Last Updated 09 Jun 2018

The Idea of Progressivism

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The idea of Progressivism came with the belief that society was capable of improvement and that continued growth and advancement were the destiny of this great nation. The muckrakers were among the first people to promote this new and profound nationalistic spirit. Many were persuasive and crusading journalists who began to direct public attention and discretion toward the political, social, and economic injustices of the US during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

They strove to expose scandal and corruption to the American public. Ellen Fitzpatrick"s Muckraking: Three Landmark Articles, presents famous articles by Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell, and Ray Stannard Baker which appeared in the January, 1903 edition of McClure"s Magazine. The articles examine political corruption, the emergence and behavior of giant corporations, and labor racketeering in industrial America. The article by Lincoln Steffens mostly focused on the problems and examples of corruption, as well as the challenge of reform.

Steffens began to develop a somewhat paradoxical view of good and evil in city politics at a young age (Fitzpatrick, 20). This frame of mind led to his views in the article, The Shame of Minneapolis. The intertwined processes of urbanization, industrialization and immigration meant that American cites mushroomed in the late nineteenth century. "The city" became an increasingly complex organism, which required sanitation, water, building codes, zoning regulations, policing. But as the city administration expanded, so did opportunities to misuse government power.

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Throughout, the Progressive period calls for electoral reform and/or increased "efficiency" and "scientific management" in municipal affairs were paired with revelations of corruption in municipal politics and policing. Steffens agreed with these reforms all along as well as political thieve! Tarbell is using an historical example to illustrate the use of trusts and holding companies by entrepreneurs seeking monopoly control of various industrial sectors in the United States with her article, The Oil War of 1872.

As Tarbell hints in this article, despite the failure of the South Improvement Company, John D. Rockefeller eventually succeeded in dominating the petroleum industry through the Standard Oil Company. Rockefeller pioneered the "trust" form of organization when he founded the Standard Oil Trust in 1879. Standard Oil became, along with Andrew Carnegie"s U. S. Steel, the most notorious of the powerful "trusts," a term that came to be applied to all large industrial combinations whether or not they followed the formal "trust" model of investing.

Rockefeller eventually built the largest private fortune in the United States and became perhaps the prototypical Gilded Age "robber baron," reviled for his ruthless business practices. The federal government successful! ly prosecuted Standard Oil for monopolistic practices in 1906, and the trust was forced to disband. In a sense, this was the exact outcome Ida Tarbell was aiming for in writing this article. "She presented the "facts" of the oil scandal as she had come to understand them, believing that an objective account would best serve the evidence" (Fitzpatrick, 27).

Many wondered, however, if Tarbell was prejudice toward big business. Nevertheless, Tarbell most likely just believed in fair play, taught to her by her father who was one of the men who resisted the Southern Improvement Company. Ray Stannard Baker"s article, The Right to Work, relates to the 1902 anthracite coal strike in Pennsylvania that lasted over five months. The miners wanted the mine owners to recognize their new union, the United Mine Workers of America but the owners refused to bargain with the UMW. The miners were also looking for a 10-20% increase in wages and an eight-hour work.

As the winter of 1902-03 approached, President Roosevelt ordered the mine owners and UMW president to the White House to negotiate. When the mine owners still refused to compromise, Roosevelt told the owners that if they did not agree to arbitration, he would send 10,000 federal troops to seize their property and get the mines working. Previously, federal troops had only been called in to support the management side in labor disputes. The very surprised mine owners agreed to arbitration and the miners eventually went back to work with a10% increase and a nine-hour day.

Although he enjoyed a public reputation as a ! "trust buster" fighting powerful capitalists on behalf of less affluent Americans, Roosevelt was not in favor of getting rid of the trusts and large corporations. He believed that large-scale capitalism brought prosperity and efficiency to the American economy. The job of the federal government was to police or regulate big business to stop the worst misuses of power. The mine owners, in Roosevelt"s view, were abusing their power and they were threatening the well-being of Americans who needed coal to heat their homes.

Roosevelt"s handling of the coal strike was very popular with ordinary Americans, Baker in particular. Conclusively, these articles give the reader a broad understanding of the nature of "Progressivism. " Each of the issues presented in the three articles points out particular flaws of American society in the early 1900s. They are brought forward to the public in a manner such that people will realize these flaws and strive to change them, "progress" forward, and improve the nation.

As a result, the muckrakers including Steffens, Tarbell, and Baker, played a big part in Progressivism. In my opinion, the Progressives approached these attempted social reforms just right. They were not too radical or too conservative. This is evident in how much society changed in that period for the better, and the condition of our society today for that matter. If people such as the muckrakers had not attempted to reform the nation, who knows where it would be today. They must have done something right so I would conclude that they achieved their goals just right.

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