Not to be confused with Modern liberalism in the United States.
This article needs to be updated. Please update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information.(June 2016)
Progressivism in the United States is a broadly based reform movement that reached its height early in the 20th century and is generally considered to be middle class and reformist in nature. It arose as a response to the vast changes brought by modernization, such as the growth of large corporations, pollution and fears of corruption in American politics. In the 21st century, progressives continue to embrace concepts such as environmentalism and social justice.Social progressivism, the view that governmental practices ought to be adjusted as society evolves, forms the ideological basis for many American progressives.
Historian Alonzo Hamby defined progressivism as the "political movement that addresses ideas, impulses, and issues stemming from modernization of American society. Emerging at the end of the nineteenth century, it established much of the tone of American politics throughout the first half of the century."
Main article: Progressive Era
Historians debate the exact contours, but generally date the "Progressive Era" from the 1890s to either World War I or the onset of the Great Depression, in response to the perceived excesses of the Gilded Age.
Many of the core principles of the Progressive Movement focused on the need for efficiency in all areas of society. Purification to eliminate waste and corruption was a powerful element, as well as the Progressives' support of worker compensation, improved child labor laws, minimum wage legislation, a support for a maximum hours that workers could work for, graduated income tax and allowed women the right to vote.
According to historian William Leuchtenburg:
The Progressives believed in the Hamiltonian concept of positive government, of a national government directing the destinies of the nation at home and abroad. They had little but contempt for the strict construction of the Constitution by conservative judges, who would restrict the power of the national government to act against social evils and to extend the blessings of democracy to less favored lands. The real enemy was particularism, state rights, limited government.
Purifying the electorate
Progressives repeatedly warned that illegal voting was corrupting the political system. It especially identified big-city bosses, working with saloon keepers and precinct workers, as the culprits in stuffing the ballot box. The solution to purifying the vote included prohibition (designed to close down the saloons), voter registration requirements (designed to end multiple voting), and literacy tests (designed to minimize the number of ignorant voters).
All the Southern states (and Oklahoma) used devices to disenfranchise black voters during the Progressive Era. Typically the progressive elements in those states pushed for disenfranchisement, often fighting against the conservatism of the Black Belt whites. A major reason given was that whites routinely purchased black votes to control elections, and it was easier to disenfranchise blacks than to go after powerful white men.
In the North, Progressives such as William U'Ren and Robert La Follette argued that the average citizen should have more control over his government. The Oregon System of "Initiative, Referendum, and Recall" was exported to many states, including Idaho, Washington, and Wisconsin. Many progressives, such as George M. Forbes, president of Rochester's Board of Education, hoped to make government in the U.S. more responsive to the direct voice of the American people when he said:
[W]e are now intensely occupied in forging the tools of democracy, the direct primary, the initiative, the referendum, the recall, the short ballot, commission government. But in our enthusiasm we do not seem to be aware that these tools will be worthless unless they are used by those who are aflame with the sense of brotherhood...The idea [of the social centers movement is] to establish in each community an institution having a direct and vital relation to the welfare of the neighborhood, ward, or district, and also to the city as a whole
Philip J. Ethington seconds this high view of direct democracy saying:
initiatives, referendums, and recalls, along with direct primaries and the direct election of US Senators, were the core achievements of 'direct democracy' by the Progressive generation during the first two decades of the twentieth century.
Progressives fought for women's suffrage to purify the elections using supposedly purer female voters. Progressives in the South supported the elimination of supposedly corrupt black voters from the election booth. Historian Michael Perman says that in both Texas and Georgia, "disfranchisement was the weapon as well as the rallying cry in the fight for reform"; and in Virginia, "the drive for disfranchisement had been initiated by men who saw themselves as reformers, even progressives."
While the ultimate significance of the progressive movement on today's politics is still up for debate, Alonzo L. Hamby asks:
What were the central themes that emerged from the cacophony [of progressivism]? Democracy or elitism? Social justice or social control? Small entrepreneurship or concentrated capitalism? And what was the impact of American foreign policy? Were the progressives isolationists or interventionists? Imperialists or advocates of national self-determination? And whatever they were, what was their motivation? Moralistic utopianism? Muddled relativistic pragmatism? Hegemonic capitalism? Not surprisingly many battered scholars began to shout 'no mas!' In 1970, Peter Filene declared that the term 'progressivism' had become meaningless.
The Progressives typically concentrated on city and state government, looking for waste and better ways to provide services as the cities grew rapidly. These changes led to a more structured system, power that had been centralized within the legislature would now be more locally focused. The changes were made to the system to effectively make legal processes, market transactions, bureaucratic administration, and democracy easier to manage, thus putting them under the classification of "Municipal Administration". There was also a change in authority for this system; it was believed that the authority that was not properly organized had now given authority to professionals, experts, and bureaucrats for these services. These changes led to a more solid type of municipal administration compared to the old system that was underdeveloped and poorly constructed.
The Progressives mobilized concerned middle class voters, as well as newspapers and magazines, to identify problems and concentrate reform sentiment on specific problems. Many Protestants focused on the saloon as the power base for corruption, as well as violence and family disruption, so they tried to get rid of the entire saloon system through prohibition. Others (like Jane Addams in Chicago) promoted Settlement Houses. Early municipal reformers included Hazen S. Pingree (mayor of Detroit in the 1890s) and Tom L. Johnson in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1901, Johnson won election as mayor of Cleveland on a platform of just taxation, home rule for Ohio cities, and a 3-cent streetcar fare. Columbia University President Seth Low was elected mayor of New York City in 1901 on a reform ticket.
Many progressives such as Louis Brandeis hoped to make American governments better able to serve the people's needs by making governmental operations and services more efficient and rational. Rather than making legal arguments against ten-hour workdays for women, he used "scientific principles" and data produced by social scientists documenting the high costs of long working hours for both individuals and society. The progressives' quest for efficiency was sometimes at odds with the progressives' quest for democracy. Taking power out of the hands of elected officials and placing that power in the hands of professional administrators reduced the voice of the politicians and in turn reduced the voice of the people. Centralized decision-making by trained experts and reduced power for local wards made government less corrupt but more distant and isolated from the people it served. Progressives who emphasized the need for efficiency typically argued that trained independent experts could make better decisions than the local politicians. Thus Walter Lippmann in his influential Drift and Mastery (1914), stressing the "scientific spirit" and "discipline of democracy," called for a strong central government guided by experts rather than public opinion.
One example of progressive reform was the rise of the city manager system, in which paid, professional engineers ran the day-to-day affairs of city governments under guidelines established by elected city councils. Many cities created municipal "reference bureaus" which did expert surveys of government departments looking for waste and inefficiency. After in-depth surveys, local and even state governments were reorganized to reduce the number of officials and to eliminate overlapping areas of authority between departments. City governments were reorganized to reduce the power of local ward bosses and to increase the powers of the city council. Governments at every level began developing budgets to help them plan their expenditures (rather than spending money haphazardly as needs arose and revenue became available). Governor Frank Lowden of Illinois showed a "passion for efficiency" as he streamlined state government.
Movements to eliminate governmental corruption
Corruption represented a source of waste and inefficiency in the government. William U'Ren in Oregon, and Robert M. La Follette Sr. in Wisconsin, and others worked to clean up state and local governments by passing laws to weaken the power of machine politicians and political bosses. In Wisconsin, La Follette pushed through an open primary system that stripped party bosses of the power to pick party candidates. The Oregon System, which included a "Corrupt Practices Act", a public referendum, and a state-funded voter's pamphlet among other reforms was exported to other states in the northwest and Midwest. Its high point was in 1912, after which they detoured into a disastrous third party status.
