Many people find themselves asking the question “what was the main goal that Progressives were trying to accomplish through different forms of regulation?” The question of what the Progressives were actually trying to accomplish has long been a disputed topic among historians. In order to understand more about the question at hand, it is important to understand what Progressivism is. Progressivism is “used to describe a shared philosophical approach rather than a formally organized movement, provided an answer to this threat.” (Keene, 537) Progressives did not just focus on and try to regulate one piece of the puzzle instead they turned their attention to regulating the “big picture”. Progressives firmly believed that if they were able to fix the issues at hand the world would be a better and safer place.
Progressives advocated for sanitation and consumer protections. One of the major key figures in this attempt was Upton Sinclair the author of the Jungle. The Jungle is about a Lithuanian immigrant family who came to America hoping to change their lives for the better but soon discovered crushing poverty and horrific working conditions. Sinclair’s novel exposes the horrific working and unsanitary conditions found in factories that made food products. After the book was published it generated so much outrage that it led to the passage of laws like the Pure Food and Drug Act of and The Meat Inspection Act. Progressives hoped that in the future there would be more laws created to help out with sanitation and consumer protections.
Progressives also fought for the protection of workers and safer working conditions. Progressives demanded that employers implement an 8 hour work day, wage increase and other benefits for the well being of the workers. Although not every employer listened to these tactics there is one man who attempted to make the lives of his workers easier in a sense. This man’s name is Henry Ford the owner of a substantially large automobile company. “In 1914 Ford created headlines by offering male factory workers a five-dollar daily wage for nine hours of work…” ( Keene,545) As time wore on other employers would be forced to follow Ford’s example.
Progressives began to advocate for the advancement of the rights for women and children. Many progressivists believed that a woman could not protect her children without help from the government. They also believed that if women were not given the right to vote they would not be able to protect their children. The issue of child labor was also very prevalent, “nearly 1.75 million children ages 10 through 15 worked in factories full time, a figure that did not include children employed in home sweatshops or on family farms.” ( Keene 552) In 1904 the National Child Labor Committee formed and began lobbying for state and federal laws prohibiting child labor. Their cry for help and change was answered when in 1924 Congress approved an amendment giving the federal government the power to regulate child labor.
The public’s views of whether or not the government should set hours laws, regulate safety, prohibit child labor, set a minimum wage, and institute other work laws have changed dramatically from what they were at the start of the twentieth century. Nowadays more people are hoping to break free from the government’s grasp. Now with the news being filled with governmental scandals many people have become weary of the government and its intentions. However, even though the government may not always be trustworthy at times it is important to not to put the public’s lives at risk. The government should still strive to set hours, prohibit child labor, and in turn make the workplace safer. For example without the Federal Food and Drug Administration, there is no way to stop facilities from accidentally poisoning the American public one bite at a time. Imagine if the E. Coli outbreak on romaine lettuce was never noticed and the public was never aware of the issue until it was too late, the results could have been a lot different. Without government regulation, one small slip up could spell disaster.
“Progressives did not meet all their goals, but their failures created an agenda for future reform movements.” ( Keene, 563)
Want to know more?
- Keene, Jennifer D., et al. Visions of America: a History of the United States. Pearson, 2015.
- “Record Number of Americans Say Government ‘Should Do More’ in New Poll.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/poll-record-number-americans-say-government-should-do-more-n749766.