The Progressive Era

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Who were the Progressives and what were their goals?

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The progressives were people in the early 20th century calling for government reforms and, in particular, the equal treatment of people throughout the nation. For example, they oversaw the birth of the National Women Suffrage Association, who would win the right for women to vote.

The introduction of mass production and its rapid spread across the country was leading to economic and social problems. Individuals were struggling to make a living and all the money, in what at that time was an economic boom, was going into the pockets of cooperations and corrupt politicians.

The progressives weren't wholly successful, particularly on sensitive subjects such as race. They decided, for example, to allow the southern states the right to legislate themselves and therefore keep segregation. Nonetheless, one could claim that the seeds of the civil rights movement were developed during this time. For example, the Progressive era saw some of the first publication of African American newspapers such as the Chicago Defender and the Amsterdam News which helped make such problems as lynching national news.

The leader of the movement was President Theodore Roosevelt who came up with what became his tagline-"the square deal." The square deal evolved through his equal treatment of rail workers and bosses during a strike and was basically a promise to treat everybody the same.

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The Progressives were a group of middle-class professionals that wanted to solve the various problems they believed existed in our society around 1900. These people included journalists, teachers, and politicians.

The Progressives believed more people needed to be involved in politics. They believed the people should choose the United States Senators instead of the state legislatures choosing them. The 17th amendment led to this change. They pushed for the referendum, the initiative, and the recall that gave voters more say in politics. The referendum allows voters to have a say on proposed legislation. The initiative allows voters to get legislation introduced into the state legislature. The recall allows voters to remove an elected official before that person’s term expires. The Progressives worked to get women the right the vote. The ratification of 19th amendment accomplished this.

The Progressives wanted to protect consumers. They were appalled at the horrible conditions in the meat industries. This led to the passage of the Meat Inspection Act. They were concerned that foods and medicines were being falsely labeled. This led to the Pure Food and Drug Act being passed.

Progressives were concerned about the poor conditions in factories. Workers who got hurt on the job received no compensation. They often lost their job. People worked long hours for low pay. Children were also working. There were few, if any, health and safety laws to protect workers. The Progressives worked to change this. Worker compensation laws were passed for workers injured while doing their job. Laws prohibiting child labor were passed, and laws requiring compulsory school attendance were established. Health and safety regulations were developed to create a better and safer working environment.

Laws were passed to deal with the big businesses that were acting only in their self-interest. Many trusts that formed illegally were broken up as a result of the Sherman Antitrust Act. The Clayton Antitrust Act prevented unfair business practices such as charging different prices to different consumers. The government established regulatory agencies. These agencies monitored business activities. The Bureau of Corporations could investigate businesses. The Interstate Commerce Commission could set railroad rates. The Bureau of Mines monitored the actions of mining companies. The Federal Trade Commission could order a halt to unfair business practices.

The Progressives set out with many lofty goals and ideas. They were able to accomplish many of the goals they had established.

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The Progressives were a group of reformers during the earliest decade of the Twentieth Century. Progressives targeted a wide variety of problems in society that needed reforms.  The target of these reforms ranged from government oversight of big business to the abolition of child labor. Progressive made the largest gains in the area of worker's rights and local political reforms.

Progressivism attracted members of both major political parties, and was at times responsible for conflict within the parties. Progressives tended to share certain socioeconomic characteristics. The platform generally attracted white people from the middle class. Individuals that associated themselves with the movement tended to be well educated. Women also played an active part. An important segment in the change movement was comprised of journalists, whose investigative reports caught the attention of the public.

The action of journalists in the progressive movement played a pivotal role in the many reform victories of the time. Teddy Roosevelt, a progressive himself, gave this group the moniker of muckrakers. Some important muckrakers of the period were Upton Sinclair, Lincoln Stevens, and Ida Tarbell. The photojournalist Jacob Riis also had a dramatic impact with his series of photos from the slums of New York City. These photos were shocking in their poignancy and really moved people to action.

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In general, individuals who followed the Progressive platform were those looking for a purer form of government, eliminating political bosses and the corruption frequently connected with them. The Progressive Era, which stretched roughly from the 1840s-1920s, included movements aimed at women's suffrage, prohibition of sales and consumption of liquor, and reforms of government and public services such as education, finance, medicine, and transportation. Progressives felt that the introduction of new, scientific efficiencies would facilitate the social and political reforms they advocated.

