The Progressive Era

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What were some of the issues Americans faced as they emerged from the Gilded Age, and in what ways did the Progressive Movement seek to address them? In what ways can the Progressive Era be viewed as a success? A failure?

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Some issues faced during the Gilded Age were consumer safety, governmental corruption, urban planning, and deregulated capitalism. The Food and Drug Act, passed soon after the release of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, sought to regulate food and medicines and was one of the first ways that the federal government intervened directly in the lives of the American public. This act made American food safer and ended the practice of selling patent medicines. The Pendleton Act created civil service tests that governmental employees had to pass before being offered a job. The goal of this act was to limit officeholders' ability to give jobs to their favorites as a form of patronage—now governmental employees had to have some kind of qualification. The act was passed after the assassination of James Garfield by a disgruntled office-seeker in 1881. Acts concerning zoning were passed due to the tenement system. Many immigrant families lived in tenements during the Gilded Age. Many of these tenements were crowded and dangerous. Many families also were told to bring their work home with them, meaning that they had to work even longer hours when they arrived at home. Urban planning made the tenements safer with fairer conditions. Cities also concerned themselves with sanitation and public safety with publicly funded fire and police forces. Cities also constructed parks for all the people to enjoy. The Sherman Anti-Trust Act and the work of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft helped to end the era of monopolies in American business as large companies such as Standard Oil were broken up into smaller ones, giving other companies room to start and grow.

The Progressive Era can be considered successful in that it demonstrated the power of the individual in government. Government passed ballot initiatives because of the will of groups of people. Governmental leaders were also held accountable with referendums and recalls, making leadership accountable at all times. This was aided by a rise in investigative journalism. The Progressive Era also made food safer, as the amount of people who died from food-related diseases dropped. The National Park Service was also borne out of the Progressive movement.

The era was a failure in that it did not do enough. By the end of the era, children still worked long hours and workers still had no minimum wage. Businesses could still become quite large and many would manipulate their stock prices, leading to the economic crash in 1929. The greatest experiment of the Progressive Era, Prohibition, failed because of a lack of public support and a lack of funds.

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