The Rise of Modern America: Americans Ideas of Liberty Changing during the Progressive Era

How did American Ideas on Liberty Change during the Progressive Era?

The onset of the progressive era in the twentieth century drew the political outlook to an expanded reform platform presented by an assortment of organized groups and individuals. Amidst the increasing tussle between the proponents and proposals, the political sphere gradually reflected the interaction of ideas and concerns raised by various interest groups. The changing face of the nation reflected a society, experiencing a multitude of transformations including the corporations switching to regional markets, establishing higher standards in education curriculum, and reorganization of national associations. In the light of these trends, more associations were established to advance the unique interests of its membership. For instance, graduates from the transformed universities believed in their skills to improve the society, church organizations devoted to moral reforms, and ethnic societies that furthered their unique interests .  The progressive era featured the overlapping the concerns raised by the aforementioned groups was the humanitarian goal of improving the human situation, liberating the oppressed and attaining social progress.

The establishment of progressive era citizens manifested firm believers of utilizing their technical know-how to accomplish social, economic and political progress. Although individuals and different groups stuck to their unique objectives of change, their concerns drew the government to establish direct contact with the economy and issues affecting Americans. In particular, the progressive era captured various activities including business regulations, moral revival, conserving the natural resources, and improving the education . However, the replication of the settlement idea from England by the young college-educated Americans in New York facilitated reforms amongst the issues that received little attention . Primarily, the women-clubs established in New York by the graduates from the Smith College emphasized the ideal of self-determination as opposed to acceptance of roles directed by domesticity and separatism spheres . This accelerated the transition from woman’s suffrage to equality and individualism.

Alike the call for a redefined gender role during the Gilded Age, the formation of the National Consumer league strengthened the protection of working women through safety laws. The enactment of safety laws sheds light to the women of the need of engaging political action to generate social change. As more states approved women suffrage, the fight for women’s rights manifested in the election of Jeannette Rankin in the House of Representatives. In addition, through the National American Women suffrage Association, women activists mobilized fellow women to challenge the masculine sphere. Proponents of the equality ideal claimed women would bring morality to the politics. Although dominated by whites, there emerged vital leadership of Ida Wells, who persuaded white northerners to embrace black women’s clubs .

Despite the emergence of more progressives, most white-dominated groups rarely opposed the segregation policies. It left a few actively fighting against discrimination and disfranchisement practices. For example, the White progressives in the south openly led the enactment of discriminatory laws, leading to increased lynching and violent attacks against African Americans in Atlanta . Similar attacks in Springfield revealed the widespread race riots wracking some cities where more African Americans lost their lives and properties through lynching and vandalism respectively . Spirited by the leadership of W.E.B Bois, more groups disapproved the racial stereotypes and urged the African Americans to fight for their rights and pride in their achievements . Equally, Wells crusaded for the recognition of African Americans by opposing lynching and violent attacks in the North where she backed the membership of black women in clubs .

The frustrations experienced by African-American soldiers returning from the First World War initiated a spirited fight to defend their democratic rights. Unlike the support received from white progressives in the recognition of women’s rights, a membership drawn from disillusioned followers produced a declaration of rights for the Negro people . Through the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) they drafted principles that expressed their just rights that would liberate them from the injustices perpetrated by the white brethren. Citing the multiple cases where they were denied human rights owing to their race and skin pigment, they sought proper recognition as equal beings to the whites . While emphasizing on the inhuman treatment accorded to African-Americans through lynching, they vowed to defend their identity and human rights . Similarly, there emerged a creative community of artists and writers sharing the black culture and expressing the racial identity through essays and poems reflecting the experience of African-Americans . It translated to more Americans embracing racial justice, thus declining discriminatory attacks.

To the contrary of the dominant progressive era organizations relying on experts and class-oriented concerns, the Socialists challenged the industrial capitalism for creating economic slavery. Under the leadership of Eugene Debs, they opposed the progressive era proposals and encouraged workers to assume control over the production. Through their political participation, they attracted trade unionists, intellectuals and municipal reformers to challenge capitalism . Although the challenge lodged by the socialists accomplished few gains, the Industrial Workers of the world attained meaningful gains through dramatic strikes. Despite raising concerns for the workers ignored by the labor federation, they suffered suppression through the local authorities . Nevertheless, it did not quash the reform process as progressive era manifested itself at all levels including mayors and governors.

The reform process saw journalism play an essential role in exposing political corruption and scandalous offenses. As more journalists initiated investigations, the culture of muckraking spread to reveal the social and economic wrongdoings including child labor and fraud . The practice transpired to the protection of consumers through the enactment of the Meat Inspection Act . Further expansion saw the structuring of the city government to eliminate the corruption and inefficiency. For instance, reformers criticizing most city councils of shortsightedness backed composition drawn from individuals capable of addressing the challenges facing most cities entirely . The criticism provided fundamental changes such as the commission system vesting supervisory roles to the electoral board and the city manager plan hiring managers with executive authority .

Finally, the reforms sweeping across the American political, social and cultural expression became a reality at the federal level. Realism emerged through the pace set by the Roosevelt to allow progressive era reforms define the American state. In particular, challenging the judicial constraints and establishing federal authority over economic regulations contributed to the critical realism presented by most reformers. In conclusion, the participation of organized groups to spearhead progressive era reforms attained a fundamental impression translating to the modern American nation.

References

  • Berkin, Carol, Christopher Miller, Robert Cherny, and James Gormly. Making America : A History of the United States. 6. Boston : Wadsworth: Cengage Learning, 2012.
  • Chicago Daily Tribune, 28 July 1919.
  • Comstock, Amy . “Another View of the Tulsa Riots.” Survey 460 (1921).
  • Goodbird, Edward . Goodbird the Indian, His Story (1914; reprint, St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1985), 55–64.
  • Foner , Philip S. , and Ronald L. Lewis. The Black Worker. A Documentary History from Colonial Times to the present. 1917. Reprint, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1980.
  • Hamilton , Alice . “The Poisonous Occupations in Illinois: Physician Alice Hamilton Explores the Dangerous Trades at the Turn of the Century.” In Exploring the Dangerous Trades: The Autobiography of Alice Hamilton, M.D. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1943. 114-126.
  • Hill, Robert . The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Papers. 1920. Reprint, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.
  • Hurston , Zora Neale , and Alain Locked. “The Harlem Renaissance: Zora Neale Hurston’s First Story.” In Spunk: The New Negro . New York: A and C Boni, 1925. 105-111.
  • Riis, Jacob A. How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York. 1890. Reprint, New York: Dover Publications, 1971.
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