Early progressive thinkers such as John Dewey and Lester Ward placed a universal and comprehensive system of education at the top of the progressive agenda, reasoning that if a democracy were to be successful, its leaders, the general public, needed a good education. Progressives worked hard to expand and improve public and private education at all levels. Modernization of society, they believed, necessitated the compulsory education of all children, even if the parents objected. Progressives turned to educational researchers to evaluate the reform agenda by measuring numerous aspects of education, later leading to standardized testing. Many educational reforms and innovations generated during this period continued to influence debates and initiatives in American education for the remainder of the 20th century. One of the most apparent legacies of the Progressive Era left to American education was the perennial drive to reform schools and curricula, often as the product of energetic grass-roots movements in the city.
Since progressivism was and continues to be 'in the eyes of the beholder,' progressive education encompasses very diverse and sometimes conflicting directions in educational policy. Such enduring legacies of the Progressive Era continue to interest historians. Progressive Era reformers stressed 'object teaching,' meeting the needs of particular constituencies within the school district, equal educational opportunity for boys and girls, and avoiding corporal punishment.
Gamson (2003) examines the implementation of progressive reforms in three city school districts—Seattle, Washington, Oakland, California, and Denver, Colorado—during 1900–28. Historians of educational reform during the Progressive Era tend to highlight the fact that many progressive policies and reforms were very different and, at times, even contradictory. At the school district level, contradictory reform policies were often especially apparent, though there is little evidence of confusion among progressive school leaders in Seattle, Oakland, and Denver. District leaders in these cities, including Frank B. Cooper in Seattle and Fred M. Hunter in Oakland, often employed a seemingly contradictory set of reforms: local progressive educators consciously sought to operate independently of national progressive movements; they preferred reforms that were easy to implement; and they were encouraged to mix and blend diverse reforms that had been shown to work in other cities.
The reformers emphasized professionalization and bureaucratization. The old system whereby ward politicians selected school employees was dropped in the case of teachers and replaced by a merit system requiring a college-level education in a normal school (teacher's college). The rapid growth in size and complexity the large urban school systems facilitated stable employment for women teachers and provided senior teachers greater opportunities to mentor younger teachers. By 1900 in Providence, Rhode Island, most women remained as teachers for at least 17.5 years, indicating teaching had become a significant and desirable career path for women.
Regulation of large corporations and monopolies
Many progressives hoped that by regulating large corporations they could liberate human energies from the restrictions imposed by industrial capitalism. Yet the progressive movement was split over which of the following solutions should be used to regulate corporations.
Pro-labor progressives such as Samuel Gompers argued that industrial monopolies were unnatural economic institutions which suppressed the competition which was necessary for progress and improvement.United States antitrust law is the body of laws that prohibits anti-competitive behavior (monopoly) and unfair business practices. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft supported trust-busting. During their presidencies, the otherwise-conservative Taft brought down 90 trusts in four years while Roosevelt took down 44 in 7 1/2 years in office.
Progressives such as Benjamin Parke De Witt argued that in a modern economy, large corporations and even monopolies were both inevitable and desirable. With their massive resources and economies of scale, large corporations offered the U.S. advantages which smaller companies could not offer. Yet, these large corporations might abuse their great power. The federal government should allow these companies to exist but regulate them for the public interest. President Theodore Roosevelt generally supported this idea and was later to incorporate it as part of his "New Nationalism".
Progressives set up training programs to ensure that welfare and charity work would be undertaken by trained professionals rather than warm-hearted amateurs.
Jane Addams of Chicago's Hull House typified the leadership of residential, community centers operated by social workers and volunteers and located in inner city slums. The purpose of the settlement houses was to raise the standard of living of urbanites by providing adult education and cultural enrichment programs.
Enactment of child labor laws
Main article: Child labor laws in the United States
Child labor laws were designed to prevent the overuse of children in the newly emerging industries. The goal of these laws was to give working class children the opportunity to go to school and to mature more institutionally, thereby liberating the potential of humanity and encouraging the advancement of humanity. Factory owners generally did not want this progression because of lost workers. They used Charles Dickens as a symbol that the working conditions spark imagination. This initiative failed, with child labor laws being enacted anyway.
Support for the goals of organized labor
Labor unions grew steadily until 1916, then expanded fast during the war. In 1919 a wave of major strikes alienated the middle class; the strikes were lost, which alienated the workers. In the 1920s the unions were in the doldrums; in 1924 they supported La Follette's Progressive party, but he only carried his base in Wisconsin. The American Federation of Labor under Samuel Gompers after 1907 began supporting the Democrats, who promised more favorable judges. The Republicans appointed pro-business judges. Theodore Roosevelt and his third party also supported such goals as the eight-hour work day, improved safety and health conditions in factories, workers' compensation laws, and minimum wage laws for women.
Most progressives, especially in rural areas, adopted the cause of prohibition. They saw the saloon as political corruption incarnate, and bewailed the damage done to women and children. They believed the consumption of alcohol limited mankind's potential for advancement. Progressives achieved success first with state laws then with the enactment of the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1919. The golden day did not dawn; enforcement was lax, especially in the cities where the law had very limited popular support and where notorious criminal gangs, such as the Chicago gang of Al Capone made a crime spree based on illegal sales of liquor in speakeasies. The "experiment" (as President Hoover called it) also cost the treasury large sums of taxes and the 18th amendment was repealed by the Twenty-first Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1933.
Some Progressives sponsored eugenics as a solution to excessively large or underperforming families, hoping that birth control would enable parents to focus their resources on fewer, better children. Progressive leaders like Herbert Croly and Walter Lippmann indicated their classically liberal concern over the danger posed to the individual by the practice of Eugenics.
During the term of the progressive President Theodore Roosevelt (1901–1909), and influenced by the ideas of 'philosopher-scientists' such as George Perkins Marsh, John Wesley Powell, John Muir, Lester Frank Ward and W. J. McGee, the largest government-funded conservation-related projects in U.S. history were undertaken:
National parks and wildlife refuges
Further information: National Park Service Organic Act, Antiquities Act, and National Wildlife Refuge
On March 14, 1903, President Roosevelt created the first National Bird Preserve, (the beginning of the Wildlife Refuge system), on Pelican Island, Florida. In all, by 1909, the Roosevelt administration had created an unprecedented 42 million acres (170,000 km²) of United States National Forests, 53 National Wildlife Refuges and 18 areas of "special interest", such as the Grand Canyon.
In addition, Roosevelt approved the Newlands Reclamation Act of 1902, which gave subsidies for irrigation in 13 (eventually 20) western states. Another conservation-oriented bill was the Antiquities Act of 1906 that protected large areas of land by allowing the President to declare areas meriting protection to be National Monuments. The Inland Waterways Commission was appointed by Roosevelt on March 14, 1907 to study the river systems of the United States, including the development of water power, flood control, and land reclamation.
In the early 20th century, politicians of the Democratic and Republican parties, Lincoln–Roosevelt League Republicans (in California) and Theodore Roosevelt's 1912 Progressive ("Bull Moose") Party all pursued environmental, political, and economic reforms. Chief among these aims was the pursuit of trust busting, the breaking up very large monopolies, and support for labor unions, public health programs, decreased corruption in politics, and environmental conservation.
The Progressive Movement enlisted support from both major parties (and from minor parties as well). One leader, Democrat William Jennings Bryan, had won both the Democratic Party and the Populist Party nominations in 1896. At the time, the great majority of other major leaders had been opposed to Populism. When Roosevelt left the Republican Party in 1912, he took with him many of the intellectual leaders of progressivism, but very few political leaders. The Republican Party then became notably more committed to business-oriented and efficiency-oriented progressivism, typified by Taft and Herbert Hoover.
