Muckrakers and Political Reforms

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In United States history, the term “muckraker” is used to refer to a member of a group of journalists from the Progressive Era who were concerned with uncovering bad deeds and bad conditions in society.  The muckrakers wanted to let the public know about the bad things so that pressure...

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In United States history, the term “muckraker” is used to refer to a member of a group of journalists from the Progressive Era who were concerned with uncovering bad deeds and bad conditions in society.  The muckrakers wanted to let the public know about the bad things so that pressure could be put on the government to do something about them.

During the Progressive Era, reformers were interested in trying to fix what they saw as the ills of society.  They were unhappy about things like the power of monopolies, the conditions in which workers worked, the quality of the food that was being sold by large companies, the conditions in which poor people lived, and many other issues.  They believed that the government should get involved in putting an end to these ills.  The muckrakers were a group of journalists who wrote magazine articles, books, and other things to try to expose the problems.  One example of a muckraker was Upton Sinclair, who wrote the fictional novel The Jungle to expose the poor treatment of workers in the meatpacking industry and the unsanitary conditions in which the meat was processed and packed.  Another muckraker was Jacob Riis, who took photographs and wrote articles that detailed the plight of the urban poor. 

The muckrakers got their name from a derisive reference by President Theodore Roosevelt.  He thought they concentrated too much on the bad and ignored the good.  Therefore, he compared them to a character in John Bunyan’s religious classic The Pilgrim’s Progress.  That character was so obsessed with muck and filth that he never looked up and noticed that he could have all the glories of Heaven.  Roosevelt thought the muckrakers were too interested in the “muck” and that they needed to know when to stop turning it over.

The muckrakers are typically credited with being a major force in the Progressive Era.  Historians say that the muckrakers made Americans more aware of the problems in their society.  This led them to put more pressure on the government to fix those problems through the reforms of the Progressive Era.

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