The Progressives were such a large and diverse group that it is difficult to generalize about them. It is best to say, in response to this question, that they thought responding to the effects of rapid industrialization and urbanization was the most important issue of their time.
Progressives generally argued that government ought to play a role in curbing the excesses of the era. They did not want to destroy capitalism, but rather to manage it in ways that made it beneficial for more people. So many Progressives supported, for example, anti-trust laws that reined in the power of monopolies. They promoted shorter hours and safer working conditions in factories. They supported child labor legislation and safety regulations for food and drugs. Because they worried about the effects of urbanization, Progressives championed efforts to "clean up" city politics through reforms such as hiring city managers and establishing city council systems that were less open to control by political machines. They also promoted housing regulations, set up settlement houses and city volunteer organizations, and other measures intended to reduce crime and create better living conditions in urban areas. Some actually pushed for immigration restrictions, especially on Eastern Europeans, and the movement to prohibit alcohol always had a strong anti-immigrant bent. So the Progressives believed in trying to rein in the excesses that had characterized the United States during the so-called "Gilded Age."
The Progressives believed several things to be important. The Progressives believed that the growth of industries and the growth of cities caused social problems for our society. They believed the government had to be involved in solving these problems. A laissez-faire attitude would only allow these problems to continue to exist.
The Progressives believed that people should be more involved in political matters. They felt political power was in the hands of wealthy and powerful. Thus, they supported the direct primary, the initiative, the referendum, the recall, and the direct election of United States Senators. They believed these reforms would give average people more political muscle.
The Progressives believed that unregulated businesses would do what was in the best interests of the businesses instead of the best interests of the society. Therefore, they supported laws that regulated child labor, established safer working conditions, and monitored the actions of businesses. The Progressives believed everybody should be treated fairly and compassionately.
The Progressives saw problems in society. They set out to correct those problems by bringing them to the public’s attention and getting laws passed to make the necessary changes.