Progressives, Government Intervention, and Regulation Oh My!



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.

The Jungle exposed the horrific and unsanitary working conditions that were found in many companies.

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?

https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/us-history/rise-to-world-power/age-of-empire/v/the-progressives

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8 thoughts on “Progressives, Government Intervention, and Regulation Oh My!

  1. The point you made about the government having some control is very valid. I agree that if they weren’t there to protect the people there would be a lot more things that we don’t know about. Especially with the food and drug administration, if it was a free for all and they could do whatever they wanted there would be a lot more deaths. I’m already concerned about the number of cancer patients in the more recent years. My husband blames it on more population but I think there is more to that. Look at flint and there water issue, I can bet that many other areas have those same issues. I’m grateful to live in the Era that we do but it seems that the 20th century has as many problems as the gilded ages.

  2. You make a good point about the fact that we still have health issues even today. The creation of the FDA was a step in the right direction and the desire to oversee and protect the people is good in theory but unfortunately greed and corruption seems to always exist. The flint water crisis is a perfect example of this and it’s a reason that people don’t trust the government. The progressives were fighting for a better life and hopefully someday we can realize their dream.

  3. The Progressives definitely set out to accomplish many things. They were often faced with difficult challenges, but most of the time were able to overcome them. I think one of the most important improvements made by the Progressives, that you talk about, is the passing of The Pure Food and Drug Act. Before this, who really knew what was happening to their foods and meats while being packaged up and sent to the store. You make a very important point when you talk about Upton Sinclair, since he is the one who initially brought notice to the unsanitary ways of some of the packaging industries. Before his novel, The Jungle, opening up and exposing companies, not many people had ever thought there could be anything wrong with the goods they were purchasing. Thankfully people were able to take this battle head on and fight for a more sanitary and humane way of dealing with food.

  4. The Progressives most definitely made America a much better place in many different aspects. Not only through fighting for the rights of women and children, but also their fight for safe and fair labor practices as well as for better food laws. It is truly mind-blowing how many people and organizations opposed any of these laws. Today we see these laws as some of ones composing the very foundation of our society and any moral, advanced society would see this similarly. It makes me wonder if any such laws and disputes exist now and if the future citizens of America might view them in the same way? In any case,I digress, we should all rejoice in the fact that we were born in this modern America with these safety precautions already intact for us, thanks of course, to the Progressives.

  5. I agree with and like when you said, “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.” I had similar ideas when going over the blog post and thought poverty and sanitation played a big role in this time era. What a time it would be with such disease and disregard for your well being involved in your every day lives.

  6. Progressives were a main factor when it came to the changes that society went through, and these changes were beneficial. They had regulations that they wanted to put in place in order for workers to live a better life. The long work days that workers were experiencing was one issue that the Progressives wanted to regulate. They wanted to take the twelve hours a worker could spend working and make it closer to eight hours. This would help prevent workplace injuries because the workers aren’t working for such long periods at the same time. The food industry was another important aspect of life that the Progressives wanted to change. The food industry was lacking regulation which made the process dangerous for the workers and consumers. The food industry is safer today, but there are still occasional issues. One of these issues, as you mentioned, was the romaine lettuce incident. Overall, the Progressives made life safer for society with the regulations they had in mind.

  7. I would like to say I was very intrigued while reading your post! I liked all of your pictures which better understood what you were talking about. I also liked how you talked about all their accomplishments and still talked about how they didn’t accomplish all that they set out to. I think the best thing I read was how this affected our future and how they are the reason we are the way we are today.

  8. I would like to say I really enjoyed your article, and the visionary aids it provided. Although the graphs helped me understand better, I think the best part of your article was the use of statistics. Statistics provide factual evidence in numbers that can prove a point quickly and effectively. My favorite stat used in your article was was the percentages of people that wanted government interference, and those who wanted less. I liked this statistic because I personally enjoy listening to people complain about the government and what they are/aren’t doing, as if they government is destined to make no mistakes.

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