Introduction to the Progressive Movement

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Introduction to the Progressive Movement

The United States has undergone or seen its fair share of political, social, economic and religious upheavals. In fact, the United States history is rooted in these upheavals, movements and revolutions, as they have triggered the making of changes in governance and the social lives of individuals and the government at large. Social changes have influenced the political class to make legislations that have had fundamental effects on the lives of America for generations. As much as the United States has had numerous social changes, none comes as fundamental as the Progressive Movement. The Progressive Movement occurred between 1890s and 1920s, and was characterized by political reform and social activism. It revolved around a political philosophy that advocated for gradual political, social and economic reforms (Jaycox 34). One of the key objectives of this movement was the purification of the government with the progressives attempting to get rid of corruption through undercutting and exposing political bosses and machines. In addition, it vouched for the establishment of an efficiency movement in all sectors, which would be responsible for identifying conservative techniques that needed to be overhauled, as well as introduce engineering, scientific and medical solutions in the same (Jaycox 38). While the occurrence of the Progressive Movement may not be blamed on a single aspect of the history, its origin can be traced to the economic deprivation that came with the rapid industrialization and urbanization of the 19th century.

The vertical integration pertaining to the American industry from the 1870s to the end of the 19th century underlined monumental modifications in the American culture, as well as the American industry. Giant corporations had grown to dominate their respective industries leading to a rapid growth in the American cities. Statistics show that cities such as Chicago had their populations rise from 5000 people in 1840s to about 30000 in 1850. The population had risen to 300000 in 1870 and 1.1 million by 1890. The rapid growth of the population had been achieved not only by rural to urban migration but also large-scale immigration (Jaycox 46). Scholars state that close to a half of the American townships had experienced a reduction in their population in the 1880 to 1890 period (Jaycox 42).

Scholars note that the Progressive movement occurred at a time when the United States was undergoing bewildering and profound demographic changes. Unlike other times in the history of the United States, a large proportion of Americans were not living in small rural towns or farms, rather they were living in industrial boomtowns that were not only unsanitary and crowded but also dangerous (Jaycox 54). This period also saw a large number of immigrants enter the United States from Eastern and South Europe. The wave of immigrants modified the ethnic composition of the nation while at the same time introducing new political traditions that most natives saw as a threat. This factor bred an enormous amount of anxiety, especially coupled with the emergent capitalist class that, by 20th century, had amassed enormous amounts of wealth at the expense of poor immigrant workers. The emergence of this capitalist class had altered the balance of economic and social power away from the traditional elites including lawyers, academic professionals and the clergy. Many people saw this as a corrupting force to the American life especially with regard to the political realm. This gave rise to the Progressive Movement, which aimed at stopping the apparent “plutocracy’ pertaining to the industrial barons, all in an effort preserve and pass on the conventional values pertaining to individual achievement, as well as the republican government (Saros 27).

In this regard, the “Progressives” started agitating for strategies that they thought would the United States from what they saw as ethnic, economic and political disintegration. It is not surprising that the leadership of the movement was primarily drawn from the “old elite clergymen”, lawyers, and academic professionals, with the middle class making up the foot soldiers. These clergymen may have been motivated by the need to restore their economic, as well as moral prestige that they had seen significantly reduced in the face of conspicuous consumption and labor unrest (Saros 28). Lawyers resented the fact that their previously independent profession had had commercial interests intruding in it as the emerging corporations started hiring lawyers at this time. Academic professionals, on the other hand, had grown increasingly afraid of the “immoral and predatory” industrialists who in one way or the ot.............


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