The Progressive Era
The years between the 1890s and the 1920s were a time of great social and economic change in the United States. People wanted to improve civil rights, create economic opportunity, give aid to workers and bring to light unfair and corrupt businesses and the people who ran them. They thought that big government was the answer for accomplishing many of their goals. This era was called the Progressive Era.
The late 1800s was known as the Industrial Age. Many new machines were invented. People worked in large factories making huge amounts of goods for sale. Owners of some of these companies were sometimes called 'robber barons.' They used their power to force other businesses out so they could make more money. Many of the workers were immigrants who were desperate to have a job. The factory owners subjected them to long hours and sometimes very dangerous working conditions in the factories. They were afraid of losing their jobs so they couldn't complain.
The Progressive Movement wanted to put regulations on private companies. They wanted to bring about better working conditions for all employees. They wanted to do away with corruption on all levels of society and make living better for people in the United States.
Those who were part of the Progressive Movement had two main assumptions. First, they believed that rules and punishments for not following the rules could change human nature. Secondly, the government could use its power to change society and make life better for the people. It was all about the important role of big government. On the other hand, Conservatives didn't believe that human nature could be changed. They also thought that government should play a smaller role in the lives of the people.
Progressives were also called 'Reformers'. Jane Addams founded Hull House in Chicago to help poor immigrants. Ida Tarbell investigated corruption in a big oil company called Standard Oil. She was an example of a 'muckraker', a reporter who exposed poor working conditions, poor living conditions and unfair business practices in the country. Two presidents were also part of the movement. They wanted to use big government to put into practice regulations for business and for protecting the American worker. They were Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.
Progressives were responsible for the passage of the Sixteenth through the Nineteenth Amendments to the Constitution. These dealt with creation of a federal income tax, giving women the right to vote, election of Senators by the people themselves, and prohibition of the sale of alcohol.
Despite many of the reforms, the Progressive Movement was responsible for much intolerance and racial discrimination. The Ku Klux Klan began again and continued its path to injure and even kill blacks in the South. The federal government also began to limit immigration into the United States, especially from certain countries.
Because the Progressives wanted only the best human characteristics retained, they began to introduce eugenics, 'the science of better breeding.' They felt that only white, very intelligent and healthy people should be allowed to live. In 1907, the United States passed a compulsory sterilization law to prevent unwanted characteristics in people from being carried on to the next generation. Due to Adolph Hitler's policies during World War II in wiping out certain races of people by killing them in large numbers, eugenics lost its popularity in the United States, but only after 60,000 people had been sterilized.
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