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Prosperity or Poverty: The Governments Role in Progressive Era

Updated June 26, 2021
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Prosperity or Poverty: The Governments Role in Progressive Era essay

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The Progressive era and the New Deal era both reflect time periods where major reforms were enacted politically, economically and socially. Although both of these periods in history can be seen through the prism of reform, the genesis of each and the focus of how the reforms impacted those living in poverty is quite different.

The Progressive Era, which took place in the late 1800s to early 1900s were a series of reforms that were enacted to counterbalance a period of unprecedented growth during the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution produced rapid economic growth, which led to social and political imbalances that many in the progressive movement sought to correct. The era was characterized by demands of individuals, namely progressives, that wished government to establish policies, according to Woodrow Wilson, that “recogn[ized]… the fact that a nation is a living thing and not a machine’ (Schambra and West) and provide flexible to address the ongoing needs of its citizens.

In contrast, the New Deal Era of reforms were motivated by one of the largest economic contractions, the Great Depression. The programs and policies of the New Deal, the Second New Deal and the Third were developed as a direct reaction to the Great Depression and the goals were commonly known as the three R’s: relief, recovery, and reform (“New Deal”). Unlike the Progressive Era, the government, specifically Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration, rather than a movement by individuals drove these reforms.

The Progressive Era reformers were well-educated individuals who concluded that the problems in society namely poverty, unemployment, violence, abuse of children and others could be rectified by government policies that put a support structure in place for individuals to thrive (“The Roosevelt Papers Project”). Much of what the progressive movement did was to break down barriers to government institutions by fighting corporate and political corruption, providing direct elections of Senators (The Seventeenth Amendment), and empowering women through the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment, which prohibits discriminatory practices on voting rights based on the sex of the individual. Many of the policies were enabled by the voices of the middle class demanding reform for women, children and the poor. Women took a strong lead as they established social reforms like women’s suffrage, “child-saving” to mitigate the effects of child delinquency, and public health issue especially for children (“Progressive Era”).

Programs and policies associated with the New Deal were targeted programs that were aligned with the “three R’s” (“New Deal”). In the first 100 days of President Roosevelt’s term, there were a total of fifteen new agencies and laws developed to provide specific “safety nets and subsidies” (Amadeo). One of the original programs was the establishment of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

This was a work relief program to provide unskilled manual labor jobs to unemployed young men during the Great Depression. Through its operation, it serviced over 3 million men and provided them with food, clothing and shelter and a wage that they were able to send to their families. (Amadeo). Another direct program that was established was the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. This was implemented to immediately help the unemployed who lost their homes, savings and jobs.

Harry Hopkins established this agency to eventually put over fifteen million people to work in jobs that spanned the public and private sector. He believed this agency fulfilled a social contract between the government and the public. He set forth the doctrine that “public relief was a right that citizens in need could expect to receive from their government” (The Federal Emergency Relief Administration).

The aim of these programs and agencies, like the Homeowners Refinancing Act, National Industrial Recovery Act, National Housing Act, Emergency Relief, National Labor Relations Act /Wagner Act, Appropriation, the Public Works Administration, Resettlement Act and the Social Security Act were all explicated targeted to relief for the impoverished, recovery for the victimized and reform for the protection of citizens and workers.

The Progressive Era and the New Deal Reforms both had a focus on government providing a support system for the people. In both these movements the government plays a vital role in employment, working conditions and rights of individuals to expect their government to work for them. However, the motivation of these two movements was drastically different and thus the Progressive era was driven by the people approaching the government and urging reform whereas the New Deal era was precipitated at the government level in service to the people.

Additionally, it should be noted that during the Progressive movement there was a focus on poverty that illuminated the exploitation of women and children as illustrated by the Keating-Owen Act of 1916. The New Deal era focused was primarily to elevate families out of poverty, which at the time, was viewed as providing jobs for men. This was one of the central differences of the two movements as the government believed that providing work for men was the catalyst that would raise the family unit out of affliction.

The Progressive era and the New Deal era held tight to the notion that government could and should provide the fertile ground for individuals to rise above their circumstances. The progressives sought to dismantle powerful and corrupt forces that accumulated during a period of tremendous economic growth during the Industrial Revolution. The people created this movement and there was a belief that through government intervention, the ills of society could be solved. The New Deal, by contrast, was an urgent reaction by the government to save the population from dire circumstances that were thrust upon them when the economy crashed. Historically as our country experiences prosperity or poverty, the government had a role in serving the needs of the poor and afflicted.

Works Cited

  1. “New Deal” en.citizendium.org/wiki/New_Deal . Accessed 2 Feb. 2019.
  2. Schambra, William A. and West, Thomas. The Progressive Movement and the Transformation of American Politics. The Heritage Foundation, 2007. www.heritage.org/political-process/report/the-progressive-movement-and-the- transformation-american-politics . Accessed 2 Feb. 2019.
  3. “The Roosevelt Papers Project”. www2.gwu.edu/~erpapers/teachinger/glossary/progressive-era.cfm . Accessed 2 Feb. 2019.
  4. “Progressive Era”. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive_Era#Government_reform. Accessed 2 Feb. 2019.
  5. Amadeo, K. “New Deal Summary, Programs, Policies and Its Success”. The Balance. www.thebalance.com/fdr-and-the-new-deal-programs-timeline-did-it-work- 3305598 . 16 Jan. 2019. Accessed 2 Feb. 2019.
  6. Hopkins, June. ‘The road not taken: Harry Hopkins and New Deal Work Relief.’ Presidential Studies Quarterly 29, 2(306-316). June 1999.
  7. “The Federal Emergency Relief Administration”. content.lib.washington.edu/feraweb/essay.html . Accessed 2 Feb. 2019.
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