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					                                          The Progressive Movement

VUS.8 The student will demonstrate knowledge of how the nation grew and changed from the end of
Reconstruction through the early twentieth century by
      d) Identifying the impact of the Progressive Movement, including child labor and antitrust (anti-
monopoly) laws, the use of labor unions, and the success of the women’s suffrage (right to vote) movement.

         The economic progress made by the United States between 1877 and 1920 came at a price. Agricultural
expansion in the West was accomplished through wars against the Plains Indians, which led to harsh, new
federal Indian policies. Industrial development raised the standard of living for millions of Americans.
However, it also brought about the rise of national labor unions and clashes between industry and labor. Social
problems in rural (country) and urban (city) settings gave rise to third-party movements and the beginning of
the Progressive period.
         The Progressive Movement wanted to use government to reform problems created by industrialization.
Industrialization created many social problems in American cities. These included dangerous working
conditions for miners, railroad, and factory workers and the use and abuse of both child labor and women
workers. Factory workers faced long hours, low wages, no job security, and no benefits. Employers often
forced workers to live in company towns. Workers had to rent housing provided by the employer and were
required to pay rent, even when the employer laid them off. This movement, which began in the early twentieth
century (1900), aimed at solving political, economic, and social problems. Progressives had three main goals.
First, they favored government controlled by the people, instead of by big business and other wealthy special
interests. Second, they hoped to guarantee Americans economic opportunity through government regulation of
business. This idea challenged the traditional American belief in laissez faire economics. Third, Progressives
aimed to eliminate social injustices that existed in late nineteenth century America.
         In the late 1800s workers joined together to form labor unions. A union is an organization of workers,
which tries to gain higher wages, improved working conditions, and better employee benefits. The first
important union in American history was the Knights of Labor. The Knights of Labor grew very quickly, but
was destroyed by the negative publicity that followed the Haymarket Riot. The Haymarket Riot was a violent
confrontation in Chicago in 1886 between workers and police. The American Federation of Labor grew more
slowly than the Knights of Labor and also suffered many defeats at the hands of big business. For example, the
Homestead Strike was an unsuccessful and bloody strike at the Carnegie Steel Company in 1892. However,
under the leadership of its founder Samuel Gompers, the AF of L survived the anti-labor attitudes of both
business and government. It continues to exist today as the AFL-CIO and is now the most powerful union in the
United States. Eugene V. Debs led the American Railway Union. Like the Knights of Labor, it enjoyed short-
term success. However, it was destroyed by the negative publicity that followed the Pullman Strike. The
Pullman Strike was an 1894 strike by railroad employees against the Pullman Company, which made railroad
sleeping cars. The International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union was an early attempt to organize women who
worked in textile factories.
         The Muckrakers were an important group of Progressives who drew national attention to these
problems. Muckrakers were writers during the Progressive Era, who exposed (made public) social and political
evils. The two most famous presidents identified with the Progressive movement were Theodore Roosevelt and
Woodrow Wilson. Theodore Roosevelt called his Progressive program the “Square Deal,” while Woodrow
Wilson called his program the “New Freedom.” The Progressive movement occurred on all three levels of
government (federal, state, and local) and included both Republicans, like Theodore Roosevelt, and Democrats,
like Woodrow Wilson. The Progressive Movement accomplished a great deal. For example, muckraking
literature describing the abuses of child labor led state governments to pass child labor laws.
         Also at the state level, Progressives attempted to make government more democratic through
referendum, initiative, and recall. Some states adopted these democratic reforms, while others did not.
Referendum and the initiative are two kinds of procedures which permit voters to decide about laws.
Referendum is a process by which citizens may vote on laws that have been passed by a legislative body.
Initiative is a process that permits citizens to propose laws to their state or local governments. The referendum
and initiative enable citizens to use the vote as a resource to propose, amend, and defeat laws made by
governments. A recall election is a process by which citizens may vote to remove government officials from
office before their terms are finished. Approximately thirteen states adopted procedure for recall elections
during the Progressive period. Progressives also tried to make the election process more democratic on the
state level by both requiring use of the secret ballot and providing for primary elections. A primary election is
an election in which voters nominate candidates for office, rather than allowing political party leaders to choose
that party’s candidates at state or local conventions.
        Progressives made elections more democratic on the national level, when they achieved ratification of
the Seventeenth Amendment. The Seventeenth Amendment provided for direct election of United States
senators by the people, rather than by the state legislatures. Congress also passed two anti-trust laws. A trust
was a group of corporations whose stock was controlled by a central board of directors. The term “trust”
became a synonym for monopoly. Since monopoly means the absence of competition, a monopoly is a business
which has no competition and therefore can charge whatever prices it wants. Anti-trust laws tried to restore free
competition to American capitalism. The Sherman Anti-Trust Act was an 1890 law that made it illegal for
businesses to set up monopolies. It tried to prevent any business structure that “restrain[ed] trade”. However,
because of its vague wording, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act was not very effective. At first, the federal courts
used the Sherman Act more to limit unions than business monopolies. During Woodrow Wilson’s presidency,
Congress passed the Clayton Anti-Trust Act. This law outlawed price-fixing by competing corporations and
exempted unions from the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.
        Finally, at the local level Progressives tried to make city governments less corrupt, more efficient, and
more responsive to the people’s needs by adopting either the commission or council/manager methods of
organization. These structural reforms in local government were also a Progressive attempt to meet the needs of
increasing urbanization in late nineteenth century America. Under a commission form of city government,
voters elect a certain number of commissioners who serve as a board that sets the city’s policy. In addition,
each commissioner is in charge of a city department. Because a small board is unable to deal with complex
urban problems, the commission form of city government is seldom used today. In contrast, approximately half
of America’s cities now use a council/manager form of government. Progressives wanted city government to
be efficient and businesslike. Under this system, voters elect a small city council. The council hires a
professional manager to serve as the city’s administrator. The city manager appoints city department heads and
carries out the council’s policies. Since the city manager is not elected, he or she can devote full time to
conducting city business.
        The Progressive Movement recognized that America’s promise of equality had largely ignored
American women. As a result, many Progressives supported the women’s suffrage movement. Since suffrage
means the right to vote, the women’s suffrage movement worked to gain the right to vote for American women.
This movement benefited from strong leadership provided by such women as Susan B. Anthony. The efforts of
Anthony and other suffragettes resulted in the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution. This constitutional
amendment, which became part of the Constitution in 1920, gave American women the right to vote. In its
strive for equality the women’s suffrage movement also encouraged American women to enter the labor force
during World War I. The women’s suffrage movement was a forerunner of many modern protest movements,
especially the feminist movement. Many American feminists today belong to the National Organization for
Women (NOW), which continues to work for equal rights for women in American society.

				
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