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First of all, we must note that it is not possible to objectively identify which issues had the most impact on the United States. It is not possible to say what impact is greater and what impact is less great without resorting to one’s own opinions. In my view, the three issues, from less important to more important, are 1) more direct democracy, 2) women’s suffrage, and 3) regulation of business.
The first issue that I have selected is the Progressives’ desire for people to have a more direct say in governmental affairs. The Progressives introduced things like the initiative and the recall in order to take power from political bosses and rich elites. It may be because I live in the West, where ballot measures are more common, but I see this as very important. For example, my own state of Washington has done things like banning affirmative action by the state, protecting abortion rights, and legalizing marijuana all through initiatives. The impact of initiatives has been even greater in California.
The second issue is women’s suffrage. In terms of justice, this would be the most important, but in terms of more tangible impact, I will put it second. By giving women the right to vote, the Progressives did a great deal to start us on the path to the society we have today. Our society has moved so far in terms of attitudes towards women since the Progressive Era. This has changed the way we live in very important ways. It has, for example, made marriage much more of a union of equals and has led to men being more involved with their families. These changes, at least arguably, can trace their roots to the granting of women’s suffrage.
The most important issue is the desire to regulate business. This has completely transformed the United States. In the 1890s, the US was still a fairly laissez-faire country with a very low level of government intervention in the economy. This started to change with the Progressive Era. For better or worse, this started us on the way to the system we now have where the government involves itself in our economic lives in so many ways. Liberals would say this has made our society safer and more just. Conservatives would say it has set us on the road to big government and loss of liberty. Either way, it has profoundly changed our society, economy, and political system.
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