Conclusion on the Progressive Era
The Progressive Era can be seen as the culmination of decades upon decades of attempts to change, alter, or otherwise address “problems” in American society. The seeds of every Progressive Era reform movement were planted between the Revolution and the Civil War from racial and gender equality to moral reform.
Some few view these reforms as attempts to improve or better American society. Others view Progressive reforms as social control of the massive immigrates. What separates help and control? A better question might be why did the Progressive era happen when it did? First, Progressive Era reformers moderately attacked much of the success and excess of the Gilded Age. The Vanderbilts, Hills, and Carnegies left a wake of socio-economic disruption that American farmers attempted, but initially failed, to address. Thus, some people might look at the Progressive Era as a completion of many of the ideas of the Populists.
Second, the reader needs to consider the Jeffersonian ideal of independent, rural farmers versus the Hamiltonian idea on factory working urbanites. As the U.S. economy shifted from an agriculture-based to an industrial-based economy, massive changes effected this country. Many of those changes, such as overcrowding, health and safety issues, and social services inherent to city life had not been addressed. Americans also needed to change their ideas on the role of government. Typically, Americans had viewed government as the antithesis to their liberties, however, an industrial-based economy demanded more government intervention and thus Americans had to wrestle with the results of industrialism.
Finally, U.S. presidents supported moderate change. Teddy Roosevelt believed there were differences between good and bad monopolies, and thus one new role of the federal government was to protect American consumers from those bad monopolies. Wilson saw the necessity of change to the American financial institutions as a necessity of successful industrialization.
The role of immigration cannot be over estimated in the Progressive Era. Ever since Haymarket, Americans connected labor unions with anarchism and socialism. Socialists, who were overwhelmingly connected to central European immigrants (particularly Germans) were a growing and important body of voters in the U.S. during the first few decades of the twentieth century. Native-born Americans might have viewed their calls for change to be more extreme than those ideas that Americans farmers had promoted in the years immediately following the Civil War. Ideas of American Progressive reformers, who had a tendency of being Protestant, and who believed in the inherent value of American democracy and American capitalism, seemed much more moderate than the ideas of German Socialists. Those Muckrakers might be publishing explosive essays on Standard Oil or the American meat and dairy industries, but at least they were not lobbing actual bombs, unlike anarchists during the World War I era.
The best question might be when and why did the Progressive Era end? The New Deal can easily be examined as a continuation of the Progressive Era and the Great Society legislation of the Johnson administration a continuation of the presidencies of Roosevelt and Truman. In other words, the Progressive baton was picked up by future presidents. Progressive reform even blossomed during the presidency of Richard Nixon – the creation of the Department of Energy to deal with the oil embargo and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as Nixon’s support for the Clean Air Bill and the Clean Water Bill. Although examples of progressive social, economic, political, and religious achievements will certainly be evident throughout the twentieth century, the beginning of the end of the Progressive Era, as we define it, begins in the next chapter.
1889 Jane Addams founds Hull House in Chicago
1901 U. S. Steel Corporation founded first billion dollar corporation.
Jacob Riis, How the Other Half Lives
1894 Henry Demarest Lloyd, Wealth Against Commonwealth; Tammany Hall
1896 Wabash vs Illinois—U. S. Supreme Court
outlawed state regulation of interstate commerce
1898 Spanish-American War
1899 Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class
1900 International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) founded; Carrie
Chapman Catt becomes president of National American Woman Suffrage Movement
1901 McKinley assassinated; Theodore Roosevelt becomes president; Colonial war fought in Philippines
1902 Roosevelt mediates coal strike; Roosevelt orders attorney
general to bring suit to dissolve Northern Securities; Jane Addams,
Democracy and Social Ethics
1903 Maria Van Vorst, The Woman Who Toils
W. E. B. DuBois, Souls of Black Folks
Revolution organized in Panama
1. Roosevelt elected president; Northern Securities Case resolved; Lincoln
Steffens, The Shame of the Cities; Ida Tarbell, History the Standard Oil Company; John Moody, The Truth About Trusts;
Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine
1905 International Workers of the World (IWW) organized; Pinchot
head of the U. S. Forest Service; Roosevelt mediates Russo-
Japanese War settlement; At Roosevelt’s urging San Francisco desegregates schools
1906 David Graham Phillips, The Treason of the Senate; Hepburn Act to regulate
railroads; Upton Sinclair, The Jungle; Pure Food and Drug Act; Meat Inspection
Act; Roosevelt wins Nobel Peace Prize
1908 William Howard Taft elected president
1909 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) founded;
1910 Push for woman suffrage increases with several new states granting women the right to vote; Mann-Elkins Act empowered; Interstate Commerce Commission
1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire; Standard Oil dissolved
1912 Three way election – GOP (Taft), Progressives (T. Roosevelt), and Democrats (Wilson). Wilson elected; U. S. troops in Mexico
1913 Pujo Committee; Federal Reserve Act;
Sixteenth Amendment—income tax
Seventeenth Amendment—direct election of senators; 30,000 march in New
York for woman’s suffrage
1914 Clayton Anti-trust Act; Completion of Panama Canal; Federal Trade Commission
1915 Congressional Union founded to push for woman suffrage
1916 Federal Farm Loan Act; Wilson re-elected;
Margaret Higgins Sanger opens birth control clinic
1918 Jeanette Rankin introduced suffrage amendment that passed the House
1919 Eighteenth Amendment—prohibition
1920 Nineteenth Amendment—woman’s suffrage
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