Specific individuals who supported the Progressive Party and its viewpoints included William Jennings Bryan, Andrew Carnegie. Carrie Chapman Catt, W. E. B. DuBois, Thomas Edison, Emma Goldman,  the Mayo brothers, Theodore Roosevelt, Upton Sinclair, Booker T. Washington, and many more.

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Who were the progressives?

The Progressives emerged in the context of the social and political conditions of the Second Industrial Age, trying to provide solutions to the social ills which had arisen. Remember, the Gilded Age was a period where government was plagued with corruption, while businesses grew increasingly wealthy and powerful and exploitative practices were very common. The Progressives sought to make government more accountable to the American people and to better serve their interests.

I'd note that Progressivism is primarily a political movement, aimed at pragmatic solutions while eschewing the more radical visions espoused by Marxists and socialists. They drew heavily on the earlier Populist movement, supporting Populist ideas such as the recall, initiative and referendum. They could be found enacting reforms on both the federal and municipal level. To try to counter the power of corporate political machines, Progressives envisioned new approaches to city governance which they hoped would be more resistant to corruption. Meanwhile, on the federal level, they were perhaps most strongly associated with Theodore Roosevelt who greatly strengthened the power of the executive branch.

Under the Progressives, the government began to play a role in regulating business. Among its most important legacy is the Pure Food and Drug Act. Additionally, the Progressive Era saw the passage of the Sixteenth Amendment, which established the income tax, and the Seventeenth Amendment, which made senators subject to election. Meanwhile, one can also point towards the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Amendments of Prohibition and women's suffrage which followed World War I. The Progressives had a profound impact in the history of US politics and government.

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Who were the progressives?

The Progressives were a group of reformers who were most active in the first two decades of the 20th century.  These reformers were mainly white, middle-class Americans who had been born in the United States.

The Progressives were concerned with problems that (they thought) were caused by both the rich and the poor.  They felt that the rich were abusing their power.  They felt that big businesses needed to be regulated so that workers would enjoy better working conditions.  They felt the big businesses needed to be prevented from “buying” political influence.  They thought that monopolies needed to be broken up.

But the Progressives were also worried about the poor.  They felt that the poor (many of whom were immigrants) were not behaving in proper and productive ways.  Therefore, they pushed for social reforms that would encourage the poor to behave more like “responsible,” middle-class people.  The most important of these reforms was Prohibition.

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Who were the progressives?

Progressives included writers, politicians, and social welfare advocates who hoped that society would progress as a result of government action. They were keen believers in democracy and in fact considered it the basic cure for all government problems. Although some, such as the infamous "muckrakers" focused only on the problems of society, others produced genuine reform and progress.

Theodore Roosevelt is considered the model Progressive president. Under his leadership the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act were passed. He was also instrumental in breaking up large business trusts which he considered abusive. Among the other famous progressive leaders were:

  • Robert La Foillette, governor of Wisconsin who demonstrated that state governments could be operated efficiently.
  • Frederick W. Taylor, the father of "Taylorism" which promoted efficiency in business by time management and standardization of tools.
  •  Upton Sinclair, author of The Jungle which exposed unsanitary conditions and mistreatment of workers in the meat packing industry.

 

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Who were the progressives?

Progressives were groups of reformers that worked to improve social and political problems in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Many were well educated professionals from the cities. These progressives had different ideas on how to solve the problems that they saw.  Many focused on different areas that included regulating business, reforming government, improving working conditions, improving health, working for women’s rights, and improving the conservation of natural resources.  There are many examples of people who were progressives. Some progressives were known as muckrakers and wrote about the problems they saw.  Upton Sinclair published The Jungle to highlight poor conditions in meat packing plants which led to the Meat Inspection Act and later to the Pure Food and Drug Act. President Theodore Roosevelt was a great progressive and worked to regulate big business and worked with such naturalists as John Muir on conservation issues.  Robert La Follette of Wisconsin worked to make government more honest and responsive to the people.   

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