Was progressivism successful in achieving its goal? 

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The progressive movement, whose aims were to reform government to make it more responsive to everyday citizens, to root out corruption, increase economic equality and advance the rights of workers, was very successful in achieving its aims, but it took over half a century of political struggle and setback to do so.

Starting with the Grange Movement, whose platform included a desire to regulate railroads and put a cap on how much they could charge farmers, to implement a graduated income tax, and to establish the direct election of senators, the progressive movement in the second half of the 1800s focused its energy on politics at the national level and state level. With leaders such a Eugene Debs (a leading railroad labor unionizer and later a socialist candidate) and William Jennings Bryant, who ran as a progressive candidate for president, the progressive movement in the 1880s and 1890s successfully pressured congress to regulated the railroads and so-called "grain elevators," and also secured an overhaul of the civil service by passing the Pendleton Act, which made the civil service a meritocracy, forcing employees to pass standardized exams to prove their competence, instead of allowing politicians and business leaders to put their friends and supporters into the those positions.

Yet the progressive movement had even more success at the state level in the late 1890s and early 1900s, when it successfully introduced reforms to the state constitutions of California, Nevada, Oregon, New York, New Jersey and several other states. In these states, progressive politicians made state and local governments responsible to their citizens by instituting the initiative process, the referendum, and the recall, all of which allowed ordinary citizens to make new laws, revoke bad laws, and fire corrupt or unresponsive legislators and governors who failed to enact the will of the people.

At the federal level, progressives finally got action from progressive presidents like Theodore Roosevelt (1900 - 1908) and Woodrow Wilson (1912 - 1920). Roosevelt became the first president to negotiate the end to strike on behalf of railroad workers, to start busting trusts (monopolies), and to introduce the Pure Food and Drug Act, which regulated the nation’s food and medicine production industries, and became the precursor to the Food and Drug Administration. Roosevelt also created the National Parks, for the benefit of all Americans, and introduced government-regulated conservation of the wilderness and natural resources by establishing the United States Forest Service and picking the famous conservationist, Gifford Pinchot, to run it. 

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, Woodrow Wilson gave progressives two of their longest sought after goals: the graduated income tax (16th Amendment) and the direct election of senators (17th Amendment). The tide of progressive politics was turned back after World War One by Republicans Harding and Coolidge, but FDR picked up the torch of the progressive movement in 1932 after Hoover’s disastrous tenure, and FDR delivered more reforms than most progressives of the 19th and early 20th century could have ever hoped for with the New Deal, which is still considered the gold standard of progressive policies.

The progressive movement remains alive today, and was throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, with presidents such as Truman, LBJ, and more recently, Obama. Today, progressive politics and its goals form the backbone of the Democratic Party platform, which argues for increased political equality for minorities, heavier regulation of large businesses, progressive tax policy, an expanded social safety net, accommodative fiscal and monetary policy, and protections for organized labor. As the old adage goes, "the more things change, the more things stay the same."

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