude toward public affairs. And when all is said, this attitude is more important than any definite views a man may hold.
brief excerpt on what we call today 'relativism'
...In the absence of all opposing proof, we have the most
indubitable right to affirm that knowledge is knowledge.
To deny its present ostensible character is so far to
undermine truth itself as to render its speculative
restoration in the eternal verity of things wholly
fanciful. Such a conception in only a deeper im-
press of the same misleading forms of thought. We
should simply be fated to think of an evanescent absolute,
a thing in itself most alien to our experience. On
the other hand, that we think of the absolute is the
strongest proof that our thoughts reach to it.
Dr. Hickok has well shown that uncommon experience
is possible under the illusion of personal forms
of thought, which stand in no definite dependence on
things. Our conjunct experience must take place in
one time, and in one space, The time and the space must
express to each of us real objective form, and carry
with them common relations. When time and space are
mental forms merely as in dreams, our experiences lie
wholly apart. The assumption of the unity and oneness of these
forms of reason among men, while they are completely relative in
reference to men as a genus, is a marvellous example of a
bastard absolute, of an affirmation of falsehood and faith
in the same breath.
The one thing knowledge is never at liberty to do, is to
destroy itself. Reason may never impeach reason.
Beyond the faith of reason in itself we cannot go.
Knowledge holds within itself both elements, the relative and
the absolute, the empirical and the transcendental; in the
deepest meaning, of the words, the natural and the super-natural.
Our senses furnish the one term and our reason
the other, and the two interwoven in judgements, yield
knowledge. Knowledge cannot be made out of
sensasations; it cannot be made out of ideas. The web of
thought is a web by virtue of combining them both.
Thus facts and theories unite as knowledge in science.
To think, then, is to condition in this sense only;
correct thought springs up in discernment of the relations
which ever belong to things as the products of reason.
A trust in reason demands a recognition of its movement
toward the absolute; human experience has nothing to
offer against an absolute, while it constantly gives rise to
the idea; an absolute beyond thought, with no absolute
in thought, is unintelligible; a scepticism of reason of this
fundamental order, directed toward itself, is suicidal.
The relative always involves for the mind the absolute.
I say that one thing, as a hand ball, is larger than another
thing, as an acorn. I may then proceed to say, that the
words large and small are always relative. Yes, but I
regard the relation of the ball and the acorn as absolute
within itself, otherwise my words would have no meaning.
If the relation can change independently of the facts, the
assertion is lost. When the mind lifts the absolute from
one point, it plants it at once at another.