Progressive Era: Political and Social Reforms
Many economic and social changes transformed the American society in the 20th century, including innovations in technology, science, living standards, mass communication, entertainment, gender roles and the role of the government. At the time of the Progressive Era (1900-1920), the leading reformers in the USA were looking for the solutions of the issues effected by the Industrial Revolution and growth of capitalism. They believed that the changes were essential for the creation of a new order fitting the industrial age.
One of the most substantial goals of Progressivism was to make the Government much more competent and quick to react and allow the public to take active part in the political processes. Progressives desired to introduce these changes with the help of different political reforms. Among the reforms was the preliminary election that allowed the party members to engage in the nomination. Its purpose was to restrict the regulation of political machines when choosing the candidates. Among other reforms were referendums, or voting on an initiative, giving people an opportunity to execute legislation that the governmental body is not able or unwilling to do; and recall, a procedure that allowed the residents to abolish elected officials with voting or petitions. These reforms are known as the Wisconsin Ideas, as they were introduced for the first time in Wisconsin and became the standard for other cities in the country.
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The Progressive Era witnessed the rise of the public control of gas, electricity, water; municipally owned utilities suggested people smaller rates than the private organizations. Private utilities were under the jurisdiction of commissions that inspected rates, unions and various business operations. The railroads and the transportation systems in cities were regulated in a similar way. Progressives were excited by the scientific management, that’s why the reforms were conducted not only in the political sphere but in social life as well. The anti-alcohol campaign had a little progress with the formation of Anti-Saloon League in 1893. This organization was aimed at prohibiting alcohol rather than persuading people not to drink. It was supported by the Protestant churches, and by 1917 about two-thirds of the states prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcohol. In December 1917, Congress ratified the Eighteenth Amendment that banned the produce of alcohol, its sale and transportation worldwide.
The National Child Labor Committee organized a campaign aimed at stopping the children exploitation. The photographs taken by Lewis Hine were the most efficient weapon in this movement. They showed young girls and boys working with the unsafe instruments in plants and mines. In 1910, most states established the minimum working age (between 12 and 16) and the maximum length of a workday. Besides, progressives aimed to limit the workday of women as the long hours in the factories affected their health. The Supreme Court agreed with that and limited the working day of the women laundry workers to no more than 10 hours a day. In 1911, there was a terrible accident in New York. More than 150 people died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire. In result, the New York State legislature established a 54-hour workweek for women and developed safety rules at factories. Although the limiting of women workday showed that they were weaker than men, women finally received the right to vote. The Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution that gave that right was confirmed by all states in 1920.
The Progressive Era was the age of reforms in various spheres, it was a response to the Industrial Revolution. It influenced almost all Americans and reorganized the role of government in the society. The movement succeeded as it had great support from Democrats and Republicans, American middle class, labor and management leaders. The Progressive Era was a hopeful time with the progressive mood that laid the ground for future reforms in different spheres.
Essay on Progressivism
Thesis statement: it is hypothesized that Progressivism was a wide and varied movement that changed American values and lifestyles having everlasting impact on American history.
Progressivism, ranging from 1880 to 1920, was a well-planned and well-organized movement in the United States having wide as well as diversified goals. Leaders of progressivism movement focused on humanity element and tried to make advancements by promoting liberation to stimulate human force along with exploiting human potential to remove restraints imposed by contemporary liberalization. The paper will present an overview of Progressivism as a wide and varied movement. It will also discuss the goals of movement and mention some of the prominent people who took part in it. At the end, the significance of Progressivism to America will also be highlighted.
Progressivism - A Wide and Varied Movement
Progressivism expanded in American cities and confronted political mechanism full of monopolies and corrupt leaders. For the resolution of diversified problems existing at the local and state levels, progressivism focused on promoting idea of public ownership of government run by professional city bosses. Leaders of the movement strived to resolve the issues created by the wave of industrialization. At the time of movement the main problems confronted by the American society was the gigantic growth of cities and industries. Hundreds of thousands of African Americans started migrating to the northern cities. This huge wave of migration being main cause of growth coupled with disastrous working conditions presented a worse scenario.
The new comers strived to adapt to entirely new conditions at one hand while trying hard to maintain their distinctive culture and language system on the other creating a complex situation. Wealth concentrated in few hands and a large segment of people were caught in the vicious circle of poverty. Low wage-rates, dangerous working conditions, and long working hours were among several grave problems faced by most of the Americans. Swift technological advancements and rapid speed of industrialization altered the life styles of Americans.
In this context, progressive leaders advocated and strived to introduce reforms for solving the grave issues. Progressivism movement was wide in nature with varying goals. It introduced urban reforms and had offensive attitude towards dishonest leaders and corrupt political system. Leaders of progressive movement favored taking ownership of public utilities by government supporting different social welfare programs to resolve mainly the problems of immigrants, working class, and poor. At the state level, Progressive movement introduced specific democratic reforms. The purpose of democratic reforms was to allow American citizens to select leaders as per their choice, independently and freely.
