Progressivism was the reform movement that ran from the late 19th century through the first decades of the 20th century. The main factor of the Progressive Movement was to improve American politics and society. The movement was started by the urban middle class, the factors that caused the development of Progressivism will be explored in the forthcoming paragraphs. Arguably the most significant factor that caused Progressivism, is the need to regulate big businesses. Business formed trusts during the late 19th century.
Trusts were the result of mergers and takeovers of smaller companies creating giant corporation. Trust became so powerful that they threatened to establish monopolies in particular industries. The biggest of all, however, was US Steel. US Steel became the world’s first billion-dollar corporation. These giant trusts controlled the markets in their fields. Many Americans disliked the power of the trusts: they saw them as un-American, because they meant smaller companies or new entrants into the market could not complete.
Moreover influential writers such as Henry George and Edward Bellamy exposed corruption and unfair practices in the trusts. Therefore the progressives wanted to regulate the power of trusts. The big businesses were ruling America, and the vast majority of America, except the big executives and the corrupt politicians, was either living poorly, or on the edge of it. Violent strikes became common as people joined militant unions. It was clear that something had to be done to improve a lot of the working class or the US might face violent class struggle.
Furthermore, the Progressive Movement wanted the government to focus on the social issues related to fair wages and safe working conditions. Legislation outlawing child labor, limits on working hours, and a minimum wage for working women. Some progressives thought that prohibition was a solution to “Americans problems. ” It was a major reform movement from the 1840s into the 1920s. Its goal was to prohibit the manufacture or sale of alcohol. They believed the consumption of alcohol-limited mankind’s potential for advancement.
The middle class formed the driving force behind the movement. For example, the women who started the settlement house movement were middle class women who were educated and who wanted to do something to improve society. This would not have been so possible a generation before when there were fewer middle class people with the leisure to take on charitable work. However most progressives came from the middle class. As big business grew, the middle class saw their comfortable way of life coming to an end.
Big business could make thing twice as fast, for half the price, and they used their wealth to buy off government officials. Therefore the progressives wanted to bring efficiency and stability to society. Most of them felt that scientific methods such as gathering data and analysis would overcome social and economic problems in an ordered way. In the United States, progressive reform was driven by a loose-knit group of reformers that were focused on social and governmental change. In the early 19th century American reform movement instituted legal changes to end political corruption.
The progressive reform movement organised politically in 1912 to support the Progressive Party ticket of Theodore Roosevelt and again in 1924 to push the independent presidential candidacy of Robert LaFollette. Progressives were opposed to corrupt party machines and big business domination of political process. They wanted the government to be more responsive to the people. Many progressive reforms aimed to increase democracy in America, this included women’s suffrage. They wanted voters to choose candidates for election and to extend the franchise vote to women.
In addition, the need for political reform was one of the factors that caused Progressivism. To continue, the muckrakers provided detailed, accurate journalistic accounts of the political and economic corruption and social hardships caused by the power of big business in a rapidly industrialising United States. Lincoln Steffens, for example, exposed a scandal about political corruption in cities. In 1904, female journalist Ida Tarbell exposed the unfair business practices of the Standard Oil Company.
As a result of her expose, the government prosecuted the company under anti-trust legislation. Magazines such as Collier’s and McClure’s regularly included articles on such diverse issues as child prostitution, violence against workers attempting to form unions and crooked lawyers. These down-to-earth stories found a wide readership. Public opinion became more ‘progressive’. Progressive legislation was passed and many corrupt politicians suffered defeat at the hands of “clean opponents. ” Concern about the exposure of these scandals led to the development of the Progressive Movement.
By the late 19th century, Protestant Churches had moved away from the need for individual enterprise and hard work and accepted that adverse, social conditions could lead to people becoming evil. The so- called The Social Gospel movement is a Protestant Christian intellectual movement that was most prominent in the early 20th century United States and Canada. The movement applied Christian ethics to social problems, especially issues of social justice such as economic inequality, poverty, alcoholism, crime, racial tensions, slums, bad hygiene, child labor, inadequate labor unions, poor schools, and the danger of war.
The Social Gospel is an important impact in the Progressive Movement. To conclude, the need to regulate big businesses, influence of the middle classes, religious influences and the threat of the left wing all causes the development of progressivism. Each exemplified that the US was actually less united than it appeared on the surface. Therefore, strong central authority was necessary to bring reforms and to ensure efficiency. The Progressives crossed political boundaries to improve the society, as the citizens wanted, therefore the rise of Progressivism.