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The Progressive Era and the Great Depression

Updated June 26, 2021
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The Progressive Era and the Great Depression essay

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Between the 1800s and the 1900s, California has gone through many significant changes. These include the construction of the transcontinental railroad which increased the speed of urbanization, industrialization, and agricultural growth: the development of the filming industry which illustrated the excellent life of California, and the construction of a new government which allowed middle classes to receive more equality rights as a democracy.

With the news of improvement and opportunity throughout the nation, the population in the West began to rise with both Americans and immigrants arriving from all over as well as Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Eventually, California grew to become an essential part of the expanding United States. However, in response to this advancement, the country was soon met with economic and governmental problems that eventually led to the two most significant reform periods in American History, the Progressive Era and the Great Depression. The Progressive Era was an era full of social and political refinement with the goal of aiming to create an ethical business practice as well as better government policy.

Meanwhile, the Great Depression was a period when the economy hit the worst downturn which lasted for ten years. Despite the two eras having different events, the Progressive and the Great Depression are similar due to the economic problem corresponding with the administration’s control with corporate capitalism and the downfall of California’s welfare. The only difference between these two is the way they both handled these similar components.

The Progressive Era began from the 1890s to the 1920s. Although industrialization has improved numerous amount of standardized living for the middle class, there were unfair business applications that were aimed to eliminate competition and increase profit. As a result, workers were regularly exposed to harsh working and living environment while the politicians or the higher class became enriched, creating a wider gap between the middle-class Protestants and the upper class.

Appropriately, the Progressive movement surfaced as a response to the detrimental effects of industrialization. The goal of the reformers was to allow regulation on industries as well as strengthening protections for the middle class. Overall, the movement’s main focus was to improve society. So basically, the people had no trust in the financial and government agencies.

In chapter 8 of the Major Problems in California History, also known as the “California Progressives: The Ambiguities of Political and Moral Reform,” the book provided a document that was written by Franklin Hichborn, a legislative correspondent for the Sacramento Bee in 1911. He praises the reformer, Governor Hiram W. Johnson for focusing on the political problem Californians were mostly considering. Although Hichborn is known for being strongly biased in favor of the left wing, he illustrates strong emotions, and it gives many contexts to the democratic process.

“Governor-elect Johnson, earnest of purpose, resolute and with a definite policy-as a plain American gentleman- walked to the Capital unattended by military escort …took the oath of office. The Governor didn’t tell his hearers that California has a glorious climate. He took it for granted that Californians were proud of California. But he recognized that … California must be politically free and industrially free” (Hichnorn 197). As the writer praises the governor, he also addresses that the Californians including him wanted to govern themselves and eliminate the private interest from the government. So, therefore, it was decided at the end that the government should be moving towards direct legislation.

Similarly, from 1929 to 1939, the Great Depression occurred which caused spending and investment to drop, causing an abrupt decline in industrial production as well as the unemployment rate to increase. For the duration of the 1920s, the US economy developed rapidly with the nation’s wealth doubling correspondingly to the Progressive Era. However, as time progressed, production began to decline which left stock prices to be much higher than the actual price. In addition to this, wages were still low, and the agricultural area began to suffer from the falling food prices.

Also, consumers overloaded banks with massive loans that were impossible to settle. Eventually, after a mild recession, the stock market finally crashed with millions of investors with stocks were gone. In response to this significant fall, many American consumers lost confidence which in turn caused businesses to slow down and began firing their workers in order to save the industry.

Moreover, workers who were lucky to maintain their employees were working under low wages and people who lost their job became homeless and began living under terrible conditions which were both significant problems that occurred in the Progressive Era. So, overall, the people of California lost trust, but only temporary. In response, with the foundation of the Wagner Act in 1935, the government decided to introduce a significant number of federal agencies that regulated several sectors of the economy.

People also relied on World War II to increase the employment rate as men were sent off to war and the production of weapons were high in demand. In chapter 11 of The Major Problem in California History, also known as the “Impact of World War II on California’s Economy,” the book provides a document written by industrial leaders in 1946 which evaluated on the West’s postwar economic prospect. The report lists off possible jobs that would be needed and added in the future as well as what would be the most demanded when World War II ends. These include steel, utilities, pulp and paper, railroads, packing, and oil. Nonetheless, industries that include aviation and shipping are “wholly in the hands of government policy”(306). They state that according to the experts, the prospects for these industries give the impression of being exceedingly favorable.

Also, in chapter 11, there is an essay called”World War II Transforms California’s Economy,” written by Gerald D. Nash, a historian at the University of New Mexico. He argued that the changes that occurred in World War II were subjective and significant to California’s economic power. Nash states, “In four short years, it accomplished a reshaping of the region’s economic life that would have taken more than forty years in peacetime…[F]ederal expenditures in wartime provided the capital they had lacked for so many decades”(109). More specifically, the newly produced industries along with new technology and the rising population had improved the economic state drastically when private industries and the federal government were unable to do so before the war started. Therefore, with the help of the war, the government was able to end the Great Depression by 1939.

Despite the different recovery solutions in each era, the Progressive Era and the Great Depression had a similar problem associated with the economy and the welfare of Californian citizens. The problem included the administration’s issue over control with corporate capitalism and the downfall of California’s welfare. Middle classes of both eras suffered immensely with poor living conditions and unfair treatments. Even the private industries or big business corporations struggled with the government to get the trust of consumers and their workers. Although there remains mistrust between the Californians and the government today, without these difficult times, California would not have been a huge economic success of the expanding United States.

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