Describe The Progressive Movement Essay

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.

Tom Bellini


The Progressive Movement

In 1905 American Social reformers began to call themselves Progressives. The philosophy of progressivism welcomed innovations and reforms in government to alleviate ills of society and wanted people to have more control over the government. The Progressives and, this movement, to get away from problems such as business monopolies, dishonest politics, city slums, and poor working conditions in factories and mines. From 1890 to 1900 reformers helped bring about laws aimed at relieving these problems. The Progressive Movement had three reforms which included economic, political, and social.

This paper will also include individuals who were very influential during the Progressive Movement. Upton Sinclair wrote "The Jungle", which exposed the meat packing industry. Ida Tarbell wrote "A History Of The Standard Oil Company". There was also Samuel H. Adams who exposed the medicine industry. Progressive State governors at this time included Robert M. LaFollette, of Wisconsin, Hiram Johnson, of California, and Charles Evans Hughes, of New York.

At the beginning of the Progressive Movement, many goals were set. The goals consisted of economic, social, and political reforms. The economic reforms were going to be pointed more in the direction of taxes and Big Business. The Progressives wanted more government control of business and tax reform. For too long businesses had been too influential in the government, and the progressives felt that it was time that the government stepped in. Another economic reform that the Progressives pushed was having taxes based on income rather than property holdings. To avoid high taxes people would put there property into bonds so that it would not be taxed. The third economic reform goal was to get the government responsible for the social welfare of its citizens.

At the time of the Progressive Movement there were also many social problems that faced America. One goal that was set was to have housing regulations. Another goal was to establish a minimum wage. The reason for that was that in the factories and mines workers were working an eight hour day, and they were not receiving a fair wage. The Progressives also wanted safety requirements in the workplace. In some factories the conditions were very hazardous and haphazard. By the way of the media, the Progressives wanted to increase public awareness of corruption and other problems in the businesses and the government. There were many advantages such as free passes on railroads that were given to government officials to influence their actions. The Progressives also wanted to increase popular participation in the American system.

The Progressives also wanted to make many political reforms. They pushed the goal for the rights of the citizens to govern themselves. The Progressives felt that the government should be able to control big business however, they believed that the people should have more freedom in the government. The Progressives also wanted to decrease the role of special interest groups in the government. They felt that they had too much power in government decisions. The Progressives also wanted to make the government more honest and responsive to the needs of the citizens. The Progressives felt that the government had been ignoring the needs of the people and were too engaged in political problems. The Progressive Movement also wanted to create more of an active, stronger role for the Federal government to protect the public interests.

During The Progressive Movement, there were many influential individuals who helped keep the movement running. Part of the movement came from a group of journalists known as muckrakers. They were given this name by Theodore Roosevelt because he felt that the muckrakers were making people discontented by pointing out what was wrong with society. The muckrakers felt that unless people got angry about society wrongs, then they would not fight for change. One of the most influential muckrakers of this time was Ida Tarbell. She spent five years of her life researching her expose of the Standard Oil Company. In the book "The History Of The Standard Oil Company" she describes the firm's cut-throat methods of eliminating competition. The McClure's, who were the publishers of the book, were so worried that there would be lawsuits that they payed 3,000 dollars to verify each piece of information on which she wrote. No lawsuits were ever filed. Another influential Muckraker at this time was Upton Sinclair. He wrote the book The Jungle. In this book he describes in graphic detail the lives of stockyard workers and the operations of the meat packing industry. Along with being a muckraker, he was also an on and off member of the Socialist Party.

During this time there were also influential governors who supported the Progressive Movement. One was Robert M. LaFollete of Wisconsin. He was first elected as governer in the early 1900's and served three terms before entering the U.S. Senate in 1906. His nickname was "Fighting Bob", his goal was "Not to smash corporations, but to drive them out of politics, and then treat them exactly the same as other people are treated." (World History, pg. 541). LaFollete also taxed railroad property the same rate as other business property. He set up a railroad commission to regulate rates and forbade free passes to state officials. Some of these reforms helped industries and the people too well. In spite of the railroad's opposition, these reforms created enough new traffic to increase the railroads' income.

The Progressive Movement made many economic, social, and political reforms between 1890 to 1917. Economic reforms increased government regulations of business and established a series of tax reforms. Before The Progressive Movement, taxes were based on property. Progressives demanded that the taxes be based on income rather than land, because wealthy people tried to hide land as stocks and bonds, so they did not have to pay taxes on them.

Social reforms consisted of improvements in living conditions of the poor. Settlement houses were set up. In factories and mines people worked for long hours, low wages, and operated unsafe machinery. Progressives helped pass laws stating that there had to be safety precautions taken in factories, and that money would be given to employees if they were injured on the job.

The Progressives also made political reforms. The Progressives worked to end corruption in law enforcement, public transportation, and other city services. They also worked to increase the political power of the voters. In 1904, the Direct Primary Law was passed. This law allowed voters to nominate candidates.

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