What issues and beliefs helped unite the diverse group of reformers known as progressives?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The most important belief that brought the Progressives together was the idea that the American middle class should be in charge because it was superior to other classes.  Progressives felt that there was something wrong with both the rich and the poor, which meant that the middle class should be in charge of the society.  They believed that the government should use its power to encourage the rich and the poor to be more like the middle class.

The Progressives felt that the rich were selfish and hungry for power and for wealth.  They felt that the poor did not have enough education or self-discipline to know what was best for them.  They wanted to use the government to fix both of these problems through various reforms.

One example of a reform that they wanted was Prohibition.  Prohibition would keep the poor from drinking.  This would force them to be better workers (because they would not come to work drunk or hung over) and fathers/husbands (because they would not squander their pay on alcohol and/or come home drunk and abuse their families).  Prohibition would thus make poor men more like middle class men.

The Progressives also supported women’s suffrage.  They did this partly because they wanted to enact Prohibition.  They believed that most women were good, middle class women who would vote for Prohibition and other such reforms.  They hoped that these women’s votes would outweigh those of poor, uneducated men who tended not to vote for Progressives.

The Progressives also wanted to curb the greed of the rich.  To accomplish this, they pushed for direct popular election of senators so wealthy “robber barons” could no longer “buy” senators.  The Progressives wanted to increase levels of government regulation of business.  This would prevent the greedy rich people from harming consumers through their monopoly power.  It would prevent these same greedy rich people from harming workers and from employing children at low wages.

The Progressives were united by the belief that the middle class was superior to the rich and the poor.  They were united by the desire to have the government enact reforms that would curb the rich and the poor and encourage them to act in more “middle class” ways.

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