Progressivism in American History

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Progressivism in America started as a social movement that was opposed to Darwinism that became so rampant in the America during the last half of the 19th century and ran to the first half of 20th century. The movement felt that the problems faced by the society such as poverty, racism class warfare, violent and greed could be eradicated though the provision of good education, employment opportunities and conducive working environment for the American people. Progressivism was to reform these social problems, and it was spearheaded by the reformers and leading intellectuals in the United States. The movement later became political and pushed for the address of issues such as political, economic, and cultural questions was brought about by the rapid changes that came with the industrial revolution and the rise of modern capitalism in the United States. The progressives believed that the reforms could mark the end of the old order and come up with a new order appropriate for the new industrial age such as embracing new technology (Rodgers, Daniel T, 1982).

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As a result of Social Darwinism's, progressives encouraged Americans to think hard about what democracy meant, and urged them to register to vote, fight political corruption, and let the voting public decide how issues should best be addressed. When Theodore Roosevelt became the president, progressivism gained a strong voice in the White House in 1901.

At local levels

Initially, the movement operated majorly at local levels such as drew support from the middle class and supporters including many lawyers, teachers, physicians, ministers, etc. A coalition of middle-class reform-was designed to reduce waste and inefficiency and corruption, by introducing scientific techniques, compulsory education and administrative innovations (Cremin, 1961). Progressive frontiers took the lead in many key cities, such as Cleveland, Ohio, Toledo, Jersey City, New Jersey, Memphis, Tennessee, Los Angeles, Kentucky, etc.

At state level (La Follett 1855-1925, Wisconsin idea and Borah 1860-1940)

Robert Marion "Fighting Bob" La Follett Sr. He Was an American politician and as a Republican and later a progressive. He served not only as a member of the U.S House of Representatives but also the Governor of Wisconsin and later U.S senator from Wisconsin from 1906 to 1925. He ran for the presidency of the United States in 1924 as the nominee of his progressive party, winning 17% of the national popular vote. As governor, La Follett championed reforms, including the first workers compensation system and rail road rate reform. He succeeded in creating an atmosphere of close participation between the government and the University of Wisconsin in the implementation of progressive policy, which became known as the Wisconsin idea, the goal of policy involved the recall, referendum, direct primary, and initiative. All of these were aimed at giving citizens a more direct role in government.

State level

The origin of the Wisconsin idea is linked to the UW president Charles Van Hise, whose speech in 1902 declared that "I shall never be content until the beneficent influence of the University reaches every home in the states." The took the advantage of the friendship between him and the governor Robert M La Follette, who happened to be his former classmate at the University to create a close relationship between the university and the state government. In the early 20th century, the university officials consulted with the Legislature seeking help in drafting most of the groundbreaking laws, which included the first worker's compensation legislation, the public regulation of utilities and tax reforms. It was until 1912 when Charles McCathy described the Wisconsin idea philosophy in a book, that the activities were formally described as The Wisconsin idea'. At that time, Wisconsin had earned national recognition for legislative innovation. Over time, the idea has become more broadly signified the university's commitment to serving public-a mission that dates back from the progressive political era.

Federal level

Theodore Roosevelt born on October 27, 1858, and served as the 26th president of the United States. During his reign, he played an important role and as the force for the Progressive era in America in the early 20th century.

Opposition to Roosevelt and new deal (Al smith1860-1944)

Smith felt insulted by Roosevelt during the governorship of Roosevelt. They come to be political enemies for the 1932 Democratic presidential proposal. At the convention, he worked with William McAdoo and William Randolph Hearst to try to block FDR's nomination for several ballots but lastly failed. After losing the nomination, Smith eventually worked campaigned for Roosevelt in 1932. He then founded his party, the Progressive, so- "Bull Moose" Party." With the main aim of wide range reforms. The split allowed the Democrats to win not only the White House but also a majority in the Congress in 1912 (Hackney, 1969).

The anthracite coal miners strike kicked off in May 1902, threatening a national energy shortage. The coal operators with assistance by federal troops and Roosevelt won their agreement and succeeded in ending the strike, reducing coal prices and retiring furnaces; the agreement which led to the workers being paid more for fewer hours, but with no union recognition in 1902. Using the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, was brought in by President Roosevelt by directing his Justice Department to break up from this holding claiming it was illegally trading, and then federal government broke, and the Northern Securities Company decided to appeal the ruling. The case in Supreme Court ruled 5-4 for the federal government. Roosevelt's action never took any consideration on advice on leading conservatives in the Republican Party and demonstrated his independence from party elders. The Northern Securities Case (1904), which built President Theodore Roosevelt's reputation as a "trust-buster," reached the Supreme Court in 1904.

So as to avoid corruption in interstate commerce railway Roosevelt thought it was particularly important for the government to supervise the workings and shipment of coal and other commodities and goods. The result was the enactment of the Hepburn Act, in 1906 that formed by Federal, which controls railroad rates. Thomas Woodrow Wilson, he was an American politician and elite who became the 28th President of the United States from 1913 to 1921. He emphasized without apology, of his progressivism and called his audience to be accountable for their malpractices in business affairs. Louis Dembitz Brandeis (November 13, 1856 October 5, 1941) he was American lawyer and the U.S Supreme Court subordinate justice from 1916 to 1939 by profession. However, during Wilson's first year as president, Brandeis "played a crucial role in shaping the Federal Reserve Act," that is according to banking historian Albert Link (Thelen & David Paul, 1972).

The purity of food, milk and drinking water was highly prioritized in the cities. At the state and national levels, new laws for food and drug strengthened the efforts to guarantee the safety of the food system in urban centers. The 1906 federal pure food and drug act which was pushed by drug

Wilson administration

Woodrow Wilson was an outspoken and committed U.S constitution critic. Who believed that the checks and balances of the constitution were the sources of problems in the government administration. He was concerned with the implementation of the constitution while criticizing those whose focus was issues on philosophy and the "proper role" of government. With the democratic majority congress, he succeeded in persuading the sixteenth and seventeenth amendments. As a result of waste, inefficiency, stubbornness, corruption and injustices of the Gilded Age, the Progressives were determined to change and reform every single aspect of the state, society, and economy. These changes involved enacted at the national levels included the imposition of income tax with the Sixteenth Amendments, direct election of senators with the seventeenth amendment (Eisenach & Eldon, 1994).

Production of distilled spirits was banned In August 1917, for the duration of the war under the Lever Food and Fuel control act Prohibition Act, November 1918, forbade the manufacture and sale of intoxicating beverages with more than 2.75% alcohol content, until the end of demobilization. In 1912, Woodrow Wilson was elected President with a Democratic Congress. Wilson played a greater part to end the long battles over the trusts with the Clayton anti-trust act of 1914. He skillfully managed to convince lawmakers on the issues of money and banking by the creation in 1913 of the Federal Reserve System, which is a complex business-government partnership that to this day dominates the financial world.


Rodgers, Daniel T. "In search of progressivism." Reviews in American History 10.4 (1982): 113-132.

Cremin, Lawrence A. "The transformation of the school: Progressivism in American education, 1876-1957." (1961).

Thelen, David Paul. "The new citizenship: Origins of progressivism in Wisconsin, 1885-1900." University of Missouri Press (MU) (1972).

Link, Arthur Stanley, and Richard L. McCormick. Progressivism. Vol. 6. Wiley-Blackwell, 1983.

Hackney, Sheldon. Populism to progressivism in Alabama. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969.

Eisenach, Eldon J. The lost promise of progressivism. Univ Pr of Kansas, 1994.

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