American Progressive Era: Benefits and Drawbacks


The Progressive Era in the U.S. is a period that lasted from 1890 to 1920 and was actually known for two distinct characteristics:

  1. It was a time where progressive social movements within the county sought to change various aspects of the country, specifically the government and the economy.
  2. It was a period of time that was also known as the era of prohibition due to the desire of the “Progressives” to change all aspects of their society. They focused on removing what they described as “society’s ills” which resulted in the banning of various materials and activities with the most prominent of which being alcohol.

Unfortunately, what the progressives neglected to take into consideration was the fact that a vast majority of the local populace actually wanted the various vices that they were banning which actually caused a large percentage of the population to turn to illegal behavior (i.e. buying alcohol illegally).

Start of the Progressive Movement

First and foremost, what must be understood is that the progressive movement as a whole began as a social movement that focused on eradicating societal “ills” such as poverty, class warfare and racism through supposed changes in social and political structures (Rice 110). This social movement began at the grass roots level and slowly gained sufficient prominence to reach the national stage (Leonard 207). While its initial goals can be considered as admirable since it considered providing broad educational opportunities, safer communities and better workplaces where a person could earn a living, the fact remains that it was somewhat naive in its consideration towards creating what the progressive’s deemed as a utopian society (Leonard 210). The greatest mistake of the progressive movement was that it attempted to tackle human vice; however, neglected to take into consideration human nature (Gross 509).

The Era of Prohibition

The Era of Prohibition can be considered as a point in time where religious groups gained sufficient influence over the progressive movement to the extent that they enacted their version of what can be considered as “societal improvement” in the form of outlawing the sale and manufacturing of alcohol based on its supposed harmful effects (Kiel 419). As a result, the ban on alcohol achieved success by 1917 resulting in a general ban on its sale and production. Predictably, despite the ban on alcohol, the local population of the U.S. still demanded it which, as a result, caused many of them to either illegally manufacture it themselves or resort to smuggling it into the U.S (Beshears 198). What the progressives failed to understand is that the more a substance is banned the more likely it is people will want to try it. In fact, the era of Prohibition actually caused more alcohol to be consumed as compared to when the ban was not in place within the country (Beshears 200).

Conclusion

Based on the facts presented in this paper, it can be said that the Progressive movement was both positive and negative. The legacy of the movement can be seen today in positive practices related to corporate monitoring, allowing women and minorities to vote and combating public fears against immigrants entering into the country. However, it cannot be entirely stated that the progressives were not without their own faults wherein their over-zealousness lead to a point in time where large segments of the American population violated the law due to the equivalent of far right wing conservatives gaining power they had no ability to wield without wisdom.

Works Cited

Beshears, Laura. “Honorable Style in Dishonorable Times American Gangsters of the 1920s and 1930s.” Journal of American Culture 33.3 (2010): 197-206. Print

Gross, Robert N. “Public Regulation And The Origins Of Modern School-Choice Policies In The Progressive Era.” Journal Of Policy History 26.4 (2014): 509-533. Print

Kiel, Doug. “Competing Visions Of Empowerment: Oneida Progressive-Era Politics And Writing Tribal Histories.” Ethnohistory 61.3 (2014): 419-444. Print

Leonard, Thomas C. “Eugenics and Economics in the Progressive Era.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 19.4 (2005): 207-224. Print

Rice, Danielle. “Things American: Art Museums And Civic Culture In The Progressive Era.” Winterthur Portfolio 48.1 (2014): 109-110. Print

Schachter, Hindy Lauer. “The Two Faces Of Progressive-Era Professions.” Administrative Theory & Praxis (M.E. Sharpe) 36.4 (2014): 489-509. Print