Progressivism

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Did the Progressives Fail?

Progressivism generated positive results. If one thinks of progressives as one group of people with one clear objective, then they succeeded. But, consider the word “progressives” as a general term that encompasses these assorted clusters unfairly, because it defines these groups as one. The progressives’ diverse and opposing views break up the previously described group into separate sets of individuals trying to achieve the same goals, in a different way. Because these groups did not agree on how to achieve things in one way, the “progressives” never met some objectives because their contradicting methods resulted in the opposite result. How could every one of these groups do what they set out to? No, they could not possibly have done so.

The “Progressive Era,” occurred between the years following the Spanish-American War and the United States’ involvement in World War I. Anti-war and anti-imperialistic views divided citizens from their government. This resulted in a reestablishment of traditional American values minded group. The open-door immigration policy unsettled the xenophobic, and otherwise racist, people. So many people in the confined spaces of big cities demanded attention to several things. Those issues included health conditions, working conditions, and the education of new arrivals.

These and other concerns could have led to hate and anger-induced riots. However, a large number of people thoughtfully approached the idea of reform instead of turning to violence. The variety of wrongs and ways to right them spawned a divided force trying to complete the same goals in dissimilar ways. Progressives may be divided into three main groups: those trying to improve government, people looking to induce social change, and others seeking to mend the corruption of big business and industry. All aforementioned assemblies can be further divided by the way individuals wanted to achieve their goals. Did they accomplish anything at all? Richard M. Abrams, in “The Failure of Progressivism,” states “…not to say that things are worse than before, but only they are not conspicuously better.” Arthur S. Link, in “Progressivism in History,” agrees, saying that American government and politics “probably emerged neither more nor less democratic than before…” In contrast, he also writes “at the very least, the political changes of the progressive era significantly accommodated American public life to an urban-industrial society.” Link and Abrams provide the perfectly appropriate pair to answer the question of whether the progressives failed. Link views it as an overall success, because “progressivism was the only reform movement experienced by the whole American nation,” and things came out moderately better, in the end. Abrams says, “It failed in what it… conceived to be its principal objective… to restore or maintain the conventional consensus on a particular set of values, and particular constellation of behavioral modes in the country’s commerce, its industry, its social relations, and its politics.” These two have differing opinions on what it succeeded and failed at, just as the progressives disagreed on how to accomplish anything.

Progressives led sought to change America’s structures of government, politics, the economy and social-standards to pre-war status. Abrams says they did this by “educating immigrants and the poor…imposing regulations upon corporate practices in order to preserve a minimal base for small proprietary businesses enterprise…making legislative accommodations to the newly important wage-earning classes…so as to forestall a forcible transfer of policy-making power away from the groups that had conventionally exercised that power; and by broadening the political selection process, through direct elections, direct nominations, and direct legislation.” Link writes that progressives failed in the political aspirations, saying, “After the progressive era, just as before,...
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