The foundation of the progressive tendency was indirectly linked to the unique philosophy of pragmatism, which was primarily developed by John Dewey and William James.
Equally significant to progressive-era reform were the crusading journalists, known as muckrakers. These journalists publicized, to middle class readers, economic privilege, political corruption, and social injustice. Their articles appeared in McClure's Magazine and other reform periodicals. Some muckrakers focused on corporate abuses. Ida Tarbell, for instance, exposed the activities of the Standard Oil Company. In The Shame of the Cities (1904), Lincoln Steffens dissected corruption in city government. In Following the Color Line (1908), Ray Stannard Baker criticized race relations. Other muckrakers assailed the Senate, railroad companies, insurance companies, and fraud in patent medicine.
Novelists, too, criticized corporate injustices. Theodore Dreiser drew harsh portraits of a type of ruthless businessman in The Financier (1912) and The Titan (1914). In The Jungle (1906), SocialistUpton Sinclair repelled readers with descriptions of Chicago's meatpacking plants, and his work led to support for remedial food safety legislation.
Leading intellectuals also shaped the progressive mentality. In Dynamic Sociology (1883) Lester Frank Ward laid out the philosophical foundations of the Progressive movement and attacked the laissez-faire policies advocated by Herbert Spencer and William Graham Sumner. In The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), Thorstein Veblen attacked the "conspicuous consumption" of the wealthy. Educator John Dewey emphasized a child-centered philosophy of pedagogy, known as progressive education, which affected schoolrooms for three generations.
Progressivism in the 21st century
Mitigating income inequality
Income inequality in the United States has been on the rise since 1970, as the wealthy continue to hold more and more wealth and income. For example, 95% of income gains from 2009 to 2013 went to the top 1% of wage earners in the United States. Progressives have recognized that lower union rates, weak policy, globalization, and other drivers have caused the gap in income. The rise of income inequality has led Progressives to draft legislation including, but not limited to, reforming Wall Street, reforming the tax code, reforming campaign finance, closing loopholes, and keeping domestic work.
Wall Street reform
Progressives began to demand stronger Wall Street regulation after they perceived deregulation and relaxed enforcement as leading to the financial crisis of 2008. Passing the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory act in 2010 provided increased oversight on financial institutions and the creation of new regulatory agencies, but many Progressives argue its broad framework allows for financial institutions to continue to take advantage of consumers and the government.Bernie Sanders, among others, has advocated to reimplement Glass-Steagall for its stricter regulation and to break up the banks because of financial institutions' market share being concentrated in fewer corporations than progressives would like.
Health care reform
In 2009, the Congressional Progressive Caucus outlined five key healthcare principles they intended to pass into law. The CPC mandated a nationwide public option, affordable health insurance, insurance market regulations, an employer insurance provision mandate, and comprehensive services for children. In March 2010, Congress passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which was intended to increase the affordability and efficiency of the United States healthcare system. Although considered a success by progressives, many argued that it didn't go far enough in achieving healthcare reform, as exemplified with the Democrats' failure in achieving a national public option. In recent decades, Single-payer healthcare has become an important goal in healthcare reform for progressives. In the 2016 Democratic Primary, progressive Democratic Socialist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders raised the issue of a single-payer healthcare system, citing his belief that millions of Americans are still paying too much for health insurance, and arguing that millions more don't receive the care they need. In 2016, an effort was made to implement a single-payer healthcare system in the state of Colorado, known as ColoradoCare (Amendment 69). Senator Bernie Sanders held rallies in Colorado in support of the Amendment leading up to the vote. Despite high-profile support, Amendment 69 failed to pass, with just 21.23% of voting Colorado residents voting in favor, and 78.77% against.
Adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage peaked in 1968 at $8.54 (in 2014 dollars). Progressives believe that stagnating wages perpetuate income inequality and that raising the minimum wage is a necessary step to combat inequality. If the minimum wage grew at the rate of productivity growth in the United States, it would be $21.72 an hour, nearly three times as much as the current $7.25 an hour. Popular progressives, such as Senator Bernie Sanders and Rep. Keith Ellison, have endorsed a federally mandated wage increase to $15 an hour. The movement has already seen success with its implementation in California with the passing of bill to raise the minimum wage $1 every year until reaching $15 an hour in 2021. New York workers are lobbying for similar legislation as many continue to rally for a minimum wage increase as part of the Fight for $15 movement.
Black Lives Matter
Black Lives Matter is an international activist group that fights against police brutality and systemic racism. Black Lives Matter has organized protests against the deaths of African-Americans by police actions and crimes. These include protests against the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and Korryn Gaines.
With the rise in popularity of self-proclaimed progressives such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, the term began to carry greater cultural currency, particularly in the 2016 Democratic primaries. While answering a question from CNN moderator Anderson Cooper regarding her willingness to shift positions during an October 2015 debate, Hillary Clinton referred to herself as a "progressive who likes to get things done," drawing the ire of a number of Sanders supporters and other critics from her Left. Questions about the precise meaning of the term have persisted within the Democratic Party and without since the election of Donald Trump in the 2016 US presidential election, with some candidates using it to indicate their affiliation with the left flank of the party. As such, "progressive" and "progressivism" are essentially contested concepts, with different groups and individuals defining the terms in different (and sometimes contradictory) ways towards different (and sometimes contradictory) ends.
Other progressive parties
Following the first progressive movement of the early 20th century, two later short-lived parties have also identified as "progressive".
Progressive Party, 1924
Main article: Progressive Party (United States, 1924)
In 1924, Wisconsin Senator Robert La Follette ran for president on the "Progressive party" ticket. La Follette won the support of labor unions, Germans and Socialists by his crusade. He carried only Wisconsin and the party vanished outside Wisconsin.
There, it remained a force until the 1940s.
Progressive Party, 1948
Main article: Progressive Party (United States, 1948)
A third party was initiated in 1948 by former Vice President Henry A. Wallace as a vehicle for his campaign for president. He saw the two parties as reactionary and war-mongering, and attracted support from left-wing voters who opposed the Cold War policies that had become a national consensus. Most liberals, New Dealers, and especially the CIO unions, denounced the party because it was increasingly controlled by Communists. It faded away after winning 2% of the vote in 1948.
- ^"Progressivism". The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001–05. Archived from the original on 2008-06-29. Retrieved 2006-11-18.
- ^Alonzo L. Hamby, "Progressivism: A Century of Change and Rebirth," in Progressivism and the New Democracy, ed. Sidney M. Milkis and Jerome M. Mileur (University of Massachusetts Press, 1999), 40 also notes that "a plethora of scholarship in the last half of the 1950s left the old consensus [about progressives] in shreds while producing a plethora of alternative views that defy rational synthesis."
- ^ abNugent, Walter (2010). Progressivism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-531106-8.
- ^Link argues that the majority of progressive wanted to purify politics. Link (1954); The "progressives strove to purify politics," concludes Vincent P. De Santis, The shaping of modern America, 1877–1920 (1999) p. 171. In the South, "purification" meant taking the vote away from blacks according to Jimmie Franklin, "Blacks and the Progressive Movement: Emergence of a New Synthesis," Organization of American Historians Jimmie Franklin, Blacks and the Progressive Movement: Emergence of a New Synthesis, Organization of American Historians.
- ^Leuchtenburg, William (December 1952). "Progressivism and Imperialism: The Progressive Movement and American Foreign Policy, 1898–1916". The Mississippi Valley Historical Review. 39 (3): 483–85. JSTOR 1895006.
- ^Alexander Keyssar (2009). The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States. Basic Books, 2nd ed. pp. 103–30. ISBN 9780465010141.
