In dealing with the new urban environment of the late 19th century, which group was more successful--the political machines or the social reformers?

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Political machines were more successful than the social reformers in the late 1800s. During this time, many immigrants were coming to the United States, especially from South and East Europe. They settled in cities, often in ethnic neighborhoods. As the population of the cities rose rapidly, the city governments struggled...

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Political machines were more successful than the social reformers in the late 1800s. During this time, many immigrants were coming to the United States, especially from South and East Europe. They settled in cities, often in ethnic neighborhoods. As the population of the cities rose rapidly, the city governments struggled to deal with the issues created by the rapidly increasing population. The political machines, led by the party boss, saw this as an opportunity to get power and control. These machines help meet the needs of the people living the cities. They provided food for the hungry, jobs for the unemployed, medical care for the sick, and often helped people who were in legal trouble. In return for this help, these people voted for candidates supported by the political machines.

Businesses often needed the help of political machines to get government contracts. By bribing the party boss or donating money to the political machine, these businesses were able to secure these contracts.

The social reformers had some successes during this time. Temperance laws were passed in some states that outlawed the sale of alcohol. However, this created more opportunities for the political machines, which began to provide alcohol illegally to those who wanted it. This activity made a lot of money for the political machines.

While the social reformers had some successes, many of their successes were achieved in the 1900s. New forms of city government were formed to try to reduce the corruption that existed. New political tools such as the referendum, recall, and initiative tried to give the people more of a role in government, especially at the state and local levels. The establishment of an income tax made it harder for political machines to hide the money they were making. As people became more educated, the power of the political machine began to decline. The number of civil service jobs increased, making it more difficult to give a job to a political supporter. Many of these activities occurred in the 1900s. In the late 1800s, political machines continued to be very successful and exerted a great deal of political power.

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Political machines appear to be more successful than the social reformers because the political machines were fueled by votes, and votes could be gained through the immigrants and job seekers that mass migrated to the urban areas. As more and more people relocated to the cities due to better opportunities for employment, housing, and food, they depended upon the businesses for which they worked for their subsistence. In turn, these businesses gave patronage to the political machine which resulted in the businesses gaining material compensation in the form of such things as contracts and licenses. In this manner, the workers supported the political group that supported the businesses. The political machine became very powerful in controlling the urban environment.

On the other hand, urbanization and industrialization also created social problems such as poverty, pollution, and environmental hazards. Thus, social reform was born to provide a solution to these problems. Specifically, women's rights, temperance, education, and better working environments became the target of these reforms. The reformers did not have the same amount of power and financial incentives at their disposal as did the political machines and could possibly be deemed as less successful during this time frame.

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It would be easy to make arguments for both of these groups since both had their good points and their bad points.  I will argue that the political machines were more successful.

The most important problem of the new urban environment, in human terms, was the poverty of the working class and the immigrants.  The political machines did a great deal to help these people in very practical terms.  The machines depended on this group for votes and, therefore, delivered benefits to them in the form of things city jobs and informal welfare services.  By contrast, reformers often did things like educational programs that they thought were important but might not have seemed as relevant to the poor themselves.

Since the machines provided tangible benefits of the sorts needed by the poor, they were more successful in dealing with the new urban environment of this time period.

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