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Unit 7: Lesson 1

The Progressive Era

The problems of industrialization

The ideology and politics of progressivism, the dark side of progressivism, what do you think, want to join the conversation.

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The Progressive Era Key Facts

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essay on the progressive era

The Progressive Era

essay on the progressive era

The Civil War increased the power of the federal government by forcing the Southern states to abolish slavery and paved the way for still greater increase in other matters after the war. People expected it to do more, and gave it more power so it could try. The defeat of the South, Reconstruction, and the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment gave the national government growing power over the states and the people. The great and long-overdue liberating qualities of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments came, ironically, at a price to liberty: the government would need much greater power it if was going to attempt to enforce equality.

Also important to the constitutional history of the United States during this time were developments on the world stage. The ideas of German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels captured the attention of intellectuals and many others concerned with the conditions of the poor in industrialized nations.

Marx and Engels wrote “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” (Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Communist Manifesto , 1848).

They argued that capitalism should be replaced by socialism—a term that broadly refers to government ownership of industries and collective, rather than private, ownership of property. Eventually, Marx and Engels envisioned a classless society giving “to each according to his need,” and taking “from each according to his ability.” There would no longer be any unfulfilled need, or even a need for government itself in a future communist society. The individual person, with rights at the center of the American tradition, would be replaced by socialized persons called “species beings.” Until that time the Communist party would rule a “dictatorship of the proletariat,” the working class that the party claimed to represent.

Marx and engels

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, authors of “The Communist Manifesto” (1848)

Socialism appealed to some but not many in the U.S. The Socialist Labor Party was founded in 1877, with goals of a classless society and collective ownership of industry and social services. Woodrow Wilson, while not claiming the label “Socialist,” determined that democracy and socialism were not all that different.

Writing as a leading professor in 1887, he wrote: “In a fundamental theory socialism and democracy are almost if not quite one and the same. They both rest at bottom upon the absolute right of the community to determine its own destiny and that of its members. Men as communities are supreme over men as individuals” (Woodrow Wilson, Socialism and Democracy , 1887).

The idea that government or “the community,” has “an absolute right to determine its own destiny and that of its members” is a progressive one. The difference between the Founders’ and progressive’s visions can be summarized this way: The Founders believed citizens could best pursue happiness if government was limited to protecting the life, liberty, and property of individuals. They believed people were naturally inclined to favor themselves, and they structured government so that people’s self-interest and individual ambition would lead outstanding officials to check one another’s attempts to exercise more power than the Constitution allows. Unlike the framers of the Constitution, progressives believed that the ultimate aim of government should be promoting the development of all human faculties. Because “communities” have rights, those rights are more important than the personal liberty of any one individual in that community. Therefore, they believed, government should provide citizens with the environment and the means to improve themselves through government-sponsored programs and policies as well as economic redistribution of goods from the rich to the poor.

The twentieth century saw continued unrest over the conditions of workers in all industrial countries.

In the U.S., some organized labor demonstrations became violent. When more than 100,000 workers protested pay cuts in the 1894 Pullman strike, disrupting all rail service west of Detroit, President Cleveland eventually used the U.S. Army to break the protests. Many believed socialism promised the relief they sought. The Socialist Party of America was formed in 1901. International Workers of the World, a union that called for the end of capitalism and wage labor, formed in 1905. Industrial tragedies like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, in which more than one hundred workers died, further incited those demanding reforms. In 1917, the drama erupted in Europe as well, when the Bolshevik Revolution established Soviet Russia.

Pullman strike 1894

Strikers confront the Illinois National Guard during the 1894 Pullman Strike.

Some saw the integration of some socialist party goals into the Democratic Party platform as a compromise. While the Socialist Party never captured the presidency in the U.S., Socialist candidate Eugene V. Debs received almost six percent of the popular vote in 1912. Socialist ideas were clearly part of the national conversation, and found their way into Progressive reforms of the period. Progressivism was not Marxism, but the two schools did agree that the community and its purposes should come before the individual and his preferences. These progressive reforms included the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Amendments.

