Politics and Corruption in the Gilded Age

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How did progressives aim to solve issues arising in America's Gilded Age?

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During the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, Progressives in America attempted to solve a number of societal problems that the saw. Different Progressives went about addressing the problems they saw in a number of ways.

Some felt that the best way to fix society was to bring to light hidden social problems. Progressive journalists, often dubbed muckrakers, investigated and wrote about dangerous workplace conditions, unsanitary urban living conditions, and corrupt politicians. Along with other writers and photographers, they shone a light on issues that were otherwise too easy to ignore. When successful, this type of work led to public outcry which pressured politicians and law enforcement to find a solution.

Progressive politicians attempted to pass laws to end the exploitive practices of big businesses and monopolies. They wanted to protect American consumers and workers by reforming a legal code that overlooked their needs.

Progressive laborers formed unions so that they could collectively bargain for better working conditions. In fact, this period saw the fastest growth in unions in the country's history.

Progressive conservationists lobbied the government to protect America's natural resources and wild places from exploitation. This actually led to the creation of some of the earliest federally protected lands set aside for the enjoyment of the general public. With more and more people living in crowded cities at this time, the need to conserve and protect the wilderness had become apparent to many.

Because of all this diversity in societal problems and methods to solve them, Progressives were a varied and diverse group.

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The world of the Gilded Age was filled with many problems.  First, businesses such as Standard Oil tried to corner the market through monopolies.  Progressive legislators then passed anti-trust acts which were enforced by Presidents such as Teddy Roosevelt and William Taft.  Legislators also passed consumer protection acts, such as the Food and Drug Act, in order to prevent consumers from being harmed by shady business practices.  Legislators at the state and federal level also pushed for things such as the forty-hour workweek and workman's compensation for injured workers.

Socially, Progressives tried to end alcoholism by passing Prohibition.  This marked the end of the Progressive era because the bill failed due to a lack of popularity and little money to actively enforce it.  The Progressive Era marked the beginnings of government getting more involved with individuals and businesses.  Progressives felt as though this was their duty, as the businesses of the era tended to focus only on their profits.  

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The Progressives Era tried to deal with some of the problems that existed during the Gilded Age. These problems existed in politics, in the actions of businesses, and in the workplace.

The Progressives wanted to get more people involved in politics. There was a feeling that only select individuals could be influential in politics. There was also concern that money was influencing the decisions made in the United States Senate. The Progressives introduced various political reforms. The initiative allowed common citizens to introduce legislation in government. The direct primary allowed party members to choose the candidates of the political parties. The referendum allowed citizens to vote on proposed ideas. The recall allowed for the removal of elected officials before their term is up if an elected official didn’t act properly or legally. Women were granted the right to vote with the 19th Amendment.

Progressives wanted to control the actions of big businesses. Many lawsuits were initiated to break up big businesses. The Northern Securities Company was an example of this. Laws were passed to control business actions. The Meat Inspection Act was passed to allow for the federal government to inspect and approve meat that would be sold. Too often tainted meat was being sold. The Pure Food and Drug Act made it illegal to falsely label food and medicines. The Federal Trade Commission could order businesses to stop unfair business practices. The Children’s Bureau could look into issues with child labor.

Progressives also wanted to bring about change in the workplace. Many factories used child labor. Laws, such as the Keating-Owen Child Labor Law prevented businesses from hiring kids. The Adamson Act established an eight-hour workday for railroad workers. Laws were passed to make factories safer. Too often, workers were injured on the job. Worker compensation laws were passed during the Progressive Era. Worker safety laws were also passed.

The Progressives worked to bring about many changes to try to correct problems that existed in our society.

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Progressives tried to solve these problems mainly by getting the government to regulate the economy more closely.  For example, one problem from the Gilded Age was that monopolies were gaining too much power over the economy.  Theodore Roosevelt and subsequent progressive presidents tried to solve this problem through antitrust legislation.  Another problem was that working conditions were poor and wages were low.  The progressives tried to solve this problem through governmental regulations as well.  They pushed for such things as minimum wages and bans on child labor.  In these ways and others, the progressives tried to get the government to impose regulations to solve the problems caused by industrialization in the Gilded Age.

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