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Joseph Kaminski

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October 20, 2019

A Push for Progressivism; Then and Now

In our modern day, we face a possible revival of progressivism. Bernie Sanders, Tim Canova, and the overall urge for a “political revolution” and change against the establishment era of politics has led us to possibly reliving through historical and political change. So, what exactly was the original Progressive Era?

The Progressive Era was a period of widespread social activism and political reform across the United States, from the 1890s to 1920s. The main objective of this social movement was to eliminate the corruption seen throughout the American government. Targeting political machines and their corporate bosses, the Progressives believed that by taking down corrupt representatives America could finally establish a direct democracy. Another main goal of the Progressive movement was to regulate monopolies and bust up the trusts that existed between major corporations.


Many Progressives supported Prohibition, women’s suffrage, and the overall concept of the Efficiency Movement, that would modernize medicine and engineering across the nation. These Progressives transformed and professionalized the scientific statuses throughout the expanding American society. While this political attempt at reformation fell short at some applications, the overall effect of their abilities managed to bust the untouchable seals belonging to the corporate giants and political powerhouses that controlled the government in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

progressive-era-posterA coalition of middle-class reform-oriented voters whom felt devastated after the Gilded Age, academic experts and reformers hostile to the political machines started forming in the 1890s and introduced a series of reforms in urban America, designed to reduce waste and inefficiency and corruption, by introducing scientific methods, compulsory education and administrative innovations.

Progressive mayors took the lead in many key urban cities – such as Cleveland, Toledo, and Los Angeles. Progressive representatives and senators quickly made their way into Congress, allowing for a more represented government to shape before the one-percent’s eyes. Progressives sought to enable the citizenry to rule more directly and circumvent political bosses, and through this race for government reformation they were able to leave a dent on how Americans worked.

Progressive initiatives dominated the legislative history of the early twentieth century, which in turn had a major effect on the party bosses that were used to complete and corrupt control. Disturbed by the waste, inefficiency, stubbornness, corruption and injustices of the corrupted Gilded Age, the Progressives were committed to changing and reforming every aspect of the state, society and economy. Significant changes enacted at the national levels included the imposition of an income tax with the Sixteenth Amendment. At the federal level, Progressives substantially lowered import duties with the Underwood-Simmons Tariff of 1913.

Progressives were also responsible for the creation of the income tax, which further cost profits to major corporations. Through the first one hundred or so years of American history, tariffs had provided the bulk of government revenues, and there was no such thing as a federal income tax. Pressed by the Progressives to reduce tariffs, Congress had to make up for the lost revenue somehow; it settled on the modern income tax as a means of funding the government budget. Although Americans have been complaining about their taxes ever since, it became a major blow to corporations and political statuses that at one point seemed above the federal government. Of course, however, Progressives eventually lost control of this original political reformation – perhaps it was reversed over time.

Overall, the Progressive movement was a massive step for direct democratization. Although some can claim that the Progressive movement’s greatest achievements – such as Prohibition and the overall creation of the original Populist Party – face-planted over the next few years, the thought of progression stayed within the government despite change. Education was modernized under the Progressives, and three presidents (Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft, and Woodrow Wilson) claimed to be Progressives during their terms, even if their own personal policies didn’t necessarily interact with the movement itself.

The Progressives worked hard to reform and modernize the schools at the local level. The era was notable for a dramatic expansion in the number of schools and students served, especially in the fast-growing metropolitan cities. This impact later effected American society through politics, as well. A rapid growth of educated middle class civilians created grass root movements across the states that last even today. From labor unions to immigration policies, the Progressive movement affected political bosses one hundred years ago, and could easily affect political bosses today.

The politics of the 1920s were unfortunately rather unfriendly toward labor unions and liberal crusaders against business, leading to the slow decline of Progressives in our government. The unpopularity of prohibition – a progressive-fueled amendment – possibly led to the destruction of the party’s platform on later subjects. Overall, many of their politics were pseudo-reformations, but still last until this day. The rise of the KKK led to a swing towards the conservative side in American politics. Progressivism never actually died, however; it merely declined.

Since the decline of progressivism, however, we’ve seen society swing to a radical era or unforgivable social injustice. We’ve fallen to a new Gilded Age, one of improper wealth and monopoly/corporate compromises with the federal government. We live in a transforming society…the New will break through the Old very soon.

Today we see a rebirth of the urge for progressive nature with a major step in the election of this year. Self-proclaimed socialist but incredibly Independent Bernie Sanders is running for the Presidency, and establishment candidates on both sides are finding it difficult to sustain polling numbers. Perhaps he, Bernie Sanders, could go down in history as, if not a major political force like Jane Addams back in the 1920s, the next Progressive President of the United States of America.

Read More: What Michigan Means For Bernie Sanders, The Hypocrisy of the GOP

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