- ^Catherine Cocks; et al. (2009). Historical Dictionary of the Progressive Era. Scarecrow Press. p. 112. ISBN 9780810862937.
- ^David W. Southern, The Progressive Era and Race: Reaction and Reform, 1900–1917 (2005)
- ^Michael Perman (2010). Pursuit of Unity: A Political History of the American South. Univ of North Carolina Press. p. 174. ISBN 9780807899250.
- ^Charles P. Henry (1999). Ralph Bunche: Model Negro Or American Other?. NYU Press. pp. 96–98. ISBN 9780814735824.
- ^"4. Shall the People Rule?", La Follette campaign literature, Wisconsin Historical Society,
- ^Quoted in Sidney M. Milkis and Jerome M. Mileur, "Progressivism and the New Democracy," (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999) 19–20
- ^Philip J. Ethington, "The Metropolis and Multicultural Ethics: Direct Democracy versus Deliberative Democracy in the Progressive Era," in Progressivism and the New Democracy, ed. Sidney M. Milkis and Jerome M. Mileur (Amherst: Massachusetts University Press, 1999), 193
- ^Aileen S. Kraditor, The Ideas of the Woman Suffrage Movement (1965)
- ^Michael Perman.Struggle for Mastery: Disfranchisement in the South, 1888–1908. (University of North Carolina Press, 2001), pp. 63, 85, 177, 186–87; quotes on pp. 223, 298
- ^Quoted in Sidney M. Milkis and Jerome M. Mileur, "Progressivism and the New Democracy," (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999) 42
- ^Joseph L. Tropea, "Rational Capitalism and Municipal Government: The Progressive Era." Social Science History (1989): 137–58
- ^Michael H. Ebner and Eugene M. Tobin, eds., The Age of Urban Reform, (1977)
- ^Bradley Robert Rice, Progressive cities: the commission government movement in America, 1901–1920 (1977)
- ^Martin J. Schiesl, The politics of efficiency: municipal reform in the Progressive Era 1880–1920 (1972)
- ^Kenneth Fox, Better city government: innovation in American urban politics, 1850–1937 (1977)
- ^John D. Buenker, ed. Encyclopedia of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era (2005)
- ^Melvin G. Holli, Reform in Detroit: Hazen S. Pingree and Urban Politics (1969)
- ^Eugene C. Murdock, Tom Johnson in Cleveland (1994)
- ^L. E. Fredman, "Seth Low: Theorist of Municipal Reform," Journal of American Studies 1972 6(1): 19–39
- ^The Americans: Reconstruction to the 21st Century (Evanston: McDougall Littell, 2006), 308
- ^J. Michael Hogan (2003). Rhetoric and reform in the Progressive Era. Michigan State U. Press. p. xv. ISBN 978-0-87013-637-5.
- ^William Thomas Hutchinson (1957). Lowden of Illinois: the life of Frank O. Lowden. U. of Chicago Press. pp. 305 vol 1.
- ^Smith, Kevin B. (2011). Governing States and Localities. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press. pp. 189–90. ISBN 978-1-60426-728-0.
Summary and Keywords
The decades from the 1890s into the 1920s produced reform movements in the United States that resulted in significant changes to the country’s social, political, cultural, and economic institutions. The impulse for reform emanated from a pervasive sense that the country’s democratic promise was failing. Political corruption seemed endemic at all levels of government. An unregulated capitalist industrial economy exploited workers and threatened to create a serious class divide, especially as the legal system protected the rights of business over labor. Mass urbanization was shifting the country from a rural, agricultural society to an urban, industrial one characterized by poverty, disease, crime, and cultural clash. Rapid technological advancements brought new, and often frightening, changes into daily life that left many people feeling that they had little control over their lives. Movements for socialism, woman suffrage, and rights for African Americans, immigrants, and workers belied the rhetoric of the United States as a just and equal democratic society for all its members.
Responding to the challenges presented by these problems, and fearful that without substantial change the country might experience class upheaval, groups of Americans proposed undertaking significant reforms. Underlying all proposed reforms was a desire to bring more justice and equality into a society that seemed increasingly to lack these ideals. Yet there was no agreement among these groups about the exact threat that confronted the nation, the means to resolve problems, or how to implement reforms. Despite this lack of agreement, all so-called Progressive reformers were modernizers. They sought to make the country’s democratic promise a reality by confronting its flaws and seeking solutions. All Progressivisms were seeking a via media, a middle way between relying on older ideas of 19th-century liberal capitalism and the more radical proposals to reform society through either social democracy or socialism. Despite differences among Progressives, the types of Progressivisms put forth, and the successes and failures of Progressivism, this reform era raised into national discourse debates over the nature and meaning of democracy, how and for whom a democratic society should work, and what it meant to be a forward-looking society. It also led to the implementation of an activist state.
Keywords: Progressives, Progressivisms, democracy, reform, justice, equality, capitalism, urbanization, immigration, corruption
The reform impulse of the decades from the 1890s into the 1920s did not erupt suddenly in the 1890s. Previous movements, such as the Mugwump faction of the Republican Party and the Knights of Labor, had challenged existing conditions in the 1870s and 1880s. Such earlier movements either tended to focus on the problems of a particular group or were too small to effect much change. The 1890s Populist Party’s concentration on agrarian issues did not easily resonate with the expanding urban population. The Populists lost their separate identity when the Democratic Party absorbed their agenda. The reform proposals of the Progressive era differed from those of these earlier protest movements. Progressives came from all strata of society. Progressivism aimed to implement comprehensive systemic reforms to change the direction of the country.
Political corruption, economic exploitation, mass migration and urbanization, rapid technological advancements, and social unrest challenged the rhetoric of the United States as a just and equal society. Now groups of Americans throughout the country proposed to reform the country’s political, social, cultural, and economic institutions in ways that they believed would address fundamental problems that had produced the inequities of American society.
Progressives did not seek to overturn capitalism. They sought to revitalize a democratic promise of justice and equality and to move the country into a modern Progressive future by eliminating or at least ameliorating capitalism’s worst excesses. They wanted to replace an individualistic, competitive society with a more cooperative, democratic one. They sought to bring a measure of social justice for all people, to eliminate political corruption, and to rebalance the relationship among business, labor, and consumers by introducing economic regulation.1 Progressives turned to government to achieve these objectives and laid the foundation for an increasingly powerful state.
Social Justice Progressivism
Social justice Progressives wanted an activist state whose first priority was to provide for the common welfare. Jane Addams argued that real democracy must operate from a sense of social morality that would foster the greater good of all rather than protect those with wealth and power.2 Social justice Progressivism confronted two problems to securing a democracy based on social morality. Several basic premises that currently structured the country had to be rethought, and social justice Progressivism was promoted largely by women who lacked official political power.
