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The Progressive Movement represented the countervailing force to the Industrialization Movement in the late 19th and early 20th Century America. The hope of the Progressives was to provide a voice for all those who were silenced as the machine of economic and social progress moved at an unprecedented pace. Certainly there were many examples of their success throughout the time period that can be found in any History text. However, where I think their successes were evident remain in the Progressives' Legacy. For example, the Muckrakers, social activists, that sought to explore conditions in factories, issues in production, child labor, unfair compensation and exposing the emergence of the underclass in America were highly successful in their attempts to bring voice to those who lack voice. Jacob Riis and Upton Sinclair are two such leaders in this realm. Some sought to bring Progressive Reform through the legislative route, through striving to eliminate the patronage of the spoils system and breaking up industrial trusts. Expanding political voice to Women in the form of the Suffragists resulted in the 19th Amendment. Thinkers who voiced Progressivist ideas such as Washington and DuBois were critical architects in framing the paradigms for African Americans and people of color to articulate their conceptions of freedom and their role in America. The most important element that come out of the Progressivist Movement is the idea that America does not only exist for the wealthy and powerful. Rather, for each industrialist such as a Carnegie, there are thousands of individual who toil in his factories and must have their voices heard and their experiences validated, as well. In the final analysis, the Progressivists have to be deemed as somewhat successful as they helped to transform America as a nation comprised of multiple dialogues that strive to develop the tapestry known as "America."
As to how progressives proposed to extend opportunities to all citizens, they proposed to use government force to force all citizens to behave as they thought all citizens should behave. When people are free, they naturally do what is best for themselves. If government is preventing them from doing what is best for themselves, then they are not free. Obviously it is government's job to keep people from stealing from each other, but if people are not already doing all for themselves that is good for themselves and that can be done without doing harm to other people, then they are not free.
So, since progressives thought it necessary for their programs to be government programs, it follows that either they were trying to force people to do things that were not good for themselves, or people were not always free to do for themselves.
The actual situation was probably a mixture. Certainly, progressives envisioned things for society that people did not want. Also, powerful interests in society who had political influence with government, kept some people from doing what was good for them. Existing laws should have been enforced against those powerful interests that were curbing some people's freedoms. Instead the progressives wanted to create new government programs. Two wrongs do not make a right. There were two wrongs, because government cannot give anything to anyone without first taking it from somebody else.
There is a link below to a very good summary of progressivist thought.
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