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Social and political history

The progressive era ushered in many changes in the social and political history of America. This research paper will examine the social and political environment that led to the progressive movement. It will discuss as well the figures and groups behind the progressive movement and why they got involved. The achievement of the movement, its significance as the development from the previous movements as well as the foundation of events that followed. The Progressive Era (1890-1920) American society has had many efforts towards improving their lives.

In 1800, there were many efforts in reforming the American society. One such effort was the First Reform era experienced just before the Civil war (Frankel & Dye, pp 80). This period was marked by much social activisms that pushed for better working conditions as well as better treatment of prisoners and the mentally ill. Their agenda of early reforms was concerned with abolitionism – the push to right the moral wrongs of the slavery. The Second Reform period followed thereafter, and gained much support during Reconstruction, and pushed on until America went to World War 1.

The major issues during this period were the struggle for the rights of women and addressing of the temperance movement (Frankel & Dye, 96). The farm movement emerged during this period to fight for farm lands that were continuously receding due to the rapid expansion of urban centers. The progressive era in the American history is the period between 1890s and 1920s. As part of the second reform era, it developed from the belief that man has the ability to improve the life of everyone in the society. It was therefore a paradigm shift from the Social Darwinism that was much held by the rich and mighty figures of the time (Sklar, pp88).

The progressivism had much political overtones and did not accept the church to lead the fight for reforms. It is the period marked by many social and political reforms. It developed as result of the needs to find solutions to the many ills that plagued American society at the time. The industrial spurt that was witnessed in the latter 19th century brought many positive changes to the American society (Gould, pp95). Businesses were booming, great cities developed, and many frontiers tamed, but most people felt they were not enjoying the new found wealth and opportunities that were available.

The main goal of the progressive movement was eradication of corruption in politics. This was done through exposing and shaming of political leaders and their machinations. The progressive era also marked the discrimination of the illiterates especially the African-Americans (Gould, pp 102). The illiterates were barred from voting. The immigration from Europe countries was also an issue for the progressives. To reduce such movements from Europe they introduced illiteracy tests to block illiterate Europeans from migrating to America.

It was during this era that women suffrage was elevated in order to bring what they termed as “purer” women votes into the political arena (Sklar, pp 98). This came about as the progressives wanted many people to be involved in the political processes. There was also a strong desire to have the government play a leading role in solving social problems and creating fairness in economic issues. The movement drew its support mainly from lawyers, ministers, teachers, and business people mainly belonging to the middle class. They were very much successful at their local backyards and that prompted their desire to soldier.

They took the demands to the state level and later on progressed to the national level (Frankel & Dye, pp 56). Successes of the Progressive Movement The strong commitment to reform the country that developed from the injustices and inefficiencies of the Gilded Age saw many significant reforms being enacted. In the political scene the major changes that were enacted included the promotion of the women suffrage through the Nineteenth Amendment, Prohibition through the Eighteenth Amendment, direct election of senators through the Seventeenth Amendment and the income tax through the Sixteenth Amendment (Lader, pp90).

The Muckrakers – a new terminology was coined for the journalists who took it upon themselves to expose the misdeed of the political leaders. Corrupt dealings, scandals as well as government wastage of public funds, were exposed in national magazines. The progressives supported modernization and were firm believers in the power of expertise, science as well as technology in changing the world. The progressives were great supporters of urban industrialization in the American society. They also believed in the ability of man to better his environment and living conditions.

Their efforts towards better living and modernization were characterized in their firm belief that there should be expertise and efficient government intervention in matters economic and social (Gould, pp110). The progressives created some democratic space for the American citizenry. Through their struggles, the citizens found room to have a say in the ruling of the country. Hiram Johnson, a California governor at the time is famed for his many initiatives that helped improved the citizen participation (Gould, pp 89).

Their work also paid off in the job reforms, for example, through the Johnson’s initiatives, sixteen states adopted primary elections to cut the enormous power of the bosses and that of the machines. The ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment in 1913, according to Lader (pp 101), ushered in a new dawn in politics, the people now had the power to elect their senators. Much reform was also achieved in the municipal governments. Through their efforts many cities and states undertook major reforms in running of the local authorities. For example, in Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Idea was born.