Legal Precedent or Social Realism
The existing legal system protected the rights of business and property over labor.3 From 1893, when Florence Kelley secured factory legislation mandating the eight-hour workday for women and teenagers and outlawing child labor in Illinois factories, social justice Progressives faced legal obstacles as business contested such legislation. In 1895, the Supreme Court in Ritchie v. People ruled that such legislation violated the “freedom of contract” provision of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court confined the police power of the state to protecting immediate health and safety, not groups of people in industries.4 Then, in the 1905 case Lochner v. New York, the Court declared that the state had no interest in regulating the hours of male bakers. To circumvent these rulings, Kelley, Josephine Goldmark, and Louis Brandeis contended that law should address social realities. The Brandeis brief to the Supreme Court in 1908, in Muller v. Oregon, argued for upholding Oregon’s eight-hour law for women working in laundries because of the debilitating physical effects of such work. When the Court agreed, social justice Progressives hoped this would be the opening wedge to extend new rights to labor. The Muller v. Oregon ruling had a narrow gender basis. It declared that the state had an interest in protecting the reproductive capacities of women. Henceforth, male and female workers would be unequal under the law, limiting women’s economic opportunities across the decades, rather than shifting the legal landscape. Ruling on the basis of women’s reproductive capacities, the Court made women socially inferior to men in law and justified state-sponsored interference in women’s control of their bodies.5
Role of the State to Protect and Foster
Women organized in voluntary groups worked to identify and attack the problems caused by mass urbanization. The General Federation of Women’s Clubs (1890) coordinated women’s activities throughout the country. Social justice Progressives lobbied municipal governments to enact new ordinances to ameliorate existing urban conditions of poverty, disease, and inequality. Chicago women secured the nation’s first juvenile court (1899).6 Los Angeles women helped inaugurate a public health nursing program and secure pure milk regulations for their city. Women also secured municipal public baths in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and other cities. Organized women in Philadelphia and Dallas were largely responsible for their cities implementing new clean water systems. Women set up pure milk stations to prevent infant diarrhea and organized infant welfare societies.7
Social justice Progressives sought national legislation to protect consumers from the pernicious effects of industrial production outside of their immediate control. In 1905, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs initiated a letter-writing campaign to pressure Congress to pass pure food legislation. Standard accounts of the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act and pure milk ordinances generally credit male professionals with putting in place such reforms, but female social justice Progressives were instrumental in putting this issue before the country.8
Social justice Progressives sought a ban on child labor and protections for children’s health and education. They argued that no society could progress if it allowed child labor. In 1912 they persuaded Congress to establish a federal Children’s Bureau to investigate conditions of children throughout the country. Julia Lathrop first headed the bureau, which was thenceforth dominated by women. Nonetheless, when Congress passed the Keating-Owen Child Labor Act (1916), banning interstate commerce in products made with child labor, a North Carolina man immediately sued, arguing that it deprived him of property in his son’s labor. The Supreme Court (1918) ruled the law unconstitutional because it violated state powers to regulate conditions of labor. A constitutional amendment banning child labor (1922) was attacked by manufacturers and conservative organizations protesting that it would give government power over children. Only four states ratified the amendment.9
Woman suffrage was crucial for social justice Progressives as both a democratic right and because they believed it essential for their agenda.10 When suffrage left elected officials uncertain about the power of women’s votes in 1921, Congress passed the Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infant Welfare bill, which provided federal funds for maternal and infant health. The American Medical Association opposed the bill as a violation of its expertise. Businessmen and political leaders protested that the federal government should not interfere in health care and objected that it would raise taxes. Congress made Sheppard-Towner a “sunset” act to run for five years, after which it would decide whether to renew it. Congress temporarily extended it but ended the funding in 1929, even though the country’s infant mortality rate exceeded that of six other industrial countries. The hostility of the male-dominated American Medical Association and the Public Health Service to Sheppard-Towner and to its administration by the Children’s Bureau, along with attacks against the social justice network of women’s organizations as a communist conspiracy to undermine American society, doomed the legislation.11
New Practices of Democracy
Women established settlement houses, voluntary associations, day nurseries, and community, neighborhood, and social centers as venues in which to practice participatory democracy. These venues intended to bring people together to learn about one another and their needs, to provide assistance for those needing help, and to lobby their governments to provide social goods to people. This was not reform from the bottom; middle-class women almost always led these venues. Most of these efforts were also racially exclusive, but African American women established venues of their own. In Atlanta, Lugenia Hope, who had spent time at Chicago’s Hull House, established the Atlanta Neighborhood Union in 1908 to organize the city’s African American women on a neighborhood basis. Hope urged women to investigate the problems of their neighborhoods and bring their issues to the municipal government.12
The National Consumers’ League (NCL, 1899) practiced participatory democracy on the national level. Arising from earlier working women’s societies and with Florence Kelley at its head, the NCL investigated working conditions and urged women to use their consumer-purchasing power to force manufacturers to institute new standards of production. The NCL assembled and published “white lists” of those manufacturers found to be practicing good employment standards and awarded a “white label” to factories complying with such standards. The NCL’s tactics were voluntary—boycotts were against the law—and they did not convince many manufacturers to change their practices. Even so, such tactics drew more women into the social justice movement, and the NCL’s continuous efforts were rewarded in New Deal legislation.13
A group of working women and settlement-house residents formed the National Women’s Trade Union League (NWTUL, 1903) and organized local affiliates to work for unionization in female-dominated manufacturing.14 Middle-class women walked the picket lines with striking garment workers and waitresses in New York and Chicago and helped secure concessions from manufacturers. The NWTUL forced an official investigation into the causes of New York City’s Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire (1911), in which almost 150 workers, mainly young women, died. Members of the NWTUL were organizers for the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union. Despite these participatory venues, much literature on such movements emphasizes male initiatives and fails to appreciate gender differences. The public forums movement promoted by men, such as Charles Sprague Smith and Frederic Howe, was a top-down effort in which prominent speakers addressed pressing issues of the day to teach the “rank and file” how to practice democracy.15 In Boston, Mary Parker Follett promoted participatory democracy through neighborhood centers organized and run by residents. Chicago women’s organizations fostered neighborhood centers as spaces for residents to gather and discuss neighborhood needs.16
Suffrage did not provide the political power women had hoped for, but female social justice Progressives occupied key offices in the New Deal administration. They helped write national anti-child labor legislation, minimum wage and maximum hour laws, aid to dependent children, and elements of the Social Security Act. Such legislation at least partially fulfilled the social justice Progressive agenda that activist government provide social goods to protect daily life against the vagaries of the capitalist marketplace.
Political Progressivism was a structural-instrumental approach to reform the mechanisms and exercise of politics to break the hold of political parties. Its adherents sought a well-ordered government run by experts to undercut a political patronage system that favored trading votes for services. Political Progressives believed that such reforms would enhance democracy.
