Reform Era and Populist Era Essay

Reform Era and Populists Era

Two eras occurred almost simultaneously during the 1890’s. These are the Populist and the Progressive era. The beginning of each era is both hard to point out. Nevertheless, both begins to take action and gained attention during the 1890’s. Both of these historical periods tried to advance government reforms and economic changes in light of democracy and human welfare. Both are ushered by series of events that reflects oppression, injustice and inequality.

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The Populist Era is the first to emerge. Its roots can be traced back to several agrarian protest, most particularly the Granger movement of the 1870’s. The Populists Era is dominated by the issues that address the plea of farmers and rural Americans. Their concern focus on the effect of declining crop prices to the farmers, the issues regarding tariffs in manufacturing and the existence of railroad monopolies (Boyer, 2001a).

The Populists’ ideas try to advocate women’s suffrage, suggest direct senatorial elections and supports active government involvement in the economy. The rural Americans are highly affected by the advancement of agricultural technology, which results to overproduction that forced farmers to lower their prices; these usually led to bankruptcy. Thus, populist push forward campaigns against monopolies and trusts. They advocate federal income tax and warn about the possible downsides about the abuses of unregulated economy (Kazin, 1998). The politics during the Populists Era is a contrast between the dominant party and the populists’ party. The Populists are consists of American workers while the dominant parties are supported by corporate groups (Boyer, 2001a).

The Progressive Era (also known as the Reform Era) is the reformation period wherein several changes in the government started to take place. The Progressive Era started with the recognition of the harsh human condition and the economic depression during the 1890’s (Boyer, 2001b). Those who called themselves Progressives are mainly urban middle class. The beginning of the Era is marked by the increase of political and social awareness among the middle class coupled with observable realities. These are even more highlighted by the ‘muckrakers’ who are writers that tries to uncover the ‘dirty realities’ in the society and the government (Boyer, 2001b). It highly affects the public perception regarding inequality. The progressives elaborate on the democratic ideology. They tried to promote citizen participation to politics. The Progressive Era tried to get rid of graft and corruption. There has been an adaptation of Initiative, Referendum and Recall in different states (Boyer, 2001b). These three served as tools for the citizens to affect the government. Social welfare is prioritized; the beginning of the Progressive Era displays an anti-Social Darwinism among middle class (Boyer, 2001b). Progressives help educate people and alleviate public health.

The primary difference between the two Eras lies on he primary constituent of the movement during the historical period. The Populists Era is dominated by the rural Americans while the Progressive Era marked the social and political awareness of the urban dwellers. Both Eras started as a movement to combat economic depression and social inequality. Nonetheless, since they come from different places, their reasons also vary. In the Populists Era, they try to raise the status of American workers particularly of the farmers—thus their focus is more of economic. The Progressive Era on the other hand is concerned on the inequality that prevails in the urban areas –which is a social concern. Both Eras address graft and corruption as a root cause of depression and inequality.


Boyer, P.S.. “Populist Era.” The Oxford Companion to United States History. Oxford University Press. 2001. 14 Dec. 2008 <>.

Boyer, P.S.. “Progressive Era.” The Oxford Companion to United States History. Oxford University Press. 2001. 14 Dec. 2008 <>.

Kazin, M. The Populist Persuasion: An American History. Cornell University Press, 1998