Muckrakers and Political Reforms

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How did muckrakers prepare the way for political reforms?

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Muckrakers were active during the Progressive Era of the 1890s through the 1920s in instigating quite a few political reforms. These journalists saw it as their duty to expose the corruption of dirty politicians. With the notion that a properly informed populace is essential in a fully functioning democracy, muckraker...

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Muckrakers were active during the Progressive Era of the 1890s through the 1920s in instigating quite a few political reforms. These journalists saw it as their duty to expose the corruption of dirty politicians. With the notion that a properly informed populace is essential in a fully functioning democracy, muckraker journalists dove deep into the issues that many of those in power would have preferred to have stayed hidden. Today, we might refer to muckrakers by the more generous name of investigative journalists.

These journalists sought to shine a light on the abuses of urban politicians, poverty, and unsafe and unsanitary working conditions. The issues they exposed most likely led to progressive legislation such as the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, the break up of large monopolies, and the election of more honest (or at least less blatantly corrupt) politicians. Without their work of exposing the ills of society, these issues may have gone unnoticed by the general populace for a long time. In short, by splattering the corruption of the time period on the front page of popular newspapers and publications, the muckrakers made the issues impossible to ignore.

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The muckrakers of the Progressive Era paved the way for political reforms by alerting people to conditions that, in the muckrakers’ eyes, needed fixing.   This made the people put pressure on the government for reforms.

In our democratic system, things do not tend to change unless the people do not like the status quo.  If one group thinks something is a problem, but no one else is paying attention, the problem will probably not get addressed. Therefore, if you think something is a problem, you need to publicize it so that everyone else will think it is a problem as well.  This is what the muckrakers did.  Jacob Riis made people aware of the terrible conditions in which poor immigrants lived. Upton Sinclair made people aware of what the slaughterhouses were like.  Other muckrakers exposed problems like the monopoly of Standard Oil. By making people aware of these problems, they allowed the people to put pressure on the government, thus paving the way for political reforms.

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