Progressivism & the Battle for National Reform:
Progressivism was a reform movement so varied and comprehensive that it almost defies definition. The movement had many causes, most notably the Depression of the 1890s and the Populist movement. In fact, a Kansas editor referred to Progressivism as "populism that had shaved its whiskers, washed its shirt, put on a derby, and moved up into the middle class." The Progressive Era, the years 1895-1920, was an idealistic period, one that focused on constructive social, economic, and political change. Progressives believed that the complex social ills and tensions generated by the urban-industrial revolution required expanding the scope of local, state, and federal government authority. This, they believed, would ensure the progress of American society. The progressive movement refers to the common spirit of an age rather than to an organized group or party. Progressivism was so diverse in its origins and intentions that few people adhered to all of its principles. Nevertheless, Progressivism became one of the central elements of American liberalism, and the legislation and initiatives of the period lay the first steps for what would become in the 1930s the Welfare state.
Antecedents to Progressivism: 1) Populism: Populism was undoubtedly the impetus for the growth of Progressivism. The Omaha Platform of 1892 outlined many of the reforms that would later be accomplished during the Progressive Era. 2) Mugwumps: this group supplied Progressives with an important element of its thinking: the honest government. The new problems that arose in urban areas, such as crime, and efficient provision of water, electricity, sewage, and garbage collection, led to a growing number of elected officials with this new outlook toward honesty and efficiency. 3) Socialism: the Socialist Party of the time served as the left wing of progressivism. The growing familiarity with socialist doctrine and its critique of urban living and working conditions became a significant force in fostering the spirit of progressivism. Nevertheless, most progressives could not stomach the remedies offered by socialists, and the Progressive reform impulse grew in part from a desire to counter the growing influence of socialist doctrine. 4) Muckrakers: social critics, usually writers, who thrived on exposing scandal. These people got their name when Teddy Roosevelt compared them to a character in a book called Pilgrim's Progress: "a man that could look no way but downwards with a muckrake in his hands." Roosevelt believed that the muckrakers are often indispensable to society, but only if they knew when to stop raking the muck. The chief outlets for these social critics were the inexpensive magazines that began to flourish in the 1890s, such as Arena and McClures. The golden age of muckraking is sometimes dated from 1902 when McClure's began to run articles by reporter Lincoln Steffens on municipal corruption. The articles were later compiled into a book, published in 1904, called The Shame of the Cities. Other works that began as magazine articles exposed corruption in the stock market, life insurance, the meat industry, and politics.
The Features of Progressivism:
Democracy: the most important reform with which the Progressives tried to democratize government was the Direct Primary, or the nomination of candidates by the vote of party members. Under the existing convention system, only a small percentage of the voters attended the local caucuses or precinct meetings which sent delegates to county, state, and national elections. This allowed the rise of professional politicians who stayed in office for extremely long periods of time. In 1896 South Carolina adopted the first statewide primary, and within two decades this system had been implemented by nearly all states for Senators and congressmen. Finally, the Seventeenth Amendment, ratified in 1913, authorized the direct election of...
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