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The Progressive Era

Progressivism in the United States took place in the period between the

Spanish-American War and the entry of the United States into the great World War.

It was a time for change in America in all walks of life, as well as a time for

reform. It was marked by Theodore Roosevelt’s 7 and a half years in office, the

Rough Rider put it upon himself to make the first strides towards reform. These

reforms included the cracking down on illegal monopolies and so forth. During

this era large cities transformed into large metropolises, small towns into

large cities and new towns sprang up nearly everywhere. Reforms also included

the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth amendments. The progressive era

really had significant impact in America’s history.

The progressive movement had many origins. One of these was the battle

against governmental corruption and inability, in other words a struggle for

civil services reform. The progressive movement was initiated by liberals in

both political parties, the fight for government reform can be traced back to

Liberal Republicans(An Oxymoron, Mr. Jetel?) during the Grant administration and

Mugwumps. Citizens were enraged, with big businesses’ growing influence in all

branches of government and sought ways to purify it.

Big Business was also a target of progressivism. During this time

presidents like Roosevelt and William Howard Taft tried to regulate and control

big business. Many well educated people of the time, as well as moderately

prosperous businessmen and members of other professions(middle class) felt

threatened by the increasing power of big business and the tycoons. These people

were also disturbed by the Big business’ influence in politics, making a mockery

of the democratic system. Then with the failure of the interstate commerce act

and the Sherman act, made big business look unstoppable. As the middle class in

America began to develop and grow, they gained power. They were the people who

wanted change and ultimately they won with the start of progressivism.

Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair, and Henry Lloyd all made significant

contributions to the start of the Progressive movement with their writings.

These people and others similar to them were labeled as muckrakers. These

Muckrakers attacked big business in an attempt to turn the common people against

them. For example Tarbell wrote of how tycoons, such as the Rockerfeller,

amassed their monstrous fortunes. She illustrated all of the corruptness and

cruelty directed towards the unskilled worker brought upon by big business.

Upton Sinclair became famous for his book The Jungle which even grabbed the

attention of Teddy Roosevelt. It was about the horrible conditions at the meat-

packing warehouses in Chicago that eventually prompted a federal investigation.

Those in the progressive movement ranged from the common to the esteemed

intellectual.

Whether the Progressive was actually progressive or not has been a topic

of debate. In ways the era was progressive but at times it was also

unsuccessful. The people would gain rights and then on the other side of the

spectrum, big business could get away with anything. One such example is the

coal strike of 1902, where miners returned to work after receiving 9 hour days

and an increase in pay. Despite this advancement, companies ignored the unions

and raised the coal prices to compensate for lost net income. The companies

suffered nearly nothing while the worker gained little. The women gained rights

as well during the progressive time, including the right to vote and the

formation of unions. However, because of male prejudices, most of these unions

were quietly dissolved. The progressive era had significant impact, but really

isn’t worthy of its name. Sure there were changes, but the progressive era left

lots of room for improvement.

Some formal reforms came into play during the Progressive era. These

reforms included the 17th and 19th amendments, the 17th provided the direct

election of senators(POWER TO THE PEOPLE!), while the 19th gave women the right

to vote(HooYah!). The 17th is looked upon as a progressive achievement which

gave power to the people. Political democracy was a theme of the progressives

and the amendment greatly helped their cause. Finally the hard work of Susan B.

Anthony, Elizabeth Stanton and the Women’s Suffrage association finally paid off

with the passing of the 19th amendment. Also during this time members of

congress managed to limit the power of the speaker so more voices could be heard

on the floor. Before this the speaker had to grant permission and this made it

difficult for some to be heard on the floor.

Unfortunately during the Progressive era many minorities failed to take

important steps to reform, but African Americans became the exception. Asian

immigrants were heavily disregarded while American Indians became seen as

inferior. Many whites believed it would take several generations before the

American Indian could function normally in American society. Because of the

stereotype they were regulated to minimal paying unskilled jobs. Blacks on the

other hand made great strides during the Progressive era. Blacks wanted to be

equal and lift them selves up in their own way instead of conforming to white

society as Washington suggested. They marched on Washington and demanded the

unrestricted right to vote as well as an end to all forms of segregation,

equality of economic opportunity, higher education, equal justice in courts and

an end to trade union discrimination. These demands stirred many whites abroad

and set the groundwork for the civil rights movement. Blacks also became proud

of themselves forming organizations to create pride for black heritage.

The Progressive era came about as the result of several motives. The

forces behind it ranged from the common man to the politicians as well as

intellectuals. The era’s true progress is sometimes contended, while in some

instances reform measures did come about. Big business finally became somewhat

regulated and the governmental power somewhat shifted back to the people. The

progressive era evidently shaped up to be quite a significant part of our

history.


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