The period between 1890 and 1920 was a battlefield for social reforms - Social Reforms introduction. Each group was convinced that their ideology was correct and tried to infuse the public with their doctrine. Whether it be the Populists, the Progressives, or even the socialists, each party had great orators to promote their cause. Each citizen sided with the party that he believed would benefit him and his country the most.
In the early 1890’s the Populist movement began in Texas. Farmers (which composed the majority of the Populists) were afraid that the recent rise of the Industrial Age would soon put them out of business. The Populists were in favor of publicly-owned railroads, communications, and banking systems because they didn’t want the government to be in complete control in any aspect of their lives. They wanted their voice to be heard, so in 1892 they nominated James B. Weaver as their presidential candidate, who received over one million votes. But it was a small voice compared to the powerhouses of the democratic and republican party.
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The Populists were also in favor of the free and unlimited coinage of silver. William Jennings Bryan, the icon of the Populists, is known for his “cross of gold” speech in which he declared that that he would not allow the government to “impale on a cross of gold” the common man. This referred to the “gold standard” which stated that every economic aspect was based on the fixed weight of gold. This would later become a big issue during the election of 1896.
The Progressives were formed in the late 19th century. They were groups of reformers, many of them well educated, that worked to improve the social and political problems at that time. Theodore Roosevelt and Jane Addams were the main leaders in the movement which hoped to achieve the practical equality among the citizens. The Progressives sought to regulate child labor, support women’s rights, and protect the public against corrupt business practices. In many ways, the Progressives were just a “progression” of the Populists. Theodore Roosevelt built most of his ideas upon previous Populist ideologies. In his “New Progressivism” speech, Roosevelt stated that “”. Under Roosevelt, many department agencies rose up, including the FDA and FDC. The Progressives were very forward thinkers and wanted everyone to be in the same phase of thinking as them.
The socialists of the 20th century, led by the famous Eugene V. Debs, tried to convince the public that the Socialist party was the answer to their problems. Debs said that citizens didn’t believe in either the Democratic, Republican, or Progressive parties but that “the workers in the mills and factories, in the mines and on the farms and railways never had a party of their own until the Socialist party was organized. They divided their votes between the parties of their masters. They did not realize that they were using their ballots to forge their own fetters.” Basically proclaiming that the people were enslaving themselves if they chose to stay, he begged people to open their eyes and see the truth behind the government. Many people began to follow his lead, and when he ran for president it 1912 he received almost one million votes. Debs believe in helping form unions in order to improve safety in the workplace , and raising wages for workers. The socialist party was not liked by big businesses because it took away a lot of their profit and encouraged unions to strike if they did not receive the treatment they thought they deserved.
The Progressives and the Populists were different in the fact that the Progressives called for government regulation of a lot of companies (which appealed to the upper class) and Populists were against that because they had mostly lower and middle class citizens who knew that if the government seized control of businesses, they would be forces to pay insane taxes and be under the mercy of the upper class. The same things can be said for the socialists, as they also believed that giving Progressives the control they desire would only bring chaos to the country. The parties were similar is some aspects because they all believe in things such as women’s rights and a regulated workday.
Progressivism eventually won out because people wanted the freedoms and forward thinking ideologies that Progressivism offered. It offered people a more “modern” government focusing on the issues that appealed to most people. They truly were “progressive” in their thinking.