This chapter explains how Americans' responses to the problems of the early 1900s shaped attitudes, government, and society during the Progressive Era.
Section 1 discusses the beginnings of progressivism. The Progressive movement emerged in the early 1900s as a series of reform efforts designed to respond to the problems created by unregulated growth of cities and big business. Most progressives shared a strong faith that science and knowledge could improve society, and many believed that government should take an active role in solving society's problems. However, progressives differed widely in their views and actions. Some progressives focused on making government more efficient, while others worked to make government more responsive to voters. Together these activists impacted government on the local, state, and national levels. Many progressive women concluded that they needed the vote to promote social reform, and they rallied behind the suffrage movement. Progressives, who focused on social welfare issues such as alcohol abuse, child labor, and the health and safety of Americans, created charities and won reforms on specific issues. Some progressives advocated the creation of government agencies to regulate big business, while others thought socialism would solve society's problems.
Section 2 describes how progressivism entered national politics during Theodore Roosevelt's administration. Roosevelt's expanded use of presidential power changed the nature of the presidency and significantly increased the powers of the federal government. In promoting progressive reforms, he wanted to ensure that the interests of private concerns did not hurt public interest. To this end he challenged the monopolies of trusts, created a government bureau to monitor the activities of corporations, and pushed for laws that would protect consumers. During his administration the Interstate Commerce Commission gained the authority it needed to regulate the railroad industry. His threat of military intervention during a miner's strike expanded the government's role in preventing conflicts between the nation's different groups. Roosevelt's efforts to conserve the nation's resources and to prevent unregulated exploitation of public lands became a distinguishing mark of his presidency.
Section 3 reviews progressivism under the presidency of William Howard Taft. As Theodore Roosevelt's most trusted lieutenant, Taft seemed a logical candidate to continue Roosevelt's progressive policies. Taft was a skillful administrator and judge, but he disliked politics and lacked Roosevelt's dynamic personality. He angered progressives when he threw his support behind a senator who worked contrary to progressive goals. He further alienated progressives by signing a law that raised tariffs and by rejecting progressive concerns in an environmental controversy. Even though Taft had attacked trusts and increased federal regulation during his presidency, voter discontent led to a sweeping Democratic victory in the 1910 congressional elections. When Roosevelt could no longer contain his disapproval of Taft's policies, he announced that he would challenge Taft in the next election.
Section 4 discusses progressivism under President Woodrow Wilson. At the Republican national convention in 1912, conservatives gave Taft the Republican nomination, while progressives followed Roosevelt to his newly formed Progressive Party. The Democrats nominated Woodrow Wilson, whose New Freedom brand of progressivism rejected monopolies and promoted competition. With the Republican vote split, Wilson won the election. Wilson enhanced the power of the presidency by taking an active role in crafting and promoting legislation. His reforms expanded the role of government and affected tariffs, the banking system, trusts, and workers' rights. Wilson's presidency enacted laws that demonstrated Progressive era ideals. Progressivism led many Americans to begin expecting their governments to play an active role in regulating the economy and solving problems. Although progressives ignored some groups, their efforts expanded democracy and improved the quality of life for millions of Americans.