Progressivism (Early 1900s)
AP US History Study Terms: Gilded Age, Progressives, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Muckrakers, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, Pure Food and Drug Act, Clayton Anti-Trust Act, Sherman Anti-Trust Act, Jim Crow Laws, Plessy vs. Ferguson, Booker T. Washington, WEB Du Bois, Niagara Conference, Margaret Sanger, American Birth Control League, Adamso Act, Underwood Tariff, Louis Brandeis
Following the Gilded Age was an era in American history that was characterized by change. Progressives saw corruption and greed out of the Gilded Age and hoped to reform American society. The struggle between capitalist big business and the working class intensified as a result of the Gilded Age. Progressivism sought to ameliorate and ease the tension between the labor conflicts. With a more hands on approach to government regulation of the economy and big business, the Roosevelt and Wilson administrations improved and reformed industry and the labor dispute. The “social question” of the Gilded Age was considerably resolved with the help of Progressives however it was never fully reconciled.
Presidents Roosevelt and Wilson abandoned the former government principle of laissez-faire economics and began to take a more direct and assertive role in business regulation. They became very involved in industrial relations and established many regulations. “Muckrakers” were Progressive journalists who exposed corruption in government, the evils of big business and the conditions of the city. Their scathing stories of scandal and corruption addressed many problems. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (1906) was a novel that was a fictionalized expose of Chicago meatpacking plants that invoked two Progressive Acts. The Meat Inspection Act of 1906 checked and inspected the food. The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 required the use of labels listing the ingredients in a product. Under the Wilson administration, government stepped in and tried to regulate big business by the creation and enforcement of the Clayton Anti-Trust Act of 1924. This Act upgraded the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and outlawed monopolies and monopolistic practices. Roosevelt even earned the title trustbuster. These “trustbusters” went after big business and corporations and brought them to court. However Roosevelt believed in good and bad trusts so he destroyed the ones who he felt. How did he get the power to arbitrarily decided which were allow onto remain.
I Progressivism: An Overview
A In 1912, a new party emerged on the political scene, calling themselves the Progressives. The formation of the party was actually the culmination of a series of reform movements that began in the 1890s.
B Some general CAUSES of Progressivism:
The 1890s – all the tensions built up during industrialization broke loose in the Panic of 1893, labor problems, political issues, and foreign entanglements.
1 Capitalism is out of control – Partially due to the depression, many people started to realize that capitalism, w/its monopolistic tendencies and rampant destruction of natural resources, needed just a bit of restraint.
2 Urban problems – Disease, poverty and crime were rampant.
3 Immigration and the rise of a new socio-economic elite
- The bottom line of Progressivism was basically: society should help mankind – as opposed to Gilded Age every-man-for-himself Social Darwinism.
C Progressivism sought to:
1 End Abuses of Power – Trust-busting, consumers’ rights, good government.
2 Build New Institutions – Schools, hospitals.
3 Be Efficient – political and social institutions
4 Achieve Perfection
II Politics in the Progressive Era
A Party loyalty and voter turnout declined as politics opened to new interest groups, each of which had their own agendas
B Progressive Era witnessed the birth of the nationwide [charitable] organization including: professional groups, women’s organizations, issue-oriented groups, civic clubs, and minority groups.
C Politics became more fragmented and issue-driven.
- Politics became more open to foreign models/ideas
- Reform took on a far more urban orientation, as opposed to the Populist movement that culminated in the 1896 election. This was partially due to the leadership of the new urban middle class.
D Muckraking Journalism – i.e. journalists who combined the public’s love of scandal w/exposes of social/political injustices.
1) Steffen’s The Shame of the Cities (1904)
2) Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (1906)
3) Ida Tarbell [Standard Oil].
E There was a movement towards more direct participation in gov’t, which tried to control corruption.
F Progressives wanted:
1) The initiative [propose laws]
2) The referendum [vote on laws]
3) The recall [get rid of offending officials]
- One thing to remember – not everyone in the PE was actually a Progressive. Plenty of people opposed them: Socialists from the left, and business leaders and anti-gov’t interference people from the right. Progressives were in the center.
III Governmental and Legislative Reform
A With the big economic crises of the late 1800s, American resistance to gov’t interference in daily life began to diminish. Progressives, especially, saw the gov’t as a tool that would ensure social justice and act against inefficiency and exploitation. But first, they felt, they had to eliminate corruption.
B Before the Progressive Era, reformers had tried to wipe out boss politics in the cities – this had been only partially successful – but after 1900 it worked out as city manager and commission forms of city gov’t were installed. But the cities were not enough…most Progressives wanted state and nat’l gov’t reform as well.
C Naturally, each region had its own pet peeves. One thing that was common, though, was a belief in strong, fair executives, esp. governors like Wisconsin’s Robert “Battling Bob” La Follette, who installed a major reform program w/direct primaries, fairer taxes, RRD regulation, and commissions staffed by experts.
D the crusade against corruption worked to some extent throughout the country [e/t in the South, many Progressives were still racists] – by 1916 all but 3 states had the initiative, referendum and recall; and in 1913 the Seventeenth Amendment was passed, which provided for direct election of Senators. Nevertheless, there were still many cases were bosses stayed just b/c of their superior organization.
E When it came to labor regulation, however, legislation was much more effective b/c both reformers and bosses supported it. States passed laws protecting public health and safety (police), supporting factory inspection, requiring accident compensation, and banning child labor.
F Then there was the moral angle, which was far more controversial…some of the major issues included drinking habits [Anti-Saloon League (1893)], which resulted in the Eighteenth Amendment outlawing the sale of liquor, and prostitution – “white slavery” – a threat that was really more imagined than real, but still managed to get a whole lot of attention and the passage of the Mann Act (1910), which prohibited transportation of a woman for immoral purposes.
G Overall, the reformers’ efforts reflect their ideology that environment, not human nature, creates sin…i.e. that humans can achieve perfection in the right setting.
IV New Philosophies in the Progressive Era
A Changes in society prompted a multitude of new ideas during the Progressive Era, including:
1 Education – For the first time, educators were faced w/masses of children going to school full time [b/c of the growth of cities]. In response, philosopher John Dewey [The School and Society (1899), Democracy and Education (1916)] decided that personal development should be the focus of education, and that all teaching had to relate directly to experience, so that kids “discover knowledge for themselves.” Yeah, now we know who to blame for all the stupid stuff we did in elementary school! But this ended up in colleges too, which soon began to expand their curriculums – still, women/blacks were mostly left out of educational opportunities.
2 Law – A new legal philosophy, led by Roscoe Pound, held that social reality should influence legal thinking – i.e. the law should reflect society’s needs and work from experience [gathering scientific data], not be this abstract, inflexible thing. Of course, this methodology met opposition in the old laissez-faire judges, who struck down public safety regulations in cases like Lochner v. NY (1905). But some were also upheld – ex. Holden v. Hardy (1898). Another big question was: how can general welfare benefit w/o oppressing minorities?
3 Social Science – Similar to changes in law, new scholars began to argue that economic relationships depended on social conditions [as opposed to being timeless]. Progressive historians [Frederick Jackson Turner, Charles A. Beard] also emphasized the flexibility of the Constitution – it has to serve each age in its own way.
4 Public Health – New organizations, like the National Consumers League joined scientists to combat workplace hazards, help female workers, and urge for food safety regulations.
5 Eugenics – B/c of Darwin, some people [Francis Galton] came up w/the idea that society had an obligation to prevent “defective” people from reproducing. This resulted in laws in some states allowing sterilization of criminals and the mentally ill. This thinking received a boost in The Passing of the Great Race (1916) by Madison Grant, which held that immigrants were threatening the superior Nordic race.
B MOST IMPORTANTLY, though, was the Social Gospel – Underlying all Progressive actions was the idea that, instead of Social Darwinism, people have an obligation to help improve society. This idea was rooted in religion, and in the previous evangelical reform movement philosophies.
V Challenges to Racial/Sexual Discrimination
A Most minorities were ignored by Progressives, but they found their own leaders willing to challenge inequality. By 1900, in the South, blacks faced constant segregation via Jim Crow laws [caused by Plessy v. Ferguson], discrimination, and violence. This held true, to a lesser degree, even when they moved North.
B There were two main leaders/responses to the problem faced by blacks:
1 Booker T. Washington [rural] – Through “Self-Help” [hard work leading to economic success], Washington felt that blacks could eventually acquire social and political rights. For the time being, however, he felt that they should compromise with whites – though he did not feel blacks were inferior, he still endorsed a separate-but-equal policy. But his views, as presented in the Atlanta Exposition (1895), encountered opposition from more radical elements.
2 WEB Du Bois [urban] – In response to Washington, DB felt that blacks should not have to tolerate white domination and should immediately fight for their social and political rights. DB met with supporters at the Niagara Conference, and, in 1909, he joined w/white liberals to form the NAACP, which advocated an end to discrimination.
C American Indians also attempted to form the Society of American Indians (SAI), but it didn’t work out as a governing body b/c racial pride gave way to tribal pride, not unity.
D As for “The Woman Movement,” the Progressive Era heralded an important shift in ideas from the thought that women were special and belonged in other areas of society [so that they could spread their unique talents] to the newfangled *shocking* concept that women needed economic/sexual equality and independence. The latter idea, which arose around 1910, was known as feminism.
E With feminism came the idea of “sex rights” and birth control as proposed by leader Margaret Sanger, who formed the American Birth Control League and managed to make the issue part of public debate.
The Suffrage movement was led by Harriot Blatch, feminists argued that women needed the vote as political leverage to get better working conditions [all women worked, she argued, whether paid/unpaid].
G Suffragists achieved successes through letter-writing, NAWSA articles, marches of the National Woman’s Party [Alice Paul] and, most of all, women’s roles in WWI. As a result, the nat’l suffrage amendment was finally passed in 1920. Nevertheless, women remained subordinate to men socially and economically for some time.
I Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt and the Revival of the Presidency
A After the assassination of McKinley in September 1901, young Theodore Roosevelt was sent into the White House. Roosevelt supported regulatory legislation, obsessed over “manliness,” and was a brilliant rhetorician and publicity monger.
B Issues addressed by TR:
1 Trust-Busting – TR agreed w/Progressives that the new era needed a bigger, stronger nat’l gov’t that would act as an umpire in the big business game, deciding which business were okay and which weren’t. And e/t TR wasn’t as big a “trust-buster” as he claimed and only attacked “bad” trusts [he even instructed his Bureau of Corporations to assist in some forms of expansion], he did use the Justice Dept. to prosecute trusts that were exploiting the public, like the Northern Securities (1904) case.
2 Regulatory Legislation – TR also supported regulatory legislation, like the Hepburn Act (1906), which gave the ICC more authority to set RRD rates. Also, TR investigated the meat industry [Sinclair’s The Jungle] and subsequently supported the Meat Inspection Act (1906) and the Food and Drug Act (1906). In both areas, however, TR compromised rather than risk not gaining anything.
3 Labor – W/regard to labor, TR generally favored investigation and arbitration. In the United Mine Workers Strike (1902), he raised public opinion in favor of the miners and threatened to use troops to reopen the mines to force arbitration by a commission, which eventually raised wages, reduced hours and required dealing w/grievances [but didn’t require recognition of the union]. W/labor, TR felt only some organizations were legitimate, and wished to keep control.
4 Conservation – TR made huge changes in federal policy towards resources by keeping land in the public domain and supporting the Newlands Reclamation Act (1902), which controlled sales of irrigated land in the West. He increased nat’l forests and created the US Forest Service w/Gifford Pinchot, who advocated scientific management to prevent overuse.
C Then came the Panic of 1907, which forced TR into a compromise w/JP Morgan – in return for convincing financiers to stop dropping stocks, TR approved a deal for US steal to get a smaller company. But, during his last year in office, TR went against business again, and supported heavier taxation of the rich and stronger business regulation.
II The Election of 1908 and Taft’s Presidency
A Instead of running again, Teddy supported William Howard Taft for the Presidential Election of 1908 [TR was reelected in 1904, by the way]. B/c of TR’s popularity, Taft won, but landed in a difficult situation.
B First, Taft moved to cut tariffs, but was blocked by Progressives, who felt the tariff benefited special interests. So, the cuts were restored in the Payne-Aldrich Tariff (1909), which also angered Progressives.
C Taft was caught in the middle of a rift between the conservative and Progressive wings of the Republican Party.
D Then, when a group of Progressives challenged the conservative speaker, who controlled the legislative progress, Taft first supported and then abandoned them. He did, however, enlarge the Rules Committee, and therefore help the Progressives – but he angered them even more by firing conservationist Pinchot.
E Major contributions of Taft include:
1) Mann-Elkins Act (1910) helped the ICC powers and supported labor reforms
2) Sixteenth Amendment [income tax]
3) Seventeenth Amendment [direct election of Senators]
III The Election of 1912 and Wilson’s Presidency
A When TR got back from Africa, he realized that his party had split into the National Progressive Republican League [La Follette] and the side that stayed loyal to Taft. Disappointed, he began speaking out, and eventually organized the Bull Moose Party [from the Progressives] when LF got sick.
B Given that the Republicans had split, the Democrats knew they had a sure win, so they took their time and finally picked Woodrow Wilson, who won the election. Wilson and TR had two competing visions for the country, as follows:
1 TR [New Nationalism] à Let’s have a new era where the gov’t coordinates and regulates the economy. Big business can stay, but let’s protect people through commissions of experts that will serve the interests of consumers.
2 Wilson [New Freedom] Let’s get rid of concentrated economic power altogether and make the marketplace open for competition. We won’t go back to laissez-faire, though; we’ll keep regulating it. But, no cooperation between business and gov’t. Based on Louis Brandeis.
C Actually, though, the philosophies were very similar: both supported equality of opportunity, conservation, fair wages, social improvement for all, and a strong involved gov’t.
D So how was Wilson as President? Issues he dealt with included…
1 Anti-Trust Con’t – Well, given that mergers had proceeded so far, he ended up settling w/expanding gov’t regulation w/the Clayton Anti-Trust Act (1914), which outlawed monopolistic practices, and a bill creating the Federal Trade Commission (1914), which could investigate companies and order them to stop unfair trade tactics.
2 Banking Regulation – The Federal Reserve Act (1913) established another nat’l bank and district banks [regulated by the Federal Reserve Board] that would lend $ to member banks at rates that could be adjusted to increase/decrease the $ in circulation – loosen/tighten credit. Right before the war he also passed the Federal Farm Loan Act, which allowed $ to be lent at moderate interest to farmers.
3 Tariffs – The Underwood Tariff (1913) encouraged imports [to help consumers] and instituted a graduated income tax on residents.
4 Labor – The Adamson Act mandated an eight-hour-workday and overtime pay for RRD workers; Wilson also regulated child labor and provided workers’ compensation.
E Then there was the Presidential Election of 1916, in which Wilson ran w/his “He Kept Us Out of War” deal against Republican Charles Hughes and won. In his second term, regulation increased even more due to the war – the War Industries Board, for example. But after the war, regulation fell again.