Mechanisms and Processes of Electoral Democracy
The Wisconsin Idea promoted by the state’s three-time governor Robert La Follette exemplified the political Progressives’ approach to reform. The plan advocated state-level reforms to electoral procedures. A key proposal of the Wisconsin Idea was to replace the existing party control of all nominations with a popular direct primary. Wisconsin became the first state to require the direct primary. The plan also proposed giving voters the power to initiate legislation, hold referenda on proposed legislation, and recall elected officials. Wisconsin voters adopted these proposals by 1911,17 although Oregon was the first state to adopt the initiative and referendum, in 1902.18
The political Progressives attacked a patronage politics that filled administrative offices with faithful party supporters, awarded service franchises to private business, and solicited bribes in return for contracts. Political Progressives proposed shifting to merit-based government by experts provided by theoretically nonpartisan appointed commissions or city managers systems that would apply businesslike expertise and fiscal efficiency to government. They proposed replacing city councils elected by districts (wards) with citywide at-large elections, creating strong mayor systems to undercut the machinations of city councils, and reducing the number of elective offices. They also sought new municipal charters and home-rule powers to give cities more control over their governing authority and taxing power.19
Political Progressives were mainly men organized into new local civic federations, city clubs, municipal reform leagues, and municipal research bureaus and into new national groups such as the National Municipal League. They attended national conferences such as the National Conference on City Planning, discussing topics of concern to political Progressives. The National Municipal League formulated a model charter to reorganize municipal government predicated on home rule and argued that its proposals would provide good tools for democracy.20
In general, only small cities such as Galveston, Texas, and Des Moines, Iowa, or new cities such as Phoenix, Arizona, where such political Progressives dominated elections, adopted the city-manager and commission governments.21 Other cities elected reform mayors, such as Tom Johnson of Cleveland, Ohio, who placed the professional experts Frederic Howe and Edward W. Bemis into his administration.22 Charter reform, home rule, and at-large election movements were more complicated in big cities. They failed in Chicago.23 Boston switched to at-large elections, but the shift in mechanisms did lessen political party control. A new breed of politicians who appealed to interest group politics gained control rather than rule by experts.24
Good Government by Experts
Focus on good government reform earned these men the rather pejorative nickname of “goo-goos.” These Progressives argued that only the technological expertise of professional engineers and professional bureaucrats could design rational and economically efficient ordinances for solving urban problems. When corporate interests challenged antipollution ordinances and increased government regulation as causing undue hardship for manufacturers, political Progressives countered with economic answers. Pollution was an economic problem: it caused the city to suffer economic waste and inefficiency, and it cost the city and its taxpayers money.25 In Pittsburgh, the Mellon Institute Smoke Investigation marshaled scientific expertise to measure soot fall in the city and to calculate how costly smoke pollution might be to the city.26 The Supreme Court in Northwestern Laundry v. Des Moines (1915) ruled that there were no valid constitutional objections to state power to regulate pollution.27
The political Progressives’ cost-benefit approach to regulation clashed with the social justice idea that protecting the public health should decide pollution regulation. The Pittsburgh Ladies Health Protective Association argued that smoke pollution was a general health hazard.28 The Chicago women’s Anti-Smoke League called smoke pollution a threat to daily life and common welfare, as coal soot fell on food and in homes and was breathed in by children. They demanded immediate strict antismoke ordinances and inspectors to vigorously inspect and enforce the ordinances. The league urged all city residents to monitor pollution in their neighborhoods.29 The Baltimore Women’s Civic League made smoke abatement a principal target for improving living and working conditions.30 The cost-benefit argument usually won out over the health-first one.
For political Progressives, good government also meant using professional expertise to plan city growth and reorder the urban built environment. They abandoned an earlier City Beautiful movement that focused on cultural and aesthetic beautification in favor of systematic planning by architects, engineers, and city planners to secure the economic development desired by business.31 Daniel Burnham’s Chicago Plan (1909) was the work of a committee of men selected by the city’s Commercial Club.32 Experts crafted new master plans to guarantee urban functionality and profitability through “creative destruction,” to build new transportation and communication networks, erect new grand civic buildings and spaces, and zone the city’s functions into distinct sectors. They proposed new street configurations to facilitate the movement of goods and people.33 As the profession of urban planning developed, cities sought out planners such as Harland Bartholomew to formulate new master plans.34
New York’s Mary Simkhovitch contested this approach and urged planning on the neighborhood level, with professionals consulting with the people. She stressed that no plan was good if it emphasized only economy. Simkhovitch and Florence Kelley organized the first National Conference on City Planning (1909) around the theme of planning for social needs. Simkhovitch was the only woman to address the gathering. All the male speakers emphasized planning for economic development. As architects, lawyers, and engineers, and new professional planners such as John Nolen and George Ford dominated the planning conferences, Simkhovitch and Kelley withdrew.35
The democratic reform theories of Frederic Howe and Mary Parker Follett reflected competing ideas about political Progressivism and urban reform. Howe believed that democracy was a political mechanism that, if properly ordered and led by experts, would restore the city to the people. The key to achieving good government and democracy was municipal home rule. Once freed from state interference, his theoretical city republic would decide in the best interests of its residents, making city life orderly and thereby more democratic.36 For Follett, democracy was embedded in social relations, and the city was the hope of democracy because it could be organized on the neighborhood level. There people would apply democracy collectively and create an orderly society.37 Throughout the country, municipal political reform was driven primarily by groups of men. Women and their ideas were consistently pushed to the margins of political Progressivism.38
Social Science Expertise
Social science expertise gave political Progressives a theoretical foundation for cautious proposals to create a more activist state. University of Wisconsin political economist Richard Ely; his former student John R. Commons; political scientist Charles McCarthy, who authored the Wisconsin Idea; and University of Michigan political economist Henry C. Adams, among others, filled the role of social science expert. Social scientists founded new disciplinary organizations, such as the American Economics Association. This association organized the American Association of Labor Legislation (AALL). Commons, University of Chicago sociology professor Charles R. Henderson, and Commons’ student John B. Andrews were prominent members. The AALL focused on workers’ health, compensation, and insurance, in contrast to the NCL emphasis on investigation and working conditions.39 Frederic Howe, with a PhD in history and political science from Johns Hopkins, became a foremost theorist for municipal reform based on his social science theories. John Dewey promulgated new theories of democracy and education. Professional social scientists composed a tight circle of men who created a space between academia and government from which to advocate for reform.40 They addressed each other, trained their students to follow their ideas, and rarely spoke to the larger public.41
Sophonisba Breckinridge, Frances Kellor, Edith Abbott, and Katherine Davis were trained at the University of Chicago in political economy and sociology. Abbott briefly held an academic position at Wellesley, but she resigned to join the other women in applying her training to social research and social activism. Their expertise laid the foundation for the profession of social work. As grassroots activists, they worked with settlement house residents such as Jane Addams and Mary Simkhovitch, joined women’s voluntary organizations, investigated living and working conditions, and carved out careers in social welfare.42
Male social scientists dismissed women’s expertise and eschewed grassroots work.43 Breckinridge had earned a magna cum laude PhD in political science and economics, but she received no offers of an academic position, unlike her male colleagues. She was kept on at the university, but by 1920 the sociology department directed social sciences away from seeking practical solutions to everyday life that had linked scholarly inquiry with social responsibility. The female social scientists who had formed an intellectual core of the sociology department were put into a School of Social Services Administration and ultimately segregated into the division of social work.44
Economic Progressives identified unregulated corporate monopoly capitalism as a primary source of the country’s troubles.45 They proposed a new regulatory state to mitigate the worst aspects of the system. Reforming the banking and currency systems, pursuing some measure of antitrust (antimonopoly) legislation, shifting from a largely laissez-faire economy, and moderately restructuring property relations would produce government in the public interest.
Antimonopoly Progressivism required rethinking the relationship between business and government, introducing new legislation, and modifying a legal system that consistently sided with business. Congress and the presidency had to take leadership roles, but below them were Progressive groups such as the National Civic Federation, the NCL, and the General Federation of Women’s Clubs pushing for significant policy change. These Progressives believed collusion between a small number of capitalist industrialists and politicians had badly damaged democracy. They especially feared that the system threatened to lead to class warfare.
The Interstate Commerce Act (1887) and the Sherman Antitrust Act (1890) began to consider the problems of unregulated laissez-faire capitalism and monopoly in restraint of trade. As president, Theodore Roosevelt (1901–1909) used congressional power to regulate commerce to attack corporate monopolistic restraint of trade. The Elkins Act (1903) gave Congress the power to regulate against predatory business practices; the Hepburn Act (1906) gave it authority to regulate railroad rates; the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act (1906) did the same for those industries. Roosevelt created the Department of Commerce and Labor (1903) to oversee interstate corporate practices and in 1906 empowered the Department of Agriculture to inspect and set standards in meat production, a move that led eventually to the Food and Drug Administration.
