The movement had many causes, most notably the Depression of the 1 sass and the Populist movement In fact, a Kansas editor referred to Progressivism as “populism that had shaved its whiskers, washed its shirt, put on a derby, and moved up into the middle class. ” The Progressive Era, the years 1895-1920, was an idealistic period, one that focused on constructive social, economic, and political change.
Progressives believed that the complex social ills and tensions generated by the urban- industrial revolution required expanding the scope of local, state, and federal government authority.
This, they believed, would ensure the progress of American society. The progressive movement refers to the common spirit Of an age rather than to an organized group or party. Progressivism was so diverse in its origins and intentions that few people adhered to all of its principles.
Nevertheless, Progressivism became one of the central elements of American liberalism, and the legislation and initiatives of the period lay the first steps for what would become in the 1 9305 the Welfare state.
Antecedents to Progressivism: 1) Populism: Populism was undoubtedly the impetus for the growth of Progressivism. The Omaha Platform of 1892 outlined many of the reforms that would later be accomplished during the Progressive Era. 2) Mumps: this group supplied Progressives with an important element of its thinking: the honest government.
The new problems that arose in urban areas, such as crime, and efficient provision of water, electricity, sewage, and garbage collection, led to a growing number of elected officials with this new outlook toward honesty and efficiency. 3) Socialism: the Socialist Party of the time served as the left wing of progressivism. The growing familiarity with socialist doctrine and its critique of urban living and working conditions became a significant force in fostering the spirit of progressivism.
Nevertheless, most progressives could not stomach the remedies offered by socialists, and the Progressive reform impulse grew in part from a desire to counter the growing influence of socialist doctrine. 4) Muckrakers: social critics, usually writers, who thrived on exposing scandal. These people got their name when Teddy Roosevelt imparted them to a character in a book called Pilgrim’s Progress: “a man that could look no way but downwards with a muckrake in his hands. ” Roosevelt believed that the muckrakers are often indispensable to society, but only if they knew when to stop raking the muck.
The chief outlets for these social critics were the inexpensive magazines that began to flourish in the asses, such as Arena and McClure. The golden age of muckraking is sometimes dated from 1 902 when McClure began to run articles by reporter Lincoln Stiffens on municipal corruption. The articles were later compiled into a kook, published in 1904, called The Shame of the Cities. Other works that began as magazine articles exposed corruption in the stock market, life insurance, the meat industry, and politics.
The Features of Progressivism: Democracy: the most important reform with which the Progressives tried to democratic government was the Direct Primary, or the nomination of candidates by the vote of party members. Under the existing convention system, only a small percentage of the voters attended the local caucuses or precinct meetings which sent delegates to county, state, and national elections. This allowed the rise of professional politicians who stayed in office for extremely long periods of time.
In 1896 South Carolina adopted the first statewide primary, and within two decades this system had been implemented by nearly all states for Senators and congressmen. Finally, the Seventeenth Amendment, ratified in 191 3, authorized the direct election of senators by popular vote. The primary system was but one expression of a broad movement for direct democracy. During the period many states passed the Initiative, Referendum, and Recall. The initiative, first passed in 898 in South Dakota, provided the opportunity for citizens to create legislation by getting a set number of signatures on a petition.
The electorate would then vote the issue up or down, this being the referendum. The recall provided the opportunity to remove officials by petition and vote. Efficiency: A second major theme of progressivism was the “gospel of efficiency. ” In government, efficiency demanded the reorganization of agencies to prevent overlapping, to establish clear lines of authority, and to fix responsibility. Progressives believed that voters could make wiser choices f they had a shorter ballot and chose fewer officials in whom power and responsibility were lodged.
President Jackson argued in the early 19th century that any reasonably intelligent citizen could perform the duties of public office. During his time America was a pre-industrial society, therefore this notion might have been true. In the more complex age of the early twentieth century it became apparent that many functions of the government required expert specialists. This principle was echoed by progressive governor Robert Lafayette of Wisconsin (1901-1906). He established a collative Reference Bureau to provide research, advice, and help in drafting legislation.
