Progressivism in the American Reform Period Essay

October 14, 2020 by Essay Writer


Progressivism refers to a reform based movement that reached its peak during the twentieth century. This reform movement emphasized on the reformation of the middle class since numerous changes introduced by modernization required social transformation to solve emerging problems. Consequently, the society embraced concepts such as social environmentalism and social justice with an aim of understanding and regulating the effects of rapid changes in the society. Further, the American society faced different issues during the reform period; therefore, an evaluation of progressivism is important in explaining what the reform process meant.


According to Buenker and Crunden (1982) , a number of factors related progressivism in the United States. These factors included political, social, and economical factors. Additionally, each of the aforementioned factors related differently to the progressivism movement, therefore, an evaluation of these relationships is important in enhancing the understanding of progressivism.

Politics and progressivism

Wallace (2006) contends that progressivism encompassed political notions that guided political development during the era. These concepts of political progressivism were affixed to activities aimed at increasing popular political processes. Popular political processes aimed at transforming government institutions into professionally run organizations. The process of converting political organizations aimed at introducing political immunity, therefore, averting political interference during the development of policies and legislations in the American society. Consequently, progressivism advocated for the development of regulatory, trust busting and public ownership practices. These practices aimed at enhancing the efficiency of political systems thus improving the welfare of American people at the local and national level(Eisenstark, Friedenthal, and Weber 2010).

Further, progressivism interacted with political systems through legalizations that sought to streamline changes in the cultural norms. This aspect of progressivism and politics resulted to the development of retrogressive laws that aimed at regulating America’s progress with respect to the interests of the government. Among the laws that were passed to conform Americas progressivism included alcohol prohibition, Sunday blue laws, disfranchisement, segregation and Sunday blue laws (Null 2010).Moreover, retrogressive laws in the society ignited political movements that sought to equalize the rights of different individuals in the society. For instance, laws on segregation led to the emergence of political proponents who sought to abolish the discriminatory laws. Further, political movements revealed how different organizations played significant roles in the development of efficient systems in the United States. For instance, concepts on progressivism characterized many electoral processes; therefore, voting trends were directed by the progressiveness of either democrats or republicans.

Buenker and Crunden (1982) contend that political systems benefited from increased progress in industrial activities. Consequently, political activities sought to change attitudes related to the company system of production. In addition, politics supported interventionist measures to protect the environment. The environmental aspects of politics were encompassed in the goals of progressivism, which sought to improve the social welfare of the American society. Additionally, the failure of interventionism in environmental issues prompted local governments to employ advocacy and the power of the political system to pass laws against environmental degradation. Among these measures were application of scrubbers to reduce air pollution and advocacy for the use of clean energy in America.

Economics and progressivism

Piott (2011) contends that progressivism had numerous relationships with economic activities carried out in the United States. Consequently, an evaluation relationship between progressivism and economic activities in the United States is important.

According to Buenker and Crunden (1982) , the progressivism era was characterized by changes in attitudes towards the industrial and financial enterprise system. Therefore, changes introduced by progressivism aimed at improving conditions of the industrial life. However, concepts introduced by the progressivism were met with resistance since the middle class faced the harsh conditions in the new profit-oriented system. Additionally, the relationship between progressivism and economic systems was ironical since individuals who were angry about the industrial system enforced it, therefore, facilitating imposition of reforms on industrial laborers.

Further, proponents of ameliorative reforms in American systems were based on hope that economic systems would serve individuals from all races therefore, facilitating economic growth, and development. However, capitalistic trends seeking to maximize revenues in different organizations affected the reform process, therefore, introducing exploitative conditions in the new economic systems (Wallace 2006).Consequently, progressive reformers contended that laissez fair notions were harmful to the local communities ,therefore, active participation of the government was appropriate.

Social Change and Progressivism

Buenker and Crunden (1982) contend that positivism involved numerous changes in the social aspect of the American society. Consequently, an evaluation of social forces involved in the era of progressivism is crucial in answering the question “what was progressivism?”

First, progressivism referred to reform agendas that furthered religious doctrines in the nineteenth century. These reforms were guided by Christian urges to purge sins related to slavery and intemperance. Consequently, the Christian religion employed doctrines such as social religion to condemn oppressive aspects of capitalism. The religious doctrines prompted society to side with the poor and downtrodden in society, therefore, attaching relevance to Christian trends in the nineteenth century.

Secondly, progressivism employed moralistic appeals to communicate the wrongs in the world.This enabled each individual to take responsibility in the eradication of societal problems. These moralistic appeals led to the development of the universal condemnation of exploitative conditions introduced by capitalistic industrialization. Additionally, moralistic appeals enabled society to develop class-consciousness therefore initiating reform activities in various industries (Eisenstark, Friedenthal, and Weber 2010).

Thirdly, progressivism encompassed the application of social science concepts to increase the understanding of human behavior. Consequently, social sciences introduced vital concepts such as ethics to progressivism. This led to the development of progressive-moralism, which championed for the modernization of American institutions and improvement of labor environments in American industries. For instance, progressivism concepts championed for the disbandment of monopolies, which served as instruments of oppression in the American society (Piott 2011).

Fourthly, progressivism encompassed the introduction of suitable organizational operations therefore introducing efficiency in different organizations in the American system. Additionally, progressivism highlighted the importance of social costs, budgeting and human costs thus providing an accurate method of evaluating the impacts that capitalistic industrialization imposed on the American society. Consequently, the introduction of new approaches of quantifying social problems enabled reform movements to advocate for specific changes in the society. For instance, new concepts enabled the quantification of social costs that were associated with poor working conditions. Further, the quantification of social costs enabled proponents of reform to seek better wages for industrial workers ,therefore, improving their welfare.


Progressivism, which refers to institutional reform movements, was related to a number of factors in the American society. These factors include social, economic, and political factors. Additionally, each of these factors highlighted an aspect of progressivism therefore creating an understanding of the movