Towards the end of the nineteenth century, reform movements were sweeping across America.
As Americans moved into the twentieth century, there was one thing that was necessary: change. The country had recently overcome a depression and a war, and it was time to make appropriate reformations in order to adjust a series of problems that had become widespread. At this time, a movement began to gain support and spread throughout the nation: the Progressive Movement.
In order to understand this movement, it is important to understand the origins and the characteristics of it.Through an analysis of these two areas, we can gain a greater knowledge of the ideas and beliefs that provided the driving forces for Progressivism. The origins of Progressivism stemmed from many of the events occurring in the last third of the nineteenth century that left American individuals feeling socially and economically threatened. “The era between 1895 and 1920 included a series of movements, each aiming in one way or another to renovate or restore American society, values, and institutions. ” Ideas of reform were hardly new when the Progressive Movement uplifted.During these years prior to when Progressivism had technically started, society had transformed rapidly largely due to the great advances of the Industrial Revolution.
These transformations brought with them a new emergence of wealth. There was also apparent widespread political corruption, which was influencing the economy and society at large. The changes that unfolded created conditions that individuals felt needed to be addressed desperately. It was the “class and status conflicts of the late nineteenth century that formed the driving forces that made men become reformers. Early attempts at reform were not very effective.
The campaigns were individualistic and simple-minded with several different conflicting groups, only aiming at a quick answer to a single problem, making the protests. The parties of America remained separated from each other, causing most of these movements only to function at a local level. These reformers were setting forth new ideas that attempted to solve problems related to American society and these efforts were to greatly influence the ensuing Progressive Movement.Even the radical Populists had merely a rural and providential influence and faced the continuous problem of being unable to obtain the necessary support of both political parties that they would need in order to be successful. None of these reform movements were able to become powerful enough to have a great influence upon America.
The problems however, continued to live on: How could America deal with poverty, corruption, industrialization, and other social and political changes of the late nineteenth century?One of the greatest changes that had occurred during the nineteenth century was the rise of enormous businesses. Much of the newly emerged wealth of the nation was in the hands of these corporations. They were rich, powerful, and threatened individuals” equality of economic opportunity.
These “Big Businesses” would take over their competitors and began to combine all phases of production within their operation, known as vertical integration. By the 1880’s, these large companies were dominating the production of many goods.Many of these companies became trusts, in which stockholders deposited their shares to trustees, who controlled the consolidation of companies. This would make companies even larger and more powerful. Individuals were becoming less important. “The fate of each person was now to a large degree determined by distant forces which he or she neither saw, understood, nor controlled. ” With the power and size of these businesses, there was no space left for smaller enterprises. Many efforts were made to pass anti-trust legislation before the twentieth century, but little, if any efforts provided the necessary answer.
These industries did provide awesome technology, productivity, and created many consumer goods; but also continued to cause overproduction, monopolies, labor strife, and spoiled natural resources; while also enraging American citizens. Individuals were directly affected by the Industrial Revolution. Farming in America had typically always been a family enterprise. The prices that farmers were earning diminished continuously throughout the second half of the nineteenth century leaving many unemployed or forced to become tenants. The international agricultural overproduction had harsh effects on farmers in the South and the West.They were also being discriminated against by railroads and banks, which required them to pay higher prices than in the East.
Reform movements, including the strong efforts of Populism, were attempted before the twentieth century, however none were very successful. The changes of the nineteenth century did not apply to farmers alone. Workers also saw negative new events and circumstances that frustrated and debased them. The work environments were awful. Huge factories and plants were not what they were used to and the working conditions were terrible without safety regulations.
Workers often died in such environments and the wages and hours could be miserable. The rich and powerful were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer. The middle class was becoming frustrated. The attempts at reform before the twentieth century did very little to help their situation because government identified any labor movement with anarchy. Strikes became very dangerous to participate in because the government supported big business and, in some cases, would send federal troops in response to protests. It seemed as if reform could not be made in this area as well.
The last third of the nineteenth century also experienced reformation motivations in the cities. These cities were massive and overpopulated. They were crowded and full of crime, poverty, corruption, impersonality, and ethnic chaos. There was competition among individuals to obtain work and places to live. Immigrants from all over flooded the cities because that was where they would be able to find jobs. Some of them would work as much as sixteen hours a day and lived in tenement houses, often becoming seriously ill or dying from disease.Corruption in the cities caused political leaders to stay in power, never making changes that would create better living conditions and fair economic opportunities. Middle class citizens despised its corruption and were raging to make the appropriate changes.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, individuals were begging for reform. Different interest groups were starting to speak up and express their discontent with political and social issues. The origins of the Progressive Movement came from the frustrations of individuals that had started after the war.All of these different groups wanted changes to be made. When the depression occurred, “men everywhere were beginning to envisage a turning-point in national development after which one could no longer live within the framework of the aspirations and expectations that had governed American life for the century past.
” The depression changed many individuals” views. Prior to the depression, there were barriers that reformers could not overcome. The government and the citizens themselves placed limitations on the reach of reforms.One was the belief that changes could not be made to existing structures without hurting humanity, referred to as Social Darwinism.
“Social Darwinism provided a seemingly scientific rationale with which to oppose governmental interference in social and economic affairs. ” Other factors that were “deeply embedded in American traditions” and barred any occurrence of successful reform were “the defense of weak government, the denial of class conflict, and the loyalty to the two major political parties. The depression caused Americans to see that these barriers needed to be broken.Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson were revolutionary in realizing this, and they were of great importance to the origins and progress of the Progressive Movement. The emergence of ideas of reform in these governmental leaders was pivotal to the success of Progressivism. These social and economic problems were what caused the progressive movement, but the reforms never would have started without the help of journalism. Journalists, labelled muckrakers by Roosevelt, exposed the different problems of the nation to public eyes.
It is fair to say “to an extraordinary degree the work of the progressive movement rested upon its journalism. ” What was new about this journalism was that it could be seen and heard nationwide. This helped to persuade public opinion into thinking alike about reforming the system in place. The necessity for reform caused a fairly wealthy middle class, suffering from a loss of deference and power due to political corruption, to step forward and take the lead of these efforts. Roosevelt had appropriated the early reform issues in a modified form, which caused these ideas to gain nationwide and bipartisan support.As the demand for reform spread from the farmers to the middle class and from the Populist Party into the major parties, it became more powerful and more highly regarded. ” The breaking down of the previously mentioned conservative barriers to reform had occurred, and the Progressive Movement had begun. The ideal of individualistic society, at least in the minds of many intellectuals and political leaders, was replaced by the concept of a society organized for collective action in the public interest.
The Progressive Movement consisted of several different interest groups striving for separate goals that bonded in the general public sentiment for reform. There were groups interested in improving the cities and big businesses, decreasing poverty, obtaining the right to vote for women, prohibiting the drinking of alcohol, childcare and juvenile delinquency, and several other areas. Though many of these reformers had very different ideals and beliefs, there are several common characteristics of the Progressives that could be seen in all areas of reform.The Progressive Movement, as we have seen, was a reaction to social and economic conditions that caused the suffering of many Americans and all of those affected desired change. The Progressive Movement was comprised of people who deeply believed in the ability of human kind to create a better world. The movement was not characterized by Social Darwinism, but rather it maintained the belief that through action individuals could improve the living conditions of human beings.
The characteristic goal of all progressives was efficiency of the system and fairness to individuals.One of the greatest characteristics of the Progressive Movement was the use of intervention. They (Progressives) were hoping to fix the social and political problems that had emerged after the war. Progressives did not want a radical movement that would completely change society, but they did want to make alterations that would help the public for the current system.
Individuals would challenge the ideas and norms that they disagreed with and felt were causing problems for and unfairness to Americans. Progressives wanted to end abuses of power.They intensified attacks on unfair privilege, monopolies and corruption.
They supported popular government that would help the people achieve an efficient political system. They argued to implant more humane institutions such as school and medical clinics. A characteristic argument was that “society had the responsibility and power to improve individual lives, and they believed that government, acting for society at large, must intervene in social and economic affairs to protect the common good and elevate public interest above self interest”.One essential element to the Progressive Movement was that it maintained an incredibly moralistic attribute. It argued for individualistic responsibility of response to the problems of the country. Progressives tried to encourage churches to get more involved in rescuing the affected individuals and improving their social and economic conditions. This was done by cleaning up the urban areas, protecting the weak and helpless; performing the humanitarian ideals.
Another characteristic of the Progressive Movement was the involvement of middle class leaders. These leaders, for the first time, were becoming aware of the problems of those in poverty. The reason behind this was that these maybe even wealthy, middle class citizens had been ousted from power and importance by the political corruption that was taking place. They did want to achieve their own goals and put an end to corruption, but they were also realizing the goals of others and were ready to lead this national movement to its heights.
These leaders began to see beyond the party line and started to operate with the mentality that set forth the effort that would ensure all mankind the deserving opportunity to persevere and to prosper. The Progressive Movement was also characterized as a national, bipartisan movement. None of the efforts in achieving reform in the nineteenth century were able to obtain support in all areas of the nation. People were beginning to understand that the whole social and economic system needed to be adjusted and they stopped searching for quick solutions to local problems.
These necessary features of a successful reform movement show the public sentiment that had built up over the last decades of the nineteenth century. Individuals were looking beyond their local or political parties” interests, and working together to improve the quality of life for all. Progressivism truly combined the evangelical Protestantism and the sciences. As we have seen, progressives urged Americans that it was a Christian duty to take responsibility and action for the wrongs that were taking place against mankind.This motive worked hand in hand with the sciences. Progressives, following social scientists, would gather data on human behavior, investigate what was really occurring and try to mandate government to execute reform. The Progressive Movement is clearly a time of great change in America.
The nation had emerged from a war and a depression, which had changed individual lifestyle. The Industrial Revolution had an incredible impact on Americans. The technology it created sparked the wealth in the nation, but it produced serious problems in American society as well.These problems caused several ideas of reform and these ideas were what developed into the Progressive Movement.
The fact that this movement emerged into a national, bipartisan effort was crucial to its success. The middle class and government officials helped produce these attempts to change society for the public’s good. This was a political stance that wanted to reconcile democracy with Capitalism and respond to the nation’s problems. The origins and characteristics of this great movement all combined to achieve what individuals of that time period believed were necessary: change.