The Rise and Fall of Progressivism

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The Progressives were a diverse group of people that wanted to offer practical solutions to the social problems that were associated with industrialization and urbanization. Progressives opposed laissez-faire economics, which led to a new movement to allow government and private groups to intervene and regulate business firms and private individuals for the good of society. In addressing these problems, Progressives organized their ideas and actions around three main goals. They sought to end abuses of power, supplant corrupt power with humane institutions such as schools and medical clinics, and they wanted to apply scientific principles and efficient management to economics (A People and a Nation, 569). Progressives wanted to make government and politics more equitable, more responsive to individual voters, and more responsible locally, to the state, and federally (Lecture, 9/24).

Robert M. La Follette was one of the most dynamic of Progressive politicians. As governor of Wisconsin, he sponsored a program of political reform and business regulation known as the Wisconsin Plan (A People and a Nation, 574). The Wisconsin Plan became the foundation for a national political system and helped to reform politics, government, and industry (Lecture 9/24). In 1906 he entered the U.S. Senate and continued to champion Progressive reform. The National Progressive Republican League, which La Follette founded in 1911, became the core of the Progressive Party (A People and a Nation, 574).

Theodore Roosevelt was another notable Progressive. His aim was not to restructure American capitalism, but to protect it from its own excesses through prudent government intervention. In enforcing federal antitrust laws, Roosevelt drew a distinction between good trusts and bad trusts (Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive Movement). He emerged as a “trust buster” by forcing the dissolution of a great railroad combination in the Northwest. Other antitrust suits under the...
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