Who were the progressives?
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Progressives were groups of reformers that worked to improve social and political problems in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Many were well educated professionals from the cities. These progressives had different ideas on how to solve the problems that they saw. Many focused on different areas that included regulating business, reforming government, improving working conditions, improving health, working for women’s rights, and improving the conservation of natural resources. There are many examples of people who were progressives. Some progressives were known as muckrakers and wrote about the problems they saw. Upton Sinclair published The Jungle to highlight poor conditions in meat packing plants which led to the Meat Inspection Act and later to the Pure Food and Drug Act. President Theodore Roosevelt was a great progressive and worked to regulate big business and worked with such naturalists as John Muir on conservation issues. Robert La Follette of Wisconsin worked to make government more honest and responsive to the people.
In the late 19th century, a group known as the Progressives was created. They became more prominent during the early 20th century in an effort to reform politics, economics, and moral society. They believed that reform could come from within man, and therefore, rejected the belief of Social Darwinism and natural selection. They were responsible for the passage of many laws including prohibition, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, and the Interstate Commerce Act.
They pushed for a reform of government and Theodore Roosevelt ran for office on the Progressive platform. Progressives pushed for better working conditions, womens' rights, and increased monitoring of the nation's health. Due to the progressive era, we have the FDA and the Federal Reserve System in place.
Progressives included writers, politicians, and social welfare advocates who hoped that society would progress as a result of government action. They were keen believers in democracy and in fact considered it the basic cure for all government problems. Although some, such as the infamous "muckrakers" focused only on the problems of society, others produced genuine reform and progress.
Theodore Roosevelt is considered the model Progressive president. Under his leadership the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act were passed. He was also instrumental in breaking up large business trusts which he considered abusive. Among the other famous progressive leaders were:
- Robert La Foillette, governor of Wisconsin who demonstrated that state governments could be operated efficiently.
- Frederick W. Taylor, the father of "Taylorism" which promoted efficiency in business by time management and standardization of tools.
- Upton Sinclair, author of The Jungle which exposed unsanitary conditions and mistreatment of workers in the meat packing industry.
The Progressives were a group of reformers who were most active in the first two decades of the 20th century. These reformers were mainly white, middle-class Americans who had been born in the United States.
The Progressives were concerned with problems that (they thought) were caused by both the rich and the poor. They felt that the rich were abusing their power. They felt that big businesses needed to be regulated so that workers would enjoy better working conditions. They felt the big businesses needed to be prevented from “buying” political influence. They thought that monopolies needed to be broken up.
But the Progressives were also worried about the poor. They felt that the poor (many of whom were immigrants) were not behaving in proper and productive ways. Therefore, they pushed for social reforms that would encourage the poor to behave more like “responsible,” middle-class people. The most important of these reforms was Prohibition.
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