Robert LaFollette derived ideas and expertise from the local universities that helped in the running of the state (Gould, pp111). One of great achievement of the progressive movement was the constitutional changes that legitimize their reforms. According to Gould, (pp 113) the progressives ensured that all their reforms were made into law through constitutional amendments. Such changes included the promotion of women suffrage that was effected by the Nineteenth Amendment, prohibition although repealed after the collapsed of progressivism, was effected by the Eighteenth Amendment.

In the social front, the Progressives achieved a lot in making America a better society. One such success was attributed to the prohibition that was effected by the 18th Amendment of 1917. Prohibition banned any production, sale or transportation of alcohol both at the state and national level. Religious leaders mainly the evangelical protestants were credited for the enactment of this law (Sklar, pp94). The agitation grew as a result of much concern for the drinking habits of the Americans. Backed by politicians, businesspeople, and other social reformists, the clergy found voice and called for moderation laws.

The movement’s efforts paid off when various state enacted prohibition laws. Maine did it in 1850 and decades later other states followed suit. Although this milestone was short lived because many states repealed the prohibition law at the time of the civil war, the clergy got their act together soldiered on again in 1880s (Gould, pp115). Their efforts bore fruit later when other groups such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League joined them. What followed was a wave of referendum in the states to enact prohibition act (Sklar, pp79).

The campaigns were taken to the national level from the states. This also bore fruit as well when the 18th Amendment was passed by more than two-third majority by both houses in 1917. The law was ratified two years later and was effective from the beginning of 1920. The critics of the prohibition had two faces on one side led by the Catholics who claimed that law infringes their personal liberty. The other front comprised businessmen who cited the tax revenue lost through such law. The critics won in1930 when 21st Amendment was passed (Gould, pp 84).

The progressives were also known for their firm belief in efficient government interventions in the economic and social affairs (Kolko, pp160). This was a development of the post 1890s economic depression when most private business owners asked the government to intercede. Initially during the late nineteenth century, the private sectors did not want the government interference but to be involved only on matters pertaining security. The turn of the century ushered in the progressives who wanted the government regulation to encourage effective competition as well as free enterprise.

Their pleas came as a result of the desire to control business elites and large movements comprising laborers and farmers mainly from the Midwest. The efforts paid of when the congress enacted two laws – the Interstate Commerce Act (1887) and the Sherman Antitrust Act (1890) (Gould, pp92). The former tried to control the running of the railroads while the latter regulated dominance of large firms in one industry. Although there was laxity on the enforcement of these laws during this period, the laws gained much prominence under the pro-Progressivism presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson (Lader, pp 95).

Notable Figures behind the Progressive Movement Much is owed to the Muckrakers, journalists who exposed the ills of the American society through their writing. They detailed the terrible conditions of slums dwellings and raging poverty that the American people had to deal with everyday. They also named and shamed political leaders as well as government officials involved in corrupt dealings (Gould, pp103). There were governors of California and Wisconsin- Hiram Johnson and Robert LaFollette respectively, gave the movement a shot in the arm, by offering a political goodwill to most of the progressives’ demands.

Through them reforms such as direct primary and municipal reforms were realized. The mayoral system was abolished and replaced by city managers – trained professionals who effectively strengthened the running of the local authorities. The two presidents who were considered progressive sympathizers were also a blessing to the progressives’ course. Theodore Roosevelt, a republican president is much credited with making the progressive ideas formal especially through his party. Conclusion Despite a few shortcomings of the progressivism, like leaving behind the needs of African-Americans and the natives, the efforts must be laudable.

They laid the foundation on which latter reforms were built. Their insightful ideas have been in use in the modern American society. Example of their innovative ideas are the America’s regulatory bodies most of which were enacted during this period, for example the interstate commission of 1887 and the federal reserve, a partnership between the government and the businesses, which has been dominant and successful over the years. Works cited: Frankel, Noralee and Dye, Nancy. Gender, Class, Race, and Reform in the Progressive Era, Part 3.

Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky. (1994) pp45-150 Gould, Lewis. America in the Progressive Era, 1890-1914. London: Longman, (2001) pp45-120 Kolko, Gabriel. The Triumph of Conservatism: A Re-Interpretation of American History, 1900-1916. New York: Free Press of Glencoe, (1963) pp 150-220 Lader, Curt. Painless American History. New York: Barron’s Educational Series, (1999) pp34-120 Sklar, Martin. The United States as A Developing Country: Studies in U. S. History in the Progressive Era And The 1920s. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, (1992) pp 78-120

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