At the turn of the century, a spirit of reform known as progressivism took hold of many American people. Less a united movement than a loose gathering of casual and improbable alliances, progressivism targeted the massive problems of an urban, industrialized nation. In spite of resistance, progressives were able to redefine government"s role in American life, make a serious run for the White House, and ratify such lasting reforms. In the nightfall of the 1800"s, many citizens could see that existing efforts to solve the substantial problems of industrialization were failing.
The 1880"s and 1890"s were filled with lively debates about how to reform society. The ideas of journalists Henry George and Edward Bellamy were among the most popular. In 1879 Henry George had written a book Progress and Poverty in an effort to explain why an advanced civilization seemed to increase rather than eliminate poverty. George proposed to solve this problem by ending taxes on improvements on land, such as housing and cultivation. George proposed just a single tax - on the value of land itself.
Such a tax would make a speculation in land less attractive by increasing the cost of holding land without using it. In 1888 newspaper editor Edward Bellamy published a novel called Looking Backward. Incorporated into the novel was the story of a man being hypnotized and waking up in the year 2000. All of the harsh working conditions, social class set backs, and political corruption that existed in 1887 no longer existed. The reason for such a change was that government had nationalized the great trusts and organized industrial management.
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Socialists, unionists, and city government reformers also had many followers. Progressives realized that the nation"s free enterprise system often could be unfair, but they did not want to lose the high standard of living and personal liberty it had given them, and they deeply feared the violence of revolution. Thus, progressives were faced with the question of how to preserve what was good about the United States while reforming the bad. In order to protect vulnerable citizens, progressives accepted an increased level of government control over areas once considered private, such as housing and healthcare.
Florence Kelley became a leader in the search for answers. She soon became a resident in Jane Addams" Hull House in Chicago. Largely through her efforts, in 1893 Illinois passed a law prohibiting child labor, limiting working hours for women, and regulating sweatshop conditions. In 1954 Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter said that Florence Kelley "had probably the largest share in shaping the social history of the United States during the first thirty years of this century. "
Driven by the mounting tide of public demand, an inundation of progressive reform programs flowed through local, state, and federal legislatures. Targets for the proposed reforms included politics, society, and the economy. Some reform mayors led movements for city - supported welfare services. Hazen Pingree provided public baths, parks, and, to combat the 1893 depression, a work relief program. "Golden Rule" Jones opened playgrounds and free kindergartens and built lodging houses for the homeless. "Nobody has the right to rule anybody else," he once said.
He thought all people would be good if social conditions were good. Progressive governors and state legislators also were active. Governors Robert LaFollette in Wisconsin and Hiram Johnson in California introduced reforms to make government more efficient and responsive to voters. Progressivism appeared at the federal level in labor and industrial relations, in the regulation of business and commerce. By the time Theodore Roosevelt completed his second term in 1909, the government had filed forty - two antitrust actions.
The beef trust, Standard Oil, and the American Tobacco Company were either broken up or forced to reorganize. Roosevelt was not antibusiness. He did not wish to destroy trusts he deemed "good," or not harmful to the public, he just felt they should be supervised and controlled. The progressive era also gave way to they sixteenth and seventeenth amendments. The sixteenth amendment allowed government to raise more revenue from wealthy people"s income and less from tariffs that hurt the working poor.
The seventeenth amendment took the election of senators out of the hands of legislature; voters were thus allowed to play a more direct role in government. By the mid - 1910"s, progressives could take pride in the many changes they had helped bring about, such as redefining the role of government in business and politics. Some reformers included Henry George, Edward Bellamy, Florence Kelley, and the nation separated as local, state, and federal. The beginning of the war in Europe brought about the end of the progressive era in 1914, by the end of 1916 the reform period of the United States had sputtered out.
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