Basically, the roots of Progressivism had been in the transitional era of United States from a nation comprising farmers to a nation of consumers and employees manipulated by large firms, exploiting and misusing resources, supported by the corrupt government. Progressive movement started with the intentions to rectify these problems. Moreover, it focused on providing solutions to the issues raised by urbanization and industrialization, as discussed above.
Progressive leaders felt that their democratic reforms were threatened by the corrupt governmental policies and dishonest leaders. Progressivism confronted ending corporate power and to abolish monopolies. Democracy, they believed, was the solution of problems faced by most of the Americans, especially lower class. They tried to protect working people and aimed to break the vicious circle of poverty by eliminating the gap between different social classes.
It is pertinent to mention that Progressive movement was wide in a sense that it included both Democrats and Republicans. The movement heavily impacted the political structure at local, state, and national levels. It had significant influence on cultural and social life of America. It was, in fact, a dynamic movement introducing reforms at varied platforms including democratic, social, and political fronts. The agenda also had variety and diversification. It comprises social as well as political agenda. However, the main aims were elimination of corruption, protecting common people especially lower- class, elimination the continuous gap between different social classes, and promoting scientific as well as technological developments ensuring welfare of people.
With varying nature and wider in scope, Progressivism concentrated on providing effective tools to build trust of people in government and business organizations. However, a small group in the Progressive movement also supported ownership of production by government. Amendments to the Constitution showed their priorities at the political front as they provided new ways for electing senators and tried to eliminate monopolies. The wide spectrum of Progressivism can be viewed from the fact that not only it focused on fighting at the political platform, the movement tried to address the problem of urbanization. It is also pertinent to highlight the shortcomings of Progressive movement as their failure in the areas of limiting child labor and not addressing racial problems of blacks especially African Americans who had migrated from South. At the end of first phase of Progressive movement ranging from 1880 to 1920, the election of 1912 was fought by contenders with Progressive approach having varied goals from different labor issues to problems at political as well as social level. More power was given to Congress in this era. Election of Senators was to be made by the public and women gained voting powers in this particular era.
Goals of Progressivism and People who Took Part in It
Progressivism was a movement starting at the end of nineteenth century (1880) and ended in the second decade of twentieth century (1920). In this era tremendous changes at the economic, social, and political level were made. People taking part in the movement had diversified backgrounds, different political views, and varied social interests. It included political leaders from both Democrats and Republicans. The movement was led by people of different groups comprising teachers, political leaders, labor leaders, religious leaders, journalists, from both genders. It included famous people like; Theodore Roosevelt- President of the United States; Woodrow Wilson- President of the United States; Robert M. La Follette, former governor of Wisconsin.
Muckrakers, a group of journalists such as Lincoln Steffens and Ida Tarbell, exposed corruption practices in government and highlighted business scandals. They portrayed the miserable working conditions of poor and exploitations of large industries along with issues of concentration of wealth. Henry Ford introduced a lucrative pay scale for his workers during Progressive era. Among prominent ladies were Lucy Burns- an advocate of women's rights, and Jane Adams- a social worker and first women winner of the Noble Peace Prize. As regards goals of Progressivism, one of them was 'social welfare' aiming to provide social justice to everyone irrespective of social class. It strived to eliminate differences in social classes and supported attaining social justice by promoting the idea of charity and welfare by large organizations. For this purpose a large force comprising social workers was prepared and trained to perform their task effectively. Second goal of Progressivism was 'promotion of moral improvement', for example women's Suffrage by providing women the right to vote. Certain prohibition laws were introduced, for example Progressive leaders were of the view that usage of alcohol limited thinking and working of a person. Third goal was to provide 'economic reforms' by regulating especially large corporations to ensure independence and remove restrictions imposed by capitalism. The fourth main goal of Progressivism was 'efficiency'. Among other ideas, it included creating professional city manager to run affairs at local, state, and national level more effectively. Moreover, leaders of Progressivism reduced powers given to local wards through effective organization of city governments.
Lasting Significance of Progressivism to American History
The Progressive period is known for its tremendous successful efforts having everlasting impact on American economy and society by making remarkable changes at the social, economical, and political levels. Although, reformers of this movement belonged to a diversified group from labor and religious leaders, journalists, politicians, and teachers- both men and women- one thing common among them was to protect people, especially working class, solve problems of urbanization and industrialization, and concentrate on social welfare of American people. At the end of the movement by 1920, newly formed laws at state, local, and national level changed the entire scenario of America in all three major areas; economic, social, and political, having everlasting impact on the country.
Efforts have been made in the paper to present everlasting impact of Progressivism - a wide and varied movement from 1880 to 1920- that brought tremendous changes at the economic, social, and political levels of America. Goals of the movement and people who took part in it have also been highlighted. On the basis of arguments presented in paper it is concluded that Progressivism movement had an everlasting impact on America changing American values and lifestyles.