Roosevelt considered the president to be the guardian of the public welfare. His approach to conservation was a primary example of how he applied this belief. He agreed with the arguments of social scientists, professional organizations of engineers, and forestry bureau chief Gifford Pinchot that careful and efficient management and administration of natural resources was necessary to guarantee the country’s economic progress and preserve democratic opportunity. Roosevelt appointed a Public Lands Commission to manage public land in the West and appointed a National Conservation Commission to inventory the country’s resources so that sound business practices could be implemented. The commission’s three-volume report relied on scientific and social scientific methods to examine conservation issues.46
William Howard Taft (1909–1913) refused to support further work by the Conservation Commission. He rejected new conservation proposals as violating congressional authority and possessing no legal standing. Taft’s administrative appointments, including Interior Secretary Richard Ballinger, favored opening public lands to more private development. Taft’s Progressivism was the more conservative Republican approach that focused on breaking up trusts because they were bad for business.47 Taft sided with business when he signed the Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act (1909), which kept high tariffs on many essential goods that Progressives wanted reduced to aid consumers and small manufacturers.48
In 1912, the Republican Party split between Roosevelt and Taft. Political, economic, and social justice Progressives, including Robert La Follette, Charles McCarthy, Jane Addams, Frances Kellor, and George Perkins, a partner at J. P. Morgan and Company, helped establish the Progressive Party. They nominated Roosevelt, who envisioned a platform of “New Nationalism,” which promised to govern in the public interest and provide economic prosperity as a basic foundation of democratic citizenship.49 Addams was unhappy with Roosevelt’s economic emphasis, but she saw him as social Progressives’ best hope.
Woodrow Wilson and Roosevelt received two-thirds of the vote, while Socialist Party candidate Eugene Debs secured 6 percent of the votes. The election results indicated that the general population supported a middle way between socialism and Taft’s big business Progressivism. Wilson’s (1913–1921) “New Freedom” platform promised to curb the power of big business and close the growing wealth gap. As senator, La Follette helped push through Wilson’s reform legislation. The Clayton Antitrust Act (1914), the Federal Trade Commission (1914), and the Federal Reserve Act (1913) each curbed the power of big business and regulated banking. The Sixteenth Amendment (1913) authorized the federal income tax. The Seventeenth Amendment (1913) provided for the direct election of state legislators, who had previously been appointed by state legislatures.
Trade Union Progressivism
Under Samuel Gompers, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) fought to secure collective bargaining rights for male trade unionists. The AFL rejected the AALL proposals for worker compensation and insurance and never supported national worker compensation laws, although local federations supported state-level legislation.50 Gompers preferred working with businessmen and politicians to secure the right to collective bargaining, the eight-hour day, and a voice for labor in production. The AFL never tried to form a Labor Party but advocated putting a labor agenda into mainstream party politics.51 The Clayton Antitrust Act, which acknowledged that unions had the right to peaceful and lawful actions, was a victory for trade union Progressivism. The act did not provide everything that Gompers had demanded. Only New Deal legislation would offer more extensive protections to unions.
Gompers and the AFL rejected the AALL’s ideas, fearing that a more activist government might extend to regulating the labor of women and children. The AFL wanted sufficient economic security for white male workers, to move women out of the labor force.52 Other labor Progressives sought the same end. Louis Brandeis and Father John Ryan promoted the living wage as a right of citizenship for male workers. Ryan acknowledged that unmarried women workers were entitled to a living wage, but he wanted labor reform to secure a family wage so that men would marry and families would produce children.53 Hostile to organizing women, Gompers forced NWTUL leader Margaret Dreier Robins off the executive board of the Chicago Federation of Labor.54
On the local level, economic Progressives sought a middle way between socialism and the AFL’s single-minded trade unionism. AFL affiliates and Progressive politicians such as Cleveland’s Tom Johnson favored a municipal democracy that gave voters new powers. Municipal ownership of public utilities such as street railways promised the working class a way to protect their labor through the ballot.55 Such reform would also destroy the franchise system. In Los Angeles, labor and socialists crafted a labor/socialist ticket to challenge the business/party control of the city and enact municipal ownership. A socialist administration in Milwaukee appealed to class interests to support an agenda that included municipal ownership. In Chicago, socialist Josephine Kaneko argued that she did not see much difference between socialism and women’s Progressive agenda for reform to benefit the common welfare.56 Despite such flirtations between labor and socialists, labor remained attached to the Democratic Party.
Some cities achieved a measure of municipal ownership. Most middle-class urban Progressives deemed municipal ownership too socialist. They favored state economic regulation, led by experts, rather than ownership to break the monopoly in public utilities.57
Progressivism fostered new international engagement. The economic imperative to secure supplies of raw materials for industrial production, a messianic approach of bringing cultural and racial civilization around the globe, and belief in an international Progressivism that focused on international cooperation all pushed Progressives to think globally.
Securing Economic Progress
Although he was generally against Progressivism, President William McKinley annexed Hawaii (1898), saying that the country needed it even more than it had needed California.58 The Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine (1904) declared that intervention in the Caribbean was necessary to secure economic stability and forestall foreign interference in the area. Progressive Herbert Croly believed that the country needed to forcibly pacify some areas in the world in order for the United States to establish an American international system.59 The Progressive Party platform (1912) declared it imperative to the people’s welfare that the country expand its foreign commerce. Between 1898 and 1941, the United States invaded Cuba, acquired the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, took possession of Puerto Rico, colonized the Philippines and several Pacific islands, encouraged Panama to rebel against Colombia so that the United States could build the Panama Canal, invaded Mexico to protect oil interests, and intervened in Haiti, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic. To protect its possessions in the Pacific, Roosevelt’s Secretary of State Elihu Root finalized the Root-Takahira Agreement (1908), which acknowledged Japan’s control of Korea in return for its noninterference in the Philippines. American imperialism based on economic and financial desires became referred to as “Dollar Diplomacy.”60
Mission of Civilization
Race, paternalism, and masculinity characterized elements of international Progressivism. Senator Albert Beveridge had supported Progressive proposals to abolish child labor and had favored regulating business and granting more rights to labor, but he viewed Filipinos as too backward to understand democracy and self-government. The United States was God’s chosen nation, with a divine mission to civilize the world; it should exercise its “spirit of progress” to organize the world.61 William Jennings Bryan had previously been an anti-imperialist, but later, as Wilson’s secretary of state, he advocated intervening in Latin America to tutor backward people in self-government.62 In speeches and writings, Roosevelt stressed that new international possessions required men to accept the strenuous life of responsibility for other people in order to maintain American domination of the world.63 Social science likened Filipino men to children lacking the vigorous manhood necessary for self-government.64 Beveridge contended that it was government’s responsibility to manufacture manhood. Empire could be the new frontier of white masculinity.65 Roosevelt concluded a “Gentlemen’s Agreement” (1907) in which Japan agreed to stop issuing passports to Japanese laborers to immigrate to the United States.
