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Posted May 23, 2004
Progressive Movement for History Majors
This book discusses the social, economic, and political environment that spawned the Progressive Movement, which lasted from the Reconstruction to the end of World War I. The author characterizes the basis of progressivism as a battle between individualism and mutualism. This battle can be seen in nearly all of the main efforts of the progressives of the time. The Progressive Movement was a response to the excesses of the wealthiest upper ten and the decaying moral standards of that group. The progressives wanted to develop a Middle Class utopia where everyone was treated fair and everyone worked together toward stamping out negative attitudes and lifestyles and by building a unifying force for the future. The author lists the main progressive attempts at achieving this middle class utopia through ending class conflict, controlling big business, and by promoting segregation. The method of ending class conflict was achieved through the support and promotion of labor unions that helped to empower workers and to provide a unifying force against the individualist company owners that had their eye purely on the bottom line. Some of the individualists listed included John D. Rockefeller, Charles Schwab (steel), and J.P. Morgan (finance). Each of these captains of industry attempted to develop trusts, i.e. the Steel Trust, which controlled each industry. This eliminated competition, dissuaded foreign competition, and protected their own positions in their industry. In promoting unions, the progressives helped to level the playing field against the trusts. Through labor strikes, work slowdowns, etc. workers were able to win concessions in reduced work hours, increased pay and benefits. The methods for controlling big business in the early 1900¿s included laissez-faire, socialism, antitrust, regulation, and compensation. Laissez-faire was the level of control preferred by the trusts, which is essentially the government keeping their hands off of business and allowing the marketplace to control itself. Socialism was the opposite of laissez-faire and encouraged the government to nationalize all industries and allow working conditions to be controlled by the government with profits benefiting society as a whole. Neither of these approaches was compatible with the American system and would have led to great social unrest. As a response to the need to control big business, the progressives pursued and gained antitrust laws, which placed significant limits on trusts by promoting open competition. The Sherman Anti-Trust Act was the main law that started antitrust regulation, though it was significantly hampered by Supreme Court decisions. The anti-trust movement was helped along the way by various muck-raking reporters and writers. Upton Sinclair¿s The Jungle showed a picture of the meat packing industry, including working conditions, treatment of animals, and the quality of the beef being sent to consumers. Much of the muck-raking (investigative journalism) and government investigations led to regulations such as the Pure Food and Drug Act which gave the secretary of agriculture the power to fine and imprison business for providing adulterated medicine or poisoned food. Further regulation was implemented with respect to natural resources. The progressives promoted conservation of natural resources and they had a friend in the White House in the person of Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt not only looked at conservation as a means to preserve nature, but also as a means to preserve natural resources for the future growth of industry. Compensation was the movement to tax corporations at both the State and Federal levels. The States eventually started taxing corporations and provided tax incentives to businesses that invested in their State. Segregation is probably the most unacceptable outcome of the progressive movement. At the time that progressives were promoting segregation the U.S. was coming out t
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Posted February 7, 2010
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