In their own different ways, both the Progressive movement and the New Deal had a profound impact upon American politics and society. Radical reform was at the heart of Progressivism, and to some extent the policies enacted under the New Deal built upon this legacy. Yet, there were differences. Progressivism...
In their own different ways, both the Progressive movement and the New Deal had a profound impact upon American politics and society. Radical reform was at the heart of Progressivism, and to some extent the policies enacted under the New Deal built upon this legacy. Yet, there were differences. Progressivism was more concerned with formal, rather than substantive change. Its main focus was on the remedy of existing abuses within American democracy and the capitalist system. For example, in the early twentieth-century, the heyday of Progressivism, a raft of legislation was passed by Congress that dealt with such issues as child labor, food safety standards, and greater participation in the democratic process.
The Progressive movement never sought to challenge the fundamentals of American society as such; instead it expressed a keen desire that the prevailing social and economic systems should operate more fairly, more efficiently. It had a high moral tone, which opponents found grating and at times self-righteous. In many respects, Prohibition was the most famous—or infamous—fruit of Progressivism, representing as it did a policy steeped in an explicitly moralistic worldview that embraced virtually every aspect of public policy.
The New Deal, on the other hand, was concerned with the practical economic goal of getting the country back to work after almost four years of the Great Depression. To achieve this goal, it wasn't enough to enact reforms as the Progressives had done; it was further necessary to devote substantial sums of tax dollars to stimulate the economy and create much-needed jobs for the millions of unemployed.
The advocates of Progressivism had inspired the passing of the Sixteenth Amendment, which for the first time allowed Congress to levy a federal income tax. But it took the New Deal to take this reform and use it for the kind of massive government intervention in running the economy thought necessary to end the Depression. If the Progressive movement changed the existing rules on how things should be done, the New Deal changed them in relation to what should be done.