Why did Progressives believe society needed to be reformed?

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The Progressives emerged in response to the social, economic, and political conditions of the Industrial Age. With that in mind, you need to consider just what those conditions actually entailed, to gain a sense of what the Progressives were reacting against.

The United States in the Industrial Age (also known as the Gilded Age) was a United States become increasingly dominated by monopolistic business interests (the so-called Age of Big Business). Additionally, we should be aware of the very real political corruption present in the time period. Consider the amount of money wielded by Big Business, and the degree to which great wealth can be used to purchase political influence, or the amount of political corruption and graft which can be sometimes seen on the municipal level, with political operators like Boss Tweed in New York.

The fact of the matter is that a great deal of legislation originates as responses to very real problems within society. The Progressives observed the various social and economic ills present during the time in question, and championed reform.

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Progressives believed there were problems in our society that needed to be addressed. They felt certain practices in our country were benefitting a few people while hurting many people.

John Spargo wrote a book that focused on child labor. He wrote about how children were working long hours in dangerous factories instead of going to school. These kids were paid very little. This helped business owners keep costs down. In part because of his book, child labor and compulsory school attendance laws were passed to correct this issue.

Lincoln Steffens wrote about how money was corrupting the political system. The common person seemed to be getting shut out of politics. To correct this issue, the initiative, referendum, recall, and direct election of U.S. Senators were reforms made to improve conditions in politics that would help involve the average person more in the political process.

Upton Sinclair wrote about unsanitary conditions in the meat industry. These conditions led to tainted meat being sold. Business owners were also falsely labeling food and medicine to increase profits. The Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act were passed to help correct these issues.

The Progressives believed there were problems in our society. By drawing people’s attention to these issues, they were able to bring about various changes to correct the abuses they believed existed in our country.

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