Wilson, who served as president from 1913-1919, advocated what we today call the living Constitution, or the idea that its interpretation should adapt to the times. The Founders’ Constitution, in which ambition is set to “counteract” ambition, owes more to Newtonian mechanics than to Darwinian evolution, Wilson argued. As such, the Founders’ Constitution is outdated and needs improvement. The evolutionary adaptability of species identified by Darwin suggests a constitutional model. He wrote:

“Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice” (Woodrow Wilson, “What is Progress?” 1912).

Wilson oversaw the implementation of progressive policies such as the introduction of the income tax and the creation of the Federal Reserve System to attempt to manage the economy.

The Sixteenth Amendment authorized the national government to tax incomes. It was ratified in 1913, and Congress passed the Revenue Act of 1913 that same year. With a progressive income tax (where those who produce more pay more), the national government could now take wealth from some who had more and redistribute it to others who had less.

Woodrow wilson

President Woodrow Wilson, a leading Progressive in the early twentieth century.

The Seventeenth Amendment, providing for the election of senators by the people of each state, was approved that same year. This amendment provided for the direct election of U.S. Senators. This change to the Constitution was a challenge to the principle of federalism. The Founders had carefully structured the two houses of Congress and given them different powers based on those differences. For example, representatives were elected by the people of each state for two year terms, and had the “power of the purse.” Senators were selected by their state legislatures, had six year terms, and had the duties of ratifying treaties, trying impeachments, and approving executive appointments. As Madison had written in  Federalist No. 10,  the design of Congress was meant to strike a balance, allowing the people to govern themselves while still protecting individual rights and the powers of states (James Madison,  Federalist No. 10 , 1788). The Senate was, to put it another way, a “check” against democracy and the tyranny of the majority. The Seventeenth Amendment loosened this “check and balance.”

Prohibition of the sale of liquor was a drastic progressive reform for the improvement of popular morality.

While the Temperance movement began as a female-dominated attempt to persuade individuals to abstain from drinking, it later shifted to a campaign to use the force of law to ban the manufacture and sale of alcohol. The Eighteenth Amendment (1920) banned the manufacture, sale, or transport of intoxicating beverages and the Volstead Act codified it in U.S. law. A massive failure in every way, Prohibition was repealed with the Twenty-First Amendment in 1933.

The last of the progressive amendments to the Constitution, the Nineteenth Amendment barred states from denying female citizens the right to vote in federal elections. This amendment extended the right to vote to half the population which had, in most states, been denied the right to cast votes for their representatives. Interestingly, some woman’s suffragists campaigned for the extension of the franchise to women not on women’s equality, but on women’s claimed superior moral character, which was needed to guide the U.S. down the right paths. By acknowledging and basing their arguments on natural differences between the sexes, the suffrage movement differed from modern feminism which emphasizes the view that the sexes are essentially the same.

The Progressive Era represented a dramatic shift when it came to many peoples’ understanding of democracy, the purpose of government, and the role it should play in our lives. It also set the stage for the New Deal, and a definition of “rights” that was also a dramatic break from tradition.

Suffragette march nyc 1912

Suffragettes march in New York City in 1912 for the right of women to vote.

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essay on the progressive era

Part of the Civil War’s legacy was a shift in the role of the national government. The defeat of the South, Reconstruction, and the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment gave the national government growing power over the states and the people. The Fourteenth Amendment gave the national government power (though exactly how much power was still being debated) to ensure state laws did not violate the rights of the freedmen. Additional amendments during the Progressive Era (the 1890s - 1920s) continued this transfer of power to the national government. In the name of giving power to the people, the national government was given power to tax incomes; states lost their representation in Congress, the manufacture and sale of alcohol was banned, and women achieved the right to vote.

The Progressive Era History Essay

Introduction, start of the progressive movement, the era of prohibition, works cited.

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The Progressive era in the United States which lasted from 1890 to 1920 was known for two things, namely that it was a period of progressive social movement and change that sought to reform many aspects of the country such as the government and economy. It was also known as the era of Prohibition where in their zeal to completely revolutionize all aspects of American society the Progressives, as they were known, actually caused a large percentage of the population to turn to illegal and downright criminal behavior. This divergent set of events came as a result of the various reform movements that Progressives both within and outside of the government were trying to achieve.

