The Progressive Era (1895–1914) for AP U.S. History (page 3)

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Progressivism Under William Howard Taft

Many historians regard Taft as the real trustbuster. More antitrust lawsuits went to court when he was president than during the Roosevelt presidency, although some of them had begun during the Roosevelt administration. In the 1908 presidential election, William Howard Taft, Theodore Roosevelt's handpicked successor, defeated three-time candidate William Jennings Bryan. In the campaign, Bryan continually came across as supporting more progressive measures than Taft did. Taft did promise to follow Roosevelt's progressive legacy, and to some degree he followed through on this; during his presidency, the Sherman Antitrust Act was used against another 95 corporations.

However, Taft never had the personal magnetism that Roosevelt possessed, and totally unlike Roosevelt, he deferred on important issues to Congress. Taft was influenced by the conservative wing of the Republican party, which opposed additional progressive reforms. His support of the Payne-Adrich Tariff Act of 1909 further angered progressives, who usually viewed tariffs as hurting the lower classes (since to pay for them the prices of goods were usually higher).

Progressives in the Republican party finally took action against Taft after the Ballinger- Pinchot Affair. Richard A. Ballinger was Secretary of the Interior under Taft and allowed private business interests to gain access to several million acres of land in Alaska. A close friend of Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, headed the Forest Service. When Pinchot protested against Ballinger's actions in front of a congressional committee, Taft proceeded to fire him. Progressives now labeled Taft as being anti-environment.

Progressive Republicans began to campaign against Taft and the "old guard" of probusiness Republicans. In the 1910 congressional primaries, Taft campaigned against several of these progressives. Theodore Roosevelt, just back from an extended trip to Africa, campaigned for a number of these Republican progressives. His speeches called for more progressive reforms, especially in the workplace. Roosevelt called his program for reform the New Nationalism. Roosevelt called again and again for a greatly expanded role of the federal government. As a result of the 1920 congressional elections, progressives dominated the United States Senate.

The 1912 Presidential Election

By early 1912, Theodore Roosevelt decided that the policies of President Taft were not progressive enough and announced he was running for president. The single event that several biographers say pushed Roosevelt to run was the decision of Taft to go after United States Steel because it had purchased Tennessee Coal and Iron back in 1907. Taft knew that Roosevelt had personally approved this deal. As might be expected, Taft's followers controlled the Republican party machinery, thus allowing Taft to easily win the 1912 Republican nomination.

Roosevelt's followers marched out of the Chicago convention site, proclaimed themselves to be the Progressive party, and nominated Roosevelt for president (with California's progressive governor Hiram Johnson as his running mate). This party soon became known as the Bull Moose party. Its platform included many progressive causes, including the elimination of child labor, suffrage for women, and an eight-hour workday. Many women supported the Bull Moose party; in several states where women had the vote, women ran for local offices as members of the party.

The beneficiary of the split in the Republican party was the Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson, governor of New Jersey. Wilson also campaigned as a progressive, although in his platform, called the New Freedom policy, he also cautioned against big government. Wilson argued that government was wrong to concentrate on regulating big monopolies; instead, government should be trying to break them up. Wilson won the election, but only received 42 percent of the popular vote. Roosevelt received 27 percent and Taft only 23 percent. It should also be noted that Eugene Debs ran as a candidate of the Socialist party and received 6 percent of the votes. The political will of the times is easily shown in this election: the three candidates openly calling for progressive policies (Wilson, Roosevelt, and Debs) received 75 percent of the popular vote.

The Progressive Legacy of Woodrow Wilson

Much legislation was enacted under Woodrow Wilson that pleased reformers. The Underwood Tariff Act of 1913 cut tariffs on imported goods. The Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914 was a continuation of the Sherman Antitrust Act, and outlawed certain specific business practices. A key element of this act also helped the labor movement by making strikes and other labor activities legal. In 1914, the Federal Trade Commission was established; the main job of this organization was to uniformly enforce the antitrust laws. Wilson also signed legislation creating the Federal Reserve System, which established 12 district reserve banks and the creation of Federal Reserve notes. This system was designed to protect the American economy against further panics such as had occurred in the early 1890s.

Did Progressivism Succeed?

Progressives had done much to improve the condition of American cities, the plight of factory workers, the support available for urban immigrants, and the democratic nature of the American political process. However, progressive reforms did much less for migrant farmers and others outside of the city. Many blacks were disappointed that few alliances ever took place between black leaders and progressives; Theodore Roosevelt met twice with Booker T. Washington but other than that did little to help the conditions of blacks during his presidency. Race riots occurred in Springfield, Illinois, in 1908. The anti-black message of D. W. Griffith's 1915 film Birth of a Nation was applauded by many; President Wilson stated that the film presented a "truthful" depiction of the Reconstruction era. In 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded to further the fight of blacks for political equality in America.

The outbreak of World War I in Europe turned the interests of many away from political reform. Only those reformers concerned with women's suffrage relentlessly pursued their cause during the war years.


To achieve the perfect 5, you should be able to explain the following:

  • Political, economic, and social inequities and problems existed in America in the late 1890s, and the Progressive movement developed to attempt to address some of those problems.
  • The Progressive movement did not have a unifying set of goals or leaders.
  • Progressives shared some of the same critiques of American society as the socialists, but wished to reform and not attack the American system.
  • Progressive reformers were closely tied to the Social Gospel movement of the Protestant church; progressivism and religious fervor often marched hand in hand.
  • Muckraking magazines and newspapers of the era oftentimes created and published the progressive agenda.
  • Many progressives were determined to reform city government and the services provided by city government.
  • Progressive political reforms included the initiative process, the referendum, recall, and the direct primary.
  • Hull House was an example of a settlement house copied by reformers across the country.
  • The presidency of Theodore Roosevelt was a high point of progressivism; Roosevelt's "Square Deal" included many progressive measures.
  • Progressive policies were sometimes challenged by Roosevelt's successor, William Howard Taft; the advent of World War I blunted the progressive reform impulse for many.
  • Progressivism succeeded in achieving some of its goals but fell short in aiding farmers and minorities in America.

    Time Line

      1879:   Progress and Poverty by Henry George published
      1888:   Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy published
      1889:   Formation of National Consumers League
      1890:   National American Woman Suffrage Association founded
      1901:   Theodore Roosevelt becomes president after the assassination of William McKinley
          Progressive Robert La Follette elected as governor of Wisconsin
          Progressive Tom Johnson elected as mayor of Cleveland, Ohio
      1903:   Founding of Women's Trade Union League
      1904:   The Shame of the Cities by Lincoln Steffens published
      1905:   IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) established
          Establishment of United States Forest Service
      1906:   The Jungle by Upton Sinclair published
          Meat Inspection Act enacted
          Pure Food and Drug Act enacted
      1908:   William Howard Taft elected president
      1909:   Foundation of the NAACP
      1910:   Ballinger-Pinchot controversy
      1911:   Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire
      1912:   Progressive party (Bull Moose party) founded by Theodore Roosevelt
          Woodrow Wilson elected president
          Establishment of Industrial Relations Committee
      1913:   Establishment of Federal Reserve System
          Ratification of Sixteenth Amendment, authorizing federal income tax
          Ratification of Seventeenth Amendment, authorizing direct election of senators
      1914:   Clayton Antitrust Act ratified
          Outbreak of World War I in Europe
      1915:   First showing of D. W. Griffith's film Birth of a Nation

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The Progressive Era (1895–1914) Review Questions for AP U.S. History

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