The Progressive Era
What were the motives behind the groups and individuals known as Progressives?
The Progressive movement is a broad label for the various economic, social, and political reform movements that took place in the United States between 1900 and 1914. Throughout the Progressive Era, a common concern sets the tone for nearly every discussion of economic, social, and political policy: an uneasiness in the population brought about by the dramatic development of modern industry and economic and social changes. Progressivism was an expression of discontent against industrialization, individualism, immigration, and urbanization.
By 1900 cities were crowded with millions of poor laborers, and working conditions were appalling. Something had to be done, and the progressive movement was the nation’s response. Although the progressive reformers did not fix everything, little escaped their attention. Since the political powers were unwilling or unable to address the rapid economic and social changes brought about by the industrial revolution in America, the progressive movement grew outside government and eventually forced government to take stands and deal with the growing problems.The Progressives wanted to end : laissez faire, trusts, segregation,unhealthy working and living conditions, and they did have success through several reforms. The Progressive Movement was a massive assault on the problems that plagued American life at the turn of the century. Their targets included working conditions such as hours, safety, wages and job security. They attacked abuses of the capitalist system in order to preserve it, rather than replace it with socialist alternatives. They addressed moral issues such as prostitution and alcohol abuse, which they saw as contributing to domestic violence. The progressives wanted better management of businesses and political entities such as cities and counties. They wanted fairness in all things, although the progressives were less than aggressive in addressing civil rights for minorities, including Indians. The Progressive Movement succeeded because it had support from Republicans and Democrats, labor and management as well as American Middle Class. The motives of the working classes were obvious. Workers themselves, sweating in the factories, on construction projects and doing other forms of labor, were in no position to begin a movement on their own behalf. They had in most cases neither the time nor the vision to be able to see their problems in larger perspective. They did understand that their jobs might be threatened if they engaged in an union-related activity. Reformers such as Henry George, however, and labor leaders like Eugene Debs, Samuel Gompers and others understood the problems of the working class and moved for reform. To the extent that laborers and workers joined unions, and to the extent that the working classes were able to perceive what was going on in the workplace, they naturally supported the Progressive Movement. The Middle Class supported the Progressive Movement for reasons that were also fairly obvious. The Middle Class were prospering; they enjoyed comfortable incomes, lived in reasonably comfortable homes, enjoyed a certain amount of leisure time, and became aware of working conditions in America through newspaper and magazine articles written by muckraking journalists.Although not always sympathized by the working class,the Middle Class people realized that the system from which they benefited was in a threat. Thus for some middle-class Americans, the motivation for reform was anxiety, if not fear of revolution; for many others the motives were more of an altruistic nature. They were often moved by the plight of the working poor, and realized that moral imperatives required reform, not only to protect the system but for the sake of humanity. Although their “better” motives were often genuinely felt, some critics referred to the Progressives as...
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