Progressive Era – Helping The Common Man. History Essay (300 Level Course)

The Progressive era was from 1895-1920, named by historians for the reformats spirit that took place. The Progressive era had three goals to help the “common man” to get the government to regulate big business and to reduce the power of political bosses.

The people in the Progressive era were amazing. Robert M. Lafollette governor from Wisconsin, as governor of the state he put into act many reform policies such as the direct primaries, more equitable taxes, and regulated the railroad.

He also was elected to the U.S. Senate. There were the muckrackers, journalist and novelist who exposed problems in the system such as Upton Sinclare’s The Jungle and Ida Tarbell’s expose on John D. Rockefeller, and Lincoln Steffen’s The Shame of the Cities.

These works made the middle class aware of major problems facing the nation. There were muckracking magazines such as McClures, Cosmopolitan and Colliers. Women’s reform was also big during this era. If it was not for women such as Carrie Chapman Catt and social workers Alice Paul and Jane Addams, who established the Hull House to help new immigrants in Chicago, women would not have come to the forefront of politics.

The political reform that was pushed through this era by Robert M. Lafollette, Theodore Roosevelt, and others is amazing. Many progressives hoped that the political reform would take power away from political bosses and put it into the power of the common man. The voters achieved this through secret ballot, direct primary, and city manager and commissioner forms of city government, initiative, referendum, and recall. Also two other important reforms were achieved through amendments to the constitution the 17 amendment the direst election of U.S. Senators and the 19 amendment the right for women to vote.

There were three presidents elected during this era they were Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson. Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to side with strikers, in the year of 1902 the coal miners went on strike in Pennsylvania and he sided with the strikers not the owners. Roosevelt was a “trust buster” with 44 trust busts under his presidency. He also had the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 to regulate big business. The Elkins Act of 1903 that prohibited the railroad from giving rebates to favored customers. The Hepburn Act of 1906 where the Interstate Commerce Commission set the maximum rates for the railroad. One of the most important was the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 that banned impure and mislabeled food and drugs, then the Meat Inspection Act of 1906 which put federal regulation on the meat industry. He was also the first president to conserve national resources. His presidency is referred to as the “Square Deal.” After Theodore Roosevelt was William Howard Taft.

William Howard Taft was elected in 1909 and served until 1913 as President of the United States. HE was also a trustbuster. He has 90 anti trust suits during his presidency. The Mann-Elkins Act of 1910 that regulated telephones telegraphs, cable and wireless. The Publicity Act of 1910 where the filing for election contributions were made public. The Payne-Aldrich Tariff of 1909 raised tariffs. He fired Gifford Pichot during the Ballinger-Pinchot controversy. Then in 1913 Woodrow Wilson was elected to the presidency.

William Howard Taft was running for re-election and Theodore Roosevelt did not like how he was running the country so he ran against him on the Bull Moose ticket and they split the vote, which allowed Woodrow Wilson to win. Woodrow Wilson’s presidency is known as the “New Freedom.” During his presidency the Underwood Tariff was put into effect and in lowered tariffs. Then the Federal Reserve Act on 1913 put a money supply in national banks and some state banks. The Smithe Lever of 1914 gave money to states for farming. Federal Trade Commission of 1914 to stop unfair interstate commerce. The Clayton Antitrust Act helped to strengthen the Sherman Antitrust Act by attacking monopolies, barred interlocking directories, protected workers right to strike and to picket and boycott, gave unions protection from prosecution. Then the Federal Farm Loan of 1916 let farmers borrow money. The Keating Owen of 1916 regulates child labor. Workmen’s compensation law was passed. Woodrow Wilson was re-elected to the presidency because he ran on the anti war platform and defeated Charles Evans Hughes, however, we did enter the war under Woodrow Wilson’s presidency. The prohibition on alcoholic liquors was passed with the 18 amendment during his presidency and women’s suffrage was ratified with the 19 amendment.

I think there were more than just three important achievements during the Progressive Era. Women’s right to vote, the secret ballot, the initiative, referendum and recall, the direct primary, direct election on U.S. Senators and the reform of city government, commission and city managers are at the top of the list. However, the Pure Food and Drug Act, and the conservation on natural resources, the child labor laws are all so very important. All of these things were great achievements of the Progressive Era.