The progressive movement was an effort by middle class Americans to try and reverse much of the damage to society that had occurred during the Industrial Revolution and Gilded Age. While the titans of monopolies like Rockefeller and Carnegie were swimming in more money than they knew what to do with, the working and lower classes were being dragged through the mud. The promise of wealth and prosperity that was so appealing during the Gilded Age seemed like an impossible feat to achieve by the time the progressive movement rolled around. Social Darwinism, another ideology of the Gilded Age, was rejected by the every day members of the movement as a convenient tale for the rich to tell.

Theodore Roosevelt was one of the strongest advocates for the progressive movement. He, along with the rest of progressives, felt that the government should be “stewards of public welfare.” One of the biggest pieces of regulations that began to help the public was Roosevelt’s “Trust-Busting” spree. Progressives believed that monopolies could only hurt American society and free market economy, and with in mind Teddy began to push legislation to disband shady and greedy trusts. The power of trusts and monopolies made those who ran them filthy rich, and as we know, the rich often hold clout that extends well beyond economics. The greed of trusts had infected almost all aspects of local and state governments, which in turn allowed them to keep on acting in their own best interest without the concern of government intervention. By taking the largest trusts in America before the supreme court, and eventually having them dissolved, Teddy was able to stop monopolies from growing which in turn would lead to more economic competition across markets.

Trust busting wasn’t the only goal of the progressive movement. They also felt strongly that the only way for working class Americans to thrive was for them to work and live in humane and safe conditions. A new focus on the environment and the conditions of neighborhoods and schools made for a higher quality of life for the middle class. Government control was embraced by progressives, which allowed for some of these ideas to flourish, and made a big differences in the lives of the average American.

Progressives felt strongly that there should be set working hours, wage requirements, worker safety precautions, and many other regulations that would help workers. However, unions believed that if the government took over negotiating workers rights, then they would inevitably side with the corporations because they were the side with the money. I think that the progressives had a very noble idea for promoting a fair, capitalist economy, but were just a little off. In my mind, the government could let unions and workers barter for the rights they believe they deserve. However, if they fail to find that fair balance with their employer, there should be a plan in place for the government to intervene to promote fairness across the market. The progressive movement idea came very close to this fair balance, and I applaud them for their views of combining capitalism with enough regulations to ensure fair play in business.

Keene, Jennifer D., et al. Visions of America: a History of the United States. Pearson, 2017.