After decades of conservative dominance, the election of Barack Obama may signal the beginning of a new progressive era. But what exactly is progressivism? What role has it played in the political, social, and economic history of America?
This very timely Very Short Introduction offers an engaging overview of progressivism in Americaits origins, guiding principles, major leaders and major accomplishments. A many-sided reform movement that lasted from the late 1890s until the early 1920s, progressivism emerged as a response to the excesses of the Gilded Age, an era that plunged working Americans into poverty while a new class of ostentatious millionaires built huge mansions and flaunted their wealth. As capitalism ran unchecked and more and more economic power was concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, a sense of social crisis was pervasive. Progressive national leaders like William Jennings Bryan, Theodore Roosevelt, Robert M. La Follette, and Woodrow Wilson, as well as muckraking journalists like Lincoln Steffens and Ida Tarbell, and social workers like Jane Addams and Lillian Wald answered the growing call for change. They fought for worker's compensation, child labor laws, minimum wage and maximum hours legislation; they enacted anti-trust laws, improved living conditions in urban slums, instituted the graduated income tax, won women the right to vote, and laid the groundwork for Roosevelt's New Deal. Nugent shows that the progressiveswith the glaring exception of race relationsshared a common conviction that society should be fair to all its members and that governments had a responsibility to see that fairness prevailed.
Offering a succinct history of the broad reform movement that upset a stagnant conservative orthodoxy, this Very Short Introduction reveals many parallels, even lessons, highly appropriate to our own time.
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About the Author
Walter Nugent is a former President of the Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era and former president of the Western History Association. He has taught history at the University of Notre Dame and at Indiana University. He is the author of many books, including The Tolerant Populists; Into the West: The Story of Its People; and Habits of Empire: A History of American Expansion. He lives in Highland Park, Illinois.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
"Progressive" is a term that has recently come to be used as a synonym for "liberal" or "left wing" in the US politics. However, this is not a book about current liberal politics not even about progressivism in general. This book deals with a very particular period in US history when progressivism was a major political force that more or less straddled political demarcation lines. The progressive moment coincides with the first two decades of the twentieth century, and the two presidents that it's most closely associated with are Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. The Progressive Era was marked by some major shifts in the ways that the capital was treated, and with the increasing regulation of many industries. There were also major social changes, many with decidedly mixed legacy. This was the period when women were finally allowed to vote, but the end of the period was also marked with the introduction of prohibition. The race relations were also not exactly an unmitigated success story of this era: while many blacks improved their lot in life (primarily by moving north), this is also the period that witnessed the resurgence of the Klan. This book is an informative and interesting expose of one of the most important periods in the twentieth century US history. Many of the ideas and policies that had been first discussed then had a major influence on many of the subsequent politicians and presidents. Their impact is still being felt today, and anyone who wants to understand more about what is really meant by progressivism ought to read this book.