During the turn of the 19th century, various reforms were occurring throughout the blossoming United States. Behind the green curtain of change was a group of trailblazers labeled “the Progressives.” Without the laws and regulations put in place by the progressive movement, the world in which we live today would be very different. Perhaps the best known progressive leader would be Theodore Roosevelt (the 26th president of the United States). Roosevelt was widely known as the “trust-buster” for regulating the practices of corporations, as well as his involvement in the National Parks System.
Thomas Nast’s depiction of infamous William “Boss” Tweed
A common practice of progressives was “muckraking,” or a more investigative style of journalism. Many aspects of American life were uncovered and exploited. For example, Ida Tarbell when she exposed the corruption associated with Standard Oil Co., Upton Sinclair with the publication of The Jungle, and Jacob Riis when he wrote How the Other Half Lives. Although these rabble-rousers are generally labeled as “progressives,” they are all fighting for a specific cause within the main issue; The United States needs reform and regulation. The vast majority of Americans felt this way, yet progressives were often middle or upper class citizens. This is largely due to the fact that they had more time and resources to go up against big business than the average factory worker would.
Ida Tarbell (1857-1944)
“Like many Progressives Roosevelt believed that the country stood at a crossroads – either reform or face the end of democracy.”(Visions of America 539).
The idea of monopolies such as Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Co. go against the principles in which this country was founded, which is exactly why progressives sought out to not only exterminate trusts, but to also enact more labor laws to protect the workers rather than the corporation. Big businesses relied on laissez-faire (little government intervention with business), and the government relied heavily on corporations to increase GDP and strengthen the United States’ economy. The only way our nation was going to flourish was through change. Change was inevitable without sacrificing the freedoms that we have as Americans. Without the enactment of child labor laws, hours laws, and minimum wages, we would be kowtowing to a corporate monarchy. That being said, the Progressive Era brought about endless social and economic justices for the average urban family, therefore allowing the American dream to finally begin.
Keene, Jennifer D, et al. Visions of America A History of the United States Books Edition. Pearson, 2016.
The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Jacob Riis.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 5 Jan. 2018, http://www.britannica.com/biography/Jacob-Riis.
The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Muckraker.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 20 June 2017, http://www.britannica.com/topic/muckraker.