It must be noted that initially the Progressive movement began as a social movement within various local areas which slowly progressed towards the national level. It attempted to address issues such as poverty, racism and class warfare under the assumption that most of society’s problems could actually be “fixed” by initiating social and political reforms (Leonard, 207). This involved providing a far reaching education system for all classes, a safe environment for communities and families through political and social reform and finally an efficient workplace where anyone who wished to work would be able to earn a decent living (Leonard, 210). The Progressive movement actually had far reaching effects which can still be felt to this day such as setting into motion concepts related to corporate monitoring, allowing women and minorities to vote and finally combating public fears against the supposed evils of immigration. While such methods of attempted reform can be considered largely positive it was only when the Progressives attempted to tackle vices that led to the movement’s greatest mistake.

The era of Prohibition, which consisted of outlawing the sale and manufacturing of alcohol, was actually started by various religious groups who rode on the coattails of the Progressive movement stating the “social harm” that alcohol had on the general population. As a result, the ban on alcohol achieved success by 1917 resulting in a general ban on its sale and production. Despite the ban on alcohol a significant percentage of the local population still demanded the product which as a result caused many of them to either illegally manufacture it themselves or resort to smuggling it into the U.S (Beshears, 198). Millions of dollars were spent on preventing alcohol from reaching U.S. borders which further encouraged people to smuggle even more into the country due to the high prices they commanded. In fact the era of Prohibition actually caused more alcohol to be consumed as compared to when the ban was not in place (Beshears, 200). As a result of the overzealousness of the Progressives a large percentage of the American population could actually be consider criminals which is more or less a slap in the face for a movement that tried to establish social and political reform.

Based on the facts presented in this paper it can be said that the Progressive movement was both positive and negative. Positive in that it was able to establish sufficient social, economic and political reform ideas that are apparent even today but it can also be considered negative since as a result of its overzealousness in “reforming” society it actually caused a period in American history characterized by a large percentage of the population turning to illegal actions.

Beshears, Laura. “Honorable Style in Dishonorable Times American Gangsters of the 1920s and 1930s.” Journal of American Culture 33.3 (2010): 197-206. EBSCO. Web. Leonard, Thomas C. “Eugenics and Economics in the Progressive Era.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 19.4 (2005): 207-224. EBSCO. Web.

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The Progressive Era Essay

The Progressive Era was a period that exposed the contradictions found in American society in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Theodore Roosevelt summed up the Progressive/Reform feeling in his "Square Deal" speech - that it was all about morals, not economics. His goal was the "moral regeneration of the business world." He preached that it was wrong for some people to get ahead in business and politics by tricks and schemes, while others were cheated out of the opportunity. This was the kind of talk that millions of Americans from all areas of society could understand and respond to.

Wilson vs. Roosevelt: the Better Progressive President? Essay

In the first two decades of the twentieth century the national political scene reflected a growing American belief in the ideas of the Progressive movement. This movement was concerned with fundamental social and economic reforms and gained in popularity under two presidents. Yet Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson espoused two different approaches to progressive reform. And each one was able to prevail upon congress to pass legislation in keeping with his own version of the progressive dream. These two people, although they had different principles in mind, had one goal: to make changes to the nation for the better of the people and the country. Setting out to reach this goal, Roosevelt came to be a president of the common man while

Wilsonian Progressivism vs. Roosevelt Progressivism

The late 19th century to early 20th century is characterized as the Progressive Era. This is when reformers strived for better welfare policies and more rights for the people. Although three presidents reigned during this movement, only two are known for their policies. Theodore Roosevelt, the arrogant and egomaniacal president spoke out of ambition, whereas Woodrow Wilson, the more morally inclined leader spoke out of actual desire. Both had similar ideas, but their means of displaying them, and actually carrying through were different. Roosevelt was militaristic and felt war solved everything. Wilson was a pacifist and felt America should try to help their own people first before going to war. Roosevelt fought for the protection of the

The Progressive Movement in the US Essay

In the first article, The Failure of Progressivism by Richard Abrams, he says the progressives mostly sought to introduce old moral beliefs on Americans by trying to integrate Immigrants by making them accept the ways of American life. But Abrams states those goals were ruined for important motives. One being the movement failed because of racism, which was widespread, throughout this time era. Abrams also considers the new scientific developments concerning culture and race affected the movement in a relevant manner. Conversely, progressives thought differently and felt that they need to integrate all cultures to fit it in to the American lifestyle. Abrams goes on to say that people started coming to the conclusion that “cultural

Theodore Roosevelt And Woodrow Wilson : The Progressive Era

During the Progressive Era from 1890-1920, America saw three new presidents: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson. This period of time is known as the Progressive Era due to the political and social changes made to move away from a laissez-faire government to a more active government by the administrations of these presidents. Prior to this period, Americans had to suffer through poor working conditions, low wages, social and class inequality and become victims to large corporations that took advantage of the people. In particular, the administrations of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson established the key principles and ideas of economic reform and social reform, which would end up returning the power from the manipulative corporations back to the government, establishing a model for a more active role for the federal government, and improve the lives of Americans. However, even though Roosevelt and Wilson had similar intentions of reforming America, they both had different means of achieving it.

The Progressive Era

The Progressive Era was a time period between the years 1900-1920 and it marked a time in American history in which society was bursting with enthusiasm to improve life in the industrial age by making political and social changes through government action that ultimately led to a higher quality of life for American citizens. Progressives were known for their beliefs in limiting the power of big business, strengthening the power of the states, and were advocators against corruption and social injustice. These progressive reformers as well as the Federal Government successfully managed to improve the quality of life and establish a precedent for a move active government, although neither was completely successful in solving significant

Progressive Era Essay

The role and responsibilities of the federal government changed drastically during the Progressive Era and the New Deal. Rapid changes after the Civil War brought on a need for economic, social and political reforms. Before the Progressive Era and the New Deal, the federal government took a very hands-off approach and had little involvement in, and little care for the welfare of the American people. With the Progressive Era and the New Deal, the federal government became more involved and responsive to the public and implemented many revisions and reforms. The Progressive Era was a time of political and economic transformation. The role and responsibilities of the federal government evolved. Reform was necessary because of the changes that

Roosevelt persuaded Congress to create a Bureau of Corporations to investigate and regulate big business, then brought an anti-trust suit against J.P. Morgan's Northern Securities Company, a railroad trust controlled by the Wall Street financier, with the United States Supreme Court upholding the closure of the trust in the case of Northern Securities Co. v. United States issued in 1904. During Roosevelt's Administration, over 40 major corporations were sued for antitrust or price-fixing violations. Roosevelt greatly expanded the powers of the government within the economy, often by endorsing new power for organized labor to organize and put forth leverage against employers. By supporting labor in the settlement of the Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902, Roosevelt became the first president to assume such a direct role in intervening in labor disputes, including the threatened use of the U.S. Army to seize the coal mines and operate them until the owners agreed to arbitration to settle the strike. Rosevelt unlike many of his successors really took advantage of the power given to him as president. During his presidency he revived the Sherman Antitrust Act ,which was an act that sought to prevent companies from combining into trusts and gaining monopolies. Roosevelt was also one to enforce the Hepburn Act, which allowed the Interstate Commmerce Commission to regulate railroads. The railroads had allied themselves with large

A Summary Of The Progressive Era

During the late 19th and early 20th, there were many problems caused by the rapid urbanization and industrialization. In response, a group of individuals came together and their goal was to reform the United States. During this era people were dealing with problems such as poverty, the breakdown of democratic government, and the exploitation of labor. In addition, very limited group of people owned the majority of wealth of this country. This individuals were trying to reduce the long working hours, and as Zinn says: bring a remedy to changes that the industrialization was causing.(Zinn 354)

The Contributions Of The Progressive Era

Taking place in the United States between the 1890s and the 1920s, the Progressive Era was a period characterized by political reform and social activism. Due to the popularity of the Progressive ideals during this time period, American citizens elected for president candidates, such as Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson, who subscribed to these ideals. Of the three Progressive presidents, Wilson was the most effective when it came to addressing the major issues of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as many reforms were enacted during his presidency, including reforms related to his “New Freedom” program, despite the controversy surrounding the majority of these reforms.