Democracy and International Cooperation
A cadre of Progressives who had worked to extend their ideals into an international context did not welcome imperialism, dollar diplomacy, and war.66 Addams rejected war as an anachronism that failed to produce a collective responsibility. La Follette rejoiced that failures in dollar diplomacy elevated humanity over property. Suffragists compared their lack of the vote to the plight of Filipinos. Belle Case La Follette opposed incursion into Mexico and denounced all militarism as driven by greed, suspicion, and love of power.67
Many Progressives opposed war as an assault on an international collective humanity. Women organized peace marches and founded a Women’s Peace Party. Addams, Kelley, Frederic Howe, Lillian Wald of New York’s Henry Street Settlement, and Paul Kellogg, editor of the Progressive Survey, formed the American Union Against Militarism.68 Addams, Simkhovitch, the sociologist Emily Greene Balch, and labor leader Leonora O’Reilly attended the International Women’s Peace Conference at The Hague in spring 1915. Florence Kelley was denied a passport to travel.69 The work of the American Red Cross in Europe during and after the war reflected the humanitarian collective impulse of Progressivism.70
Entry into World War I, President Wilson’s assertion that it would make the world safe for democracy, and a growing xenophobia that demanded 100 percent loyalty produced a Progressive crisis. Addams remained firm against the war as antihumanitarian and was vilified for her pacifism.71 La Follette voted against the declaration of war, charging that it was being promoted by business desires and that it was absurd to believe that it would make the world safe for democracy. He was accused of being pro-German, and Theodore Roosevelt said that he should be hung.72 Labor leader Morris Hillquit and Florence Kelley formed the People’s Council of America to continue to pressure for peace. Under pressure to display patriotism, Progressive opposition to the war crumbled. Paul Kellogg declared that it was time to combat European militarism. The American Union Against Militarism dissolved. Herbert Croly’s New Republic urged the country to take a more active role in the war to create a new international league of peace and assume leadership of democratic nations. John Dewey proclaimed it a war of peoples, not armies, and stated that international reform would follow its conclusion.73
Other Progressives comforted themselves that once the war was won, they could recommit to democratic agendas. Kelley, Grace Abbott, Josephine Goldmark, and Julia Lathrop helped organize the home front to maintain Progressive ideals. They monitored the condition of women workers, sat on the war department’s board controlling labor standards, and drafted insurance policies for military personnel. Suffrage leader Carrie Chapman Catt volunteered for the Women’s Advisory Committee of the Council of National Defense. Walter Lippmann worked on government projects. City planner John Nolen designed housing communities for war workers under the newly constituted United States Housing Corporation.74
Suffragists protested the lack of democracy in the United States. As Wilson refused to support woman suffrage, members of the National Woman’s Party, led by Alice Paul, picketed the White House in protest. Picketers were arrested, Paul was put in solitary confinement in a psychiatric ward, and several women on a hunger strike were force-fed. Wilson capitulated to public outrage over the women’s treatment. The women were released, and Wilson urged passage of the suffrage amendment.75 The Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in 1920, but Progressives’ hopes that equal political rights would bring democratic equality were not fulfilled. The social justice Progressives split over whether to support the Equal Rights Amendment drawn up by the National Woman’s Party, fearing that it would negate the protective labor legislation they had achieved.
White Progressives failed to pursue racial equality. Most of them believed the country was not yet ready for such a cultural shift. Some of them believed in theories of racial inferiority. Southern Progressive figure Rebecca Latimer Felton defended racial lynching as a means to protect white women.76 Other Progressives, such as Sophonisba Breckinridge, fought against racial exclusion policies and promoted interracial cooperation.77 W. E. B. Du Bois and Addams helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (1909).
African American Progressivism
African Americans believed that Progressive ideology should lead inevitably to racial equality. Du Bois spoke at public forums.78 He supported the social justice Progressives’ agenda, attending the 1912 Progressive Party convention. Du Bois proposed a racial equality plank for the party platform. Jane Addams helped write the plank. Theodore Roosevelt rejected it, preferring the gradualist policy of Booker T. Washington. Addams objected but mused that perhaps it was not yet time for such a bold move. Racial justice would follow logically from dedication to social justice.79 Du Bois shifted his support to Woodrow Wilson, while Ida B. Wells-Barnett backed Taft. In 1916, African American women founded Colored Women’s Hughes clubs to support the Republican nominee. Hughes had reluctantly backed woman suffrage, and African American women viewed suffrage as the means to protect the race. Nannie Helen Burroughs worked through the National Association of Colored Women (1896) and the National Baptist Convention, demanding suffrage for African American women because they would use it wisely, for the benefit of the race. Burroughs lived in Washington, DC, where she witnessed the segregationist policies of the Wilson administration. She castigated African American men for having voted for him in 1912.80 African American Progressives hoped that serving in the military and organizing on the home front during the war would result in equal citizenship when the war ended. Instead, African Americans were subjected to more prejudice and violence. Southern senators blocked the Dyer antilynching bill (1922).
Anti-immigrant sentiment had been building in the country since passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882). Several attempts to pass a literacy test bill for immigrants, supported by the Immigration Restriction League (1894), failed. The forty-one volumes of the Senate-appointed Dillingham Commission (1911) concluded that immigrants were heavily responsible for the country’s problems and advocated the literacy test. Frances Kellor believed that all immigrants could be Americanized. Randolph Bourne advocated immigration as the path to Americans becoming internationalists. The New Republic, however, feared that excessive immigration would overwhelm an activist state and prevent it from solving social problems. Lillian Wald, Frederic Howe, and other Progressives organized the National Committee for Constructive Immigration Legislation (1916) hoping to forestall more restrictive measures. In the midst of war fever, Congress passed a literacy test bill over Wilson’s veto (1917).
Progressives such as Kellor, Wald, and Addams believed that incorporating immigrants into a broad American culture would create a Progressive modern society. Theodore Roosevelt promoted a racialized version of American society. As president, he secured new laws (1903, 1907) to exclude certain classes of immigrants—paupers, the insane, prostitutes, and radicals who might pose a threat to American standards of labor—that he deemed incapable of becoming good Americans. He created the Bureau of Immigration to enforce these provisions. The 1907 Immigration Act also stripped citizenship from women who married noncitizens, a situation only reversed in 1922. At Roosevelt’s behest, Congress tightened requirements for naturalization. Wartime fever and the 1919 Red Scare intensified the search for 100 percent Americanism and undermined the alternative Progressive ideal of a cooperative Americanism.81
Progressivism beyond the Progressive Era
The democratizing ideals of the Progressive era lived beyond the time period. A regulatory state to eliminate the worst effects of capitalism was created, as most Americans accepted that the federal state had to take on more social responsibility. After ratification of the suffrage amendment, the National American Woman Suffrage Association reconstituted as the National League of Women Voters (1920) to continue promoting an informed, democratic electorate. The New Deal implemented a substantial social justice Progressive agenda, with the NCL, the Children’s Bureau, and many women who had formed the earlier era’s agenda writing the legislation banning child labor, fostering new labor standards that included minimum wage and maximum hours, and mandating social security for the elderly. The General Federation of Women’s Clubs focused on environmental protection as a democratic right. A women’s joint congressional committee formed to continue pressing for social justice legislation. The National Association of Colored Women joined the committee.
Progressives can be legitimately criticized for not undertaking a more radical restructuring of American society. Some of them can be criticized for believing that they possessed the best vision for a modern, Progressive future. They can be faulted for not promoting racial equality or a new internationalism that might bring about global peace rather than war. Nonetheless, they never intended to undermine capitalism, so they could never truly embrace socialism. In the context of a society that continued to exalt individualism and suspect government interference and working within their own notions of democracy, they accomplished significant changes in American government and society.82
Discussion of the Literature
The muckraking authors and journalists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries highlighted rapacious capitalism and characterized its wealthy beneficiaries as corrupting the country. In their exposés of the relationship between business and politics, Ida M. Tarbell, Frank Norris, and Upton Sinclair accused politicians of a corrupt bargain in pursuit of their own economic interests against the interests of the people.83 Drawing upon these investigative writings, early analyses of Progressivism from Benjamin De Witt and Charles and Mary Beard interpreted Progressivism as a dualistic class struggle. On one side were wealthy and privileged special interests seeking to promote themselves at the expense of everyone else. On the other side was a broad public seeking to restore dignity and opportunity to the common people.84
By the early 1950s, George Mowry and Richard Hofstadter contended that Progressivism was a movement of an older, professional, middle class seeking to reclaim its status, deference, and power, which had been usurped by a new corporate elite and a corrupt political class.85 In the early 1960s, Samuel Hays argued that rather than being the product of a status revolution, Progressivism was the work of an urban upper class of new and younger leading Republican business and professional men.86