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The Progressives | Period 7: 1890-1945 | AP US History | Khan Academy


– [Instructor] After the Civil War there were enormous
changes in American life. With industrialization, urbanization, and immigration changing
the composition of who lived in the United States, where they lived, and what they did for a living. But city living and
factory work came with new social problems like
poverty and unsafe working and living conditions. The rise of big business
had also led to practices that limited competition, like
monopolies and price fixing. Starting in the 1890s
a number of reformers began to advocate for remedies
to these social problems. They were known as the Progressives. This era of reform, which
lasted through the 1920s, has come to be known
as the Progressive Era. But the difficult thing
about the Progressive Era was that these reformers
worked on all sorts of different things. There were muckrakers,
which were journalists, writers, and photographers
who tried to expose corruption or unsanitary
factory practices. There were politicians
who tried to reign in big businesses and protect consumers. There were conservationists
who tried to preserve national parks and
wilderness from exploitation. And there many influential
female reformers who tried to help women,
children, and immigrants achieve better working
and living conditions. So clearly Progressives didn’t
all share the same goals or advocate for the same
solutions to problems. How can we even compare
the goals and effects of the Progressive reformers
when they were so diverse? Let’s start by taking a
look at some of the goals and achievements of the Progressives. Now, I’m not gonna go into a lot of detail about individual reformers or
pieces of legislation here. What I’m interested in doing
is taking a birds eye view of the kinds of reforms
that Progressives pursued during this time period. First, there were those who
advocated for sanitation and consumer protections
like Upton Sinclair, whose novel The Jungle exposed
the unsanitary conditions in factories that made food products. The outrage that book
generated led to the passage of laws like the Pure
Food and Drug Act of 1906. Then there were the
Progressives who fought for protections for workers. They pushed for an eight hour workday and for safer conditions for workers, along with the right for workers to bargain collectively through unions. Along with those reforms were others aimed at advancing the rights
of women and children, including limiting child
labor, promoting access to birth control, and granting
women the right to vote through the 19th Amendment. Many of the Progressive
reformers were interested in reining in the
excesses of big business. Politicians, like
President Teddy Roosevelt, went after trusts and monopolies for stifling competition
and fixing prices. Another avenue of reform
was aimed at limiting political corruption, particularly
city political machines that were dominated by party bosses. One victory in this arena was the passage of the 17th Amendment, which provided for the popular election of senators. Lastly, there was a push for moral reform to make society more orderly and humane. The major achievement of these reformers was the passage of the 18th Amendment, which prohibited the sale
or consumption of alcohol. Okay, so now that we’ve
done a brief survey of what the Progressives were up to, let’s think about what
aspects these reformers had in common with each other, and where they differed with
or contradicted each other. So this might sound a little obvious, but one thing that united the Progressives was that they believed in progress. That is, they thought it was
possible to improve society and to make people better human beings. This is worth mentioning
just because not everyone felt that this was possible. Many of the opponents of the Progressives saw human nature as
fixed and a society with vast inequalities of
wealth and opportunity is just an inevitable
consequence of industrialization. A second shared belief
was that it was the role of government to step in and
fix these social problems. This was a big departure
from the laissez-faire or hands off approach of the Gilded Age. In that era, attempting
to improve sanitation or morality would have been considered work for private charities or voluntary associations to take on. But the Progressives
thought that the problems they were trying to solve were
too big for that approach. And they sought out the
help of local, state, and federal government to
implement their measures. They campaigned for laws and
constitutional amendments to bring about change. So they really began a debate over whether or to what extent the government
should take an active role in the welfare of its
citizens that would continue into the Great Depression. But the Progressive
Movement was also riddled with divisions and
internal contradictions. One of these was around voting rights. The Progressives expanded
democracy by winning the right to vote for women, but they also advocated
for restricting the vote to who they considered good voters. White, educated, native-born people. They worked to impose literacy tests and residency requirements in the North, and made no effort to
challenge Jim Crow Laws preventing African Americans
from voting in the South. Progressives were also divided
on the issue of immigration. Although a few Progressives
championed the rights of immigrants and respect
for immigrant’s culture like Hull-House founder, Jane Addams, most Progressives thought the only way forward for immigrants
was complete assimilation into American culture. They also supported
restrictions on the entry of immigrants they considered undesirable, like those from Southern
and Eastern Europe, Asia, and Mexico. These beliefs around who was fit to vote or to be an American citizen derived from the flawed racial science of the day, which categorized white
Anglo-Saxons as the most evolved race, and everyone
else falling somewhere along a continuum of less evolved peoples. With the exception of
African American activists, like Ida B. Wells, Progressive
reformers supported segregation and pretty
much turned a blind eye towards the working and living conditions of African Americans. Some Progressives even advocated eugenics, a plan to improve the American gene pool by encouraging native white
women to have more babies, and discouraging undesirables
from reproducing, sometimes through forced sterilizations. So taking these uniting
and dividing factors into consideration what
conclusions can we come to about the goals and effects of the Progressive reform movement? I think it’s safe to say
that the Progressives wanted to improve
society and find a remedy for the social problems caused by industrialization and urbanization. And that they wanted to do so through government intervention. But their goals were also limited. They only wanted these
improvements for those they deemed worthy to
participate in American society. As for how effective their
reforms were at solving the problems of industrialization
and urbanization, they did succeed in curbing
some of the worst problems of corruption, sanitation,
and exploitation. But we would also need to look ahead to the ’20s and ’30s to see how much things really changed. Spoiler alert, this
booming era of industry was about to end with a crash.

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