The Dual Nature of the Progressive Era Essay

One common misconception is to view the Progressive movement as a unified core of reform-minded crusaders dedicated to improving the social welfare of American society. While this viewpoint is not entirely incorrect, it is only a partial and thereby misleading assessment of the movement that categorized the early part of the nineteenth-century. What some may fail to appreciate is the duality of the period-the cry for social welfare reforms juxtaposed against the demand for optimum efficiency through scientific controls.

The progressive era was a time period in America after reconstruction that took place from 1900 to 1920. The progressive era focused mainly on social and political reform, trying to fix America's economy by working towards equal conditions for individuals, stopping political corruption and increasing government intervention on social and economic issues. Progressivists were social activists and political reformers working to improve conditions and the treatment of the American people. They believed that the government could be a tool for change. Progressive reform started out as a social movement and later on took a more political stand. The progressive era was successful in the fight to reform the United States by improving industrialization, urbanization cities, and reforming America's social and gender classes.

The beginning of the twentieth century was a time of great social change and economic growth in the United States. The progressive era was a time in which Americans were innovating in social welfare. In the progressive period the government needed to take action in the role of economy, regulating big business, immigration, and urban growth. Once the great depression happened in which America’s economy faltered people started to panic. For Americans the main issues asked were how to make society work more efficiently. The great society era was a time of optimism after the post-world war II occurred. The creations of new federal programs were developed for those who were in need due to poverty, being disabled or old age.

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Reform was the goal of the Progressive movement, and with that in mind the reformers had great success. Progressive reformers were made up primarily of middle class men and women whose two main goals were to limit the trusts and to improve conditions of life and labor. These people were part of both political parties at the time, as well as in all regions of the country, and in all levels of the government. They wanted to remove bribed members of the legislature so that just laws and regulations were made that would benefit the people rather than the power-hungry corporations. This major movement altered all aspects of life creating a better living and working environment for people. The Progressive Era reformers and federal

Goals of the Progressive Era Essay

The term Progressivism implies a philosophy that promotes change/reform in the current political, economic, and social aspects of society while conservatism stresses gradual change in society but promotes tradition rather than change. The Progressive movement from 1901 to 1917 worked to improve aspects of society that grew out of problems which occurred during the Industrial Age. The goals of the "Progressives" were to stop monopolies, corruption, inefficiency and social injustices. Both progressive acts and amendments were being passed to deal with social ills, corruption in politics and corporate America. The period from 1901-1917 was more a victory for liberalism, mainly "modern liberalism", than a triumph of conservatism due to the

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  1. The Progressive Era

    Progressive Era reformers sought to harness the power of the federal government to eliminate unethical and unfair business practices, reduce corruption, and counteract the negative social effects of industrialization. During the Progressive Era, protections for workers and consumers were strengthened, and women finally achieved the right to vote.

  2. The Progressive Era

    The Progressive movement was a political and social-reform movement that brought major changes to the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During this time, known as the Progressive Era, the movement’s goals involved strengthening the national government and addressing people’s economic, social, and political demands.

  3. The Progressive Era

    The Progressive Era. The Civil War increased the power of the federal government by forcing the Southern states to abolish slavery and paved the way for still greater increase in other matters after the war. People expected it to do more, and gave it more power so it could try.

  4. Progressive Era Essay

    The Progressive Era was a period of economic and social struggle which cause rapid industrialization in America. A Widespread of social activism and political reform across the United States. The Progressive Era was addressing the problems of economic and social problems.

  5. The Progressive Era Essay

    The progressive era was a time in which Americans were innovating in social welfare. In the progressive period the government needed to take action in the role of economy, regulating big business, immigration, and urban growth. Once the great depression happened in which America’s economy faltered people started to panic.