The progressive era occurred between the 1890s through the 1920s, and during that time saw a significant change in not only voting and vote reform, but also in social problems, education, and government corruption. The main goals of the progressive movement were eliminating problems caused by industrialization, urbanization, immigration, and corruption in government. One of the movements main targets of the era, were political machines, and those who ran them. A large supporter of targeting those political machines was President Theodore Roosevelt, who also helped fight against corruption, women’s suffrage, and limited civil rights. The progressives saw that big business was negatively effecting the American public, because political decisions were being made to benefit large corporations instead of the American citizens themselves.
In response to these problems, political reformers (Theodore Roosevelt, Jane Addams, Booker T. Washington) of the Progressive Era sought to provide voters the opportunity to freely vote for the candidates and proposed legislation that would best serve them. To do this they had three main reform idea, initiative, referendum, and recall, and also pushed for constitutional amendments (16th, 17th, 18th & 19th) that would bring significant social, political, and economic change. The main idea of the reformers, was to restore power to the voters/citizens. Also during the progressive era, some reform seekers felt that neither the Republican Party or the Democratic Party were addressing the proper need for social, political, and economic reform. This party problem led to the creation of third parties, which included the Populist and Progressive parties.
There was a major need for vote reform during the time before the progressive era began. There was a major imbalance of power, and women’s suffrage was at the forefront of the problem. There were slim to no females in high positions of government or businesses. This time in history was crucial for women rights. Discussion about their rights started out very volatile, but through many years they slowly began to make men understand their point of view. The women’s suffrage movement overall dealt with the struggle for women to gain the rights vote and run for office. There were many women who were prominent in gaining women rights, such as Jane Addams, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Ida Tarbell.
Jane Addams was the founder of the Hull House in Chicago in 1889, that allowed women to become educated, and defy the norm of just being house wives, and defer getting married in order to achieve personal satisfaction. There were also many women that worked at Hull House, and it grew in popularity so much, that many others like it began to pop up around the country.
Through the education that these women were able to receive through the house, many of them gradually moved into the political arena, and realized there were many more problems facing the nation than they originally thought. Some of the women in the house became social reformers and campaigned to end child labor, improve working conditions, and address the real issues of that were facing the cities. Jane Addams without realizing it, created the ultimate center for ideas during the progressive era.
Another infamous women during the progressive era, was Elizabeth Cady Stanton. In 1869, she founded the National Woman Suffrage Association, which not only worked to gain women the right to vote, but also worked for broad-based economic and political equality and for social reforms. Between 1880 and 1910, the number of women employed in the United States increased from 2.6 million to 7.8 million. Through the increase of women in the workforce, women began to be employed in business and industry more and more. Ida Tarbell was also one of the leading progressive era reformists. She was a teacher, author and journalist, but she was more famously one of the leading ‘muckrakers’ of the progressive era.
The muckrakers were characterized as reform-minded American journalists who attacked established institutions and corrupt leaders. Ida Tarbell had a different kind of impact on the country than Jane Addams and Elizabeth Cady Stanton did. She was able to use her writing and observation skills, to expose the harsh business practices of arguably the biggest corporation of all time, Standard Oil, ran by John D. Rockefeller. Addams, Stanton, and Tarbell, all had a different kind of impact on the progressive era, but ultimately got the attention of the men in government to pay attention to their causes and move the women’s rights movement ahead.
President Theodore Roosevelt, was a large supporter of the women’s rights movement, and also was keen on keeping corruption out of government. Teddy Roosevelt and the progressives saw that the corporations were corrupting politic. They wanted to break up the urban political machines that were based on lower-class immigrant votes. They argued for the adoption of the secret ballot, which was a voting method in which a voter’s choices in an election or a referendum is anonymous, and allows the voter to not be intimidated or blackmailed for their vote. They also wanted the printing of the ballots taken out of the hands of the political parties and voter registration to made more difficult.
They ultimately wanted to make city government more honest and efficient as well as to enhance the possibility that they or their children could get city leadership jobs. At the state level, the progressives wanted to democratize state politics. They supported the direct primary to take the nomination of candidates out of the hands of political bosses. Voting was to be done by the secret ballot, and the initiative and referendum would allow the people to legislate without a state legislature or to force legislatures to have some laws approved by the electorate. Roosevelt also advocated for drug prohibition (alcohol & cocaine) because political machines used them to bribe voters.
At the state level before Roosevelt became president, the resist to political machines was already at play. Robert M. La Follette was a loyal Republican in Wisconsin, and he came to odds with Wisconsin’s Republican political machine that had interests in lumber and the railroad. After refusing a bribe by the party boss, he was elected governor in 1900. He backed the reform program known as the Wisconsin Idea. The Wisconsin idea called for a “direct primary, urged the state legislature to increase taxes on the railroad and public utilities, and to create laws commissions to regulate these companies in the public interest”. La Follette not only inspired those citizens within his state, but also encouraged other state leaders to follow his lead.
Once Roosevelt became president in 1900 after Mckinley died 8 days into his second term, he carried his progressive ideals to the White House. Roosevelt ran for reelection in 1904, with a campaign consisting of three parts, known as the square deal. It called for limiting the power of trusts, promoting public health and safety, and improving working conditions. Once he won the presidency, he used his position to wage war against the bad trusts. The bad trusts would force companies to give them discounts or rebates, sell inferior products, and corrupted public officials.
After Roosevelt’s crusade against the trusts, in 1908, he put all of his support towards William Howard Taft. But quickly lost all of Roosevelt’s and progressives support after he chose to pass a bill on tariffs which were taxes charged on imports and exports. This bill on tariffs eventually led to the passing of the 16th amendment which permitted Congress to raise taxes based on a persons income.