This Bureau became known as the Wisconsin Idea of efficient government, and it became widely publicized and copied during the progressive era. Lafayette also pushed for conservation of natural resources, tighter OR regulation, and workmen’s compensation. Throughout the period many states, such as Georgia, California, and Alabama, elected progressive governors. Additionally, numerous congressional, state, and local progressive officials were elected into office. Regulation: The regulation of large corporations engaged a greater diversity f reformers and elicited far more controversial solutions than any other issue of the Progressive era.
The problem of economic power and abuse offered a dilemma for Progressives. Four broad solutions were available at the time: 1) Laissez-Fairer economics, or letting businesses control their own destinies without government regulations, 2) adopting a socialist program of public ownership, 3) adopt a policy of trust-busting in the belief that restoring old fashion competition would prevent economic abuse, or 4) accept big business but regulate it to prevent abuses. In the end the trend was toward exultation of big business, although this led to another problem: Regulatory agencies often came under control of those they were supposed to regulate.
OR leaders, for instance, generally had a more intimate knowledge of the intricacies of their business. Consequently, they had an advantage over the officials who might be appointed to the Interstate Commerce Commission. Social Justice: a fourth feature of progressivism was the impulse toward social justice, which covered everything from private charity to campaigns against child labor or liquor. The Industrial and urban revolution made many live that the social evils that resulted extended beyond the reach of private charities and demanded the power of the state.
Consent intently, the best way to achieve social justice was through legislation. The National Child Labor Committee, organized in 1904, led a movement for laws banning the still widespread employment of young children. Another group, the National Consumers League, led by the ardent socialist Florence Kelley, led a crusade for the passage of legislation that regulated the hours of work for women, especially wives and mothers. Many states also outlawed night work and abort in dangerous occupations for both women and children.
Legislation to protect workers from accidents gained momentum following the Triangle Fire (191 1), and stricter building codes and factory inspections soon followed the disaster. Finally, the opposition to alcohol was an ideal cause to merge the older private ethics with the new social ethics of the period. Given the moral disrepute of saloons, many prohibitionists equated the liquor traffic with the evils of machine politics, prostitution, and other urban problems. The prohibitionist movement dated as far back as 1874, with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.
The most successful political action, however, came with the Anti-Saloon League, founded in 1893. This organization was one of the first single-issue lobbyist groups of the time. By singleness of purpose the group was able to force the liquor issue into the forefront of local and state elections. In 1913 the SSL held its Jubilee Convention, where it endorsed a prohibition amendment to the constitution. As we’ll see later, the prohibition amendment was ratified in 1919. Education, Consumerism, and Public Health: The progressive movement brought new ways of looking at the issues of the day.
Education: the changing patterns Of school attendance called for new attitudes toward education. In the late 19th century, when America was predominantly rural, most children worked on the family farm instead of attending school. The urban revolution swelled the cities with millions of children who had more time for school. Additionally, urban taxpayers provided the funds for the construction of schools, making mass education a reality by the early 20th century. Progressives knew that education was the means for transforming society.
Teachers emphasized academic and personal growth, where children loud use their intellect to deal with and control their environment. Personal growth also became the driving force in American Universities. Prior to this American Universities were set up like their European counterparts: institutions that trained a select few individuals for academic professions. By 191 0 the number of universities in the U. S. Doubled, and more people could afford the tuition. A college education quickly became a program for job training, offering classes in carpentry, engineering, and agriculture.
By 1 920 78% of all children between the ages of five and seventeen attended public schools; another 8% attended private schools. The same year over 600,000 Americans attended college or graduate school, compared to just 52,000 in 1870. Public health also underwent many changes during this period. The National Consumers League, led by Florence Kelley, brought about some of the most extensive reform of the period. The NC tackled issues like women’s suffrage, labor laws, food inspection, health education, and medical care.
The NC opened the eyes of many Americans, leading to a very broad consumer and health awareness movement that still exists today. Progressivism also affected the legal profession, bringing to the field a new emphasis on experience and scientific principles. The traditional belief of the law was that it was universal and unchanging. Progressives sought to change this. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jar. , an associate justice of the Supreme Court between 1902 and 1932, led the attack on the traditional belief. He and others like him argued that the law should be influenced by social reality.
Others believed that judges’ rulings should be based upon scientific, factual evidence about realistic social situations. However, Progressives often met resistance from judges who were raised on Laissez fairer economics and strict interpretation of the constitution. Racial/Gender Issues: In the early asses women and black Americans were the two largest groups of underprivileged citizens in the United States. For centuries both had been striving for equality in a society dominated by white men. The Progressive movement fueled the fire for racial and gender equality, bringing different approaches to and visions for a new society.
Black Americans: After 1880 many southern blacks began migrating to northern cities. Before this period about 90% of all blacks lived in the South. Southern blacks, as we have seen, were subject to Jim Crow laws, lynching, and other forms of discrimination. Although the conditions in the northern cities were an improvement over the tenant farms Of the South, they still faced job discrimination, segregation, and inferior schools and hospitals. Black leaders differed sharply over what should be done to improve the lives of black Americans.
Most black Americans, however, could neither conquer nor escape white America. Booker T. Washington: Washington advocated a policy of Accommodation: he theory that the best hope for black assimilation lay in at least temporarily accommodating to whites. Washington was born in 1856 to slave parents. He worked his way through school, and in 1881 he founded Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, a vocational school for blacks. He argued that rather than fight for political rights, blacks should work hard, acquire property, and prove that they were worthy of equal rights.
Washington never asserted that blacks were inferior to whites; instead he argued that through self improvement they could enhance their social and economic status. He argued this point at the Atlanta Exposition in 1 895, and collectively, these views became known as the Atlanta Compromise. Many whites, especially Progressives, favored this policy because it called for patience and it reminded black people to stay in their place. A lot of blacks, especially Northern intellectuals, believed that Washington was selling out to whites, and that he advocated a sort of second class position.
In 1 905 a group Of anti-Bookstores assembled near Niagara Falls, New York, and pledged a more militant approach toward black equality. The spokesman at this convention as W. E. B. Dubos, a New Englander with a PhD from Harvard. Dubos initially supported the Atlanta Compromise, but he could never really accept white domination. He soon began to advocate that blacks must agitate for what is rightly theirs. His own solution to the racial problem called for the creation of the Talented Tenth, an intellectual vanguard of cultivated, highly trained blacks.
This group, in theory, would save the black community by uplifting the downtrodden blacks into social and economic prosperity. In 1909 Dubos and his allies formed the NAACP, an organization that attempted o end discrimination by pursuing legal redress in the courts. Dubos’ beliefs rarely appealed to poor blacks; white progressive liberals supported him, however, and the early leadership of the NAACP consisted largely of white progressives. By 1914 the NAACP had fifty branch offices and over 6,000 members nationwide.
Nevertheless, other than its attack on southern lynching, the NAACP did little to improve the situation of black Americans. The Women’s Movement: During the same period the Progressive challenge also extended to women. Like blacks, women were faced with the same dilemma: how do we achieve equality? Before 1910 those who took pert in the quest for women’s rights referred to themselves as the woman’s movement. This movement generally characterized middle-class women who wanted to escape the home by participating in social organizations, achieving a college education, or by getting a job.
These social organizations, or Women’s Clubs, gave women, who had no opportunity to serve in public office, a chance to affect legislation. Rather than pushing for substantial legislation, such as trust-busting, these clubs organized their efforts around domestic social issues. These included improving education, regulating child ND women’s labor, housing reform, and other goals. Feminism: About 191 0 many of these organizations that dealt with women’s issues, particularly Suffrage, began to use the term Feminism to refer to their efforts.
Feminists were bold, outspoken, and more conscious of their female identity. Feminism focused particularly on economic and sexual independence for women. Economically, they believed that women should enter the modern age by seeking employment, in essence leaving their domestic responsibilities to paid employees. Sexually, they strongly advocated the use of birth control. This movement was led by Margaret Ganger. Ganger visited immigrant neighborhoods in New Work’s East Side, distributing leaflets about contraception, in the hopes of preventing unwanted pregnancies.
Her birth control crusade won the support of many middle-class women, who believed contraception would limit the size of their own families, as well as controlling the immigrant population. She did have opponents, however. Some believed that birth control movement posed a threat to the family and to morality. In 1914 Ganger was arrested for sending obscene material (contraceptive information) by mail, and she fled the country for a year. In 1921 she formed he American Birth Control League, a group which enlisted doctors and social workers to push judges to allow the distribution of birth control information.
Although in these efforts she was unsuccessful, she did force the issue into the mainstream public. Teddy Roosevelt: Teddy Roosevelt, whom many believe was the most forceful president since Lincoln, was president from 1 901-1908. He was the descendant of a wealthy Dutch family, who instilled into him a sense of civic duty. He served three terms in the New York State Assembly, as New York City’s police commissioner, and in the Spanish American War he became a look hero by leading a motley group of volunteers called the rough riders. During his presidency, Roosevelt adopted a cautious version of progressive reform.
He avoided such political meat-grinders as the tariff issue, and when he approached the issue of trusts, he always assured the business community that he was on their side. For him, politics was the art of the possible. Unlike the more advanced progressives and the “lunatic left,” as he called them, Roosevelt believed that half a loaf was better than none. He believed that reform was needed to keep things on an even keel. Regulation of Trusts: Roosevelt very quickly gained a reputation as a trust- buster. Instead, however, he believed that consolidation was more effective in ensuring progress.
Rather than tolerate uncontrolled competition, he distinguished between good trusts and bad trusts. Bad trusts, to Roosevelt, were the OR, meat-packing and Oil trusts. He believed that these trusts unscrupulously exploited the public; consequently, they should not dominate the market. Instead of prosecuting these trusts, Roosevelt advocated mergers and other forms of expansion. In 1906 he persuaded Congress to ass the Hepburn Act: this imposed stricter control over IRS. It gave the ICC the authority to set OR rates, although it gave the states the authority to overturn rate decisions.
Conservation: Roosevelt was a lover of nature, and he soon developed a reputation as the “determined Conservationist. ” During his presidency he added 150 million acres to the national forests. In 1902 he used his influence for the passage of the Newlyweds Reclamation Act, which set aside huge tracts of western land for irrigation projects. Pure Food and Drug Laws: the public had been screaming for government exultation of medicines and the meat packing industry for decades. Outrage reached new heights when Upton Sinclair published The Jungle in 1906.
Sinclair, a socialist whose prime objective was to improve working conditions in the meat industry, provided shocking accounts of the conditions inside the plants. Roosevelt read the novel and immediately ordered an inspection. Upon finding that Sinclair descriptions were correct, he pushed for the passage of the Meat Inspection Act, which provided for government inspection of meat packing plants. Pure Food and Drug Act (1 906): passed in espouse to abuses in the medicine industry. Various companies had touted tonics and pills that had a cure all quality.
Many of these tonics were mostly alcohol, or they contained a narcotic base. The act did not ban these products; however, it did require the use of labels listing the ingredients. Election of 1912: Roosevelt returned from Africa in 1910. He began reading and hearing about the policies of the Taft administration. He soon began to speak out against Taft, and in 1 912 he proclaimed himself fit as a bull moose, and he ran for the presidential nomination of the Republican Party. Taft porters controlled the convention; consequently, Taft won the nomination.
The Progressives who backed Roosevelt split with the Republicans and formed the Progressive, or Bull Moose Party. The Democrats selected as their candidate New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson, and the Socialist Party nominated Eugene Debs. The split in the Republican party ensured a Democratic victory. Wilson won with 42% of the popular vote and 435 electoral votes. Roosevelt received 27%, Taft 23%, and Debs 6%. This election illustrated that three-fourths of the American people supported some sort of alternative to the Taft Administration.
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