The Progressive Era (1895–1914) for AP U.S. History
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Summary: Progressivism began in the 1890s as a movement that attacked the political, social, and political inequalities of the age. Many progressives blamed capitalism for the evils of society. However, unlike the Socialists, who wanted destroy the capitalist system, the progressives wanted to fix that system. Many progressives were tied to the Social Gospel movement of the Protestant church; others wanted to reform city governments, while still others desired to instill even more democracy in the electoral process (direct primaries, more use of the referendum, etc.). Many progressives launched projects to aid the immigrant population that existed in America's cities. One example was Hull House, a settlement house that aided Chicago's poor. The high point of the progressive movement was the "Square Deal" of the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. Progressives did much to reform America's cities but were less effective in aiding America's farmers and minorities.
Social Gospel movement: movement originating in the Protestant church that aimed to help the urban poor; many progressives were influenced by this movement.
Muckrakers: writers who exposed unethical practices in both government and business during this era; newspaper editors discovered that these types of stories increased circulation.
Seventeenth Amendment (1913): U.S. Constitutional amendment that allowed voters instead of state legislatures to elect U.S. senators; this amendment had been championed by progressives.
Initiative process: this progressive-supported process allowed any citizen to propose a law. If enough supporters' signatures could be procured, the proposed law would appear on the next ballot.
Referendum process: this process allowed citizens (instead of legislatures) to vote on proposed laws.
Recall process: this process allowed voters to remove an elected official from office before his or her term expired.
Direct primary: this process allowed party members to vote for prospective candidates; previously most had been chosen by party bosses.
Hull House: Settlement house in Chicago founded by Jane Addams; Hull House became a model for settlement houses around the country.
National American Woman Suffrage Association: created in 1890 by a merger of two woman suffrage organizations and led in its early years by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony; was instrumental in demanding women's right to vote.
Triangle Shirtwaist Fire (1911): fire in New York City that killed 150 female factory workers. It was later found that the workers had been locked into the factory; as a result, many factory reforms were enacted.
The Jungle: Novel written by Upton Sinclair that highlighted numerous problems of the meat-packing industry and inspired the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act.
The Origins of Progressivism
It should be emphasized that progressivism was not a unified movement in any way. There was never a unifying agenda or party; many "progressives" eagerly supported one or two progressive reforms without supporting any others. Thus, progressive reforms could be urban or rural, call for more government or less government, and on occasion could even be perceived as being pro-business.
Progressivism has many sources of origin. Books such as Progress and Poverty by Henry George and Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy were read by most early progressives. Taylorism influenced many progressives; many felt that the efficiency that Taylor proposed for American industry could also be installed in American government, schools, and even in one's everyday life.
Progressive reforms also shared some of the same critiques of society that American socialists were making at the time. Progressives and socialists both were very critical of capitalism and wanted more wealth to get into the hands of the poor working class. However, as stated previously, progressives were interested in reforming the capitalist system, while American socialists wanted to end capitalism (by this point, by the ballot box). It should be noted that many progressive reformers had knowledge of socialism, some attended socialist meetings at some point in their careers, and a few progressives remained socialists throughout their careers. Upton Sinclair, author of The Jungle, was both a progressive and a socialist.
Progressivism was also influenced by religious developments of the era. During this era, the Social Gospel movement flourished; this movement had its origin in Protestant efforts to aid the urban poor. The Social Gospel movement emphasized the elements of Christianity that emphasized the need to struggle for social justice; followers stated that this fight was much more important than the struggle to lead a "good life" on a personal level. Many progressive leaders (such as Jane Addams) had grown up in very religious homes and found in progressive politics a place where they could put their religious beliefs into action. The Social Gospel movement was strictly a Protestant movement.
Finally, progressives were deeply impacted by the muckrakers. Newspaper editors discovered that articles that exposed corruption increased circulation, and thus exposés of unethical practices in political life and business life became common in most newspapers. The term muckrakers was used in a negative way by Theodore Roosevelt, but writers using that title exposed much corruption in American society. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair attacked the excesses of the meatpacking industry. Ida Tarbell wrote of the corruption she found in the Standard Oil Trust company, while Lincoln Steffens exposed political corruption found in several American cities in The Shame of the Cities. Jacob Riis exposed life in the slums in How the Other Half Lives. Progressives wanted to act on the evils of society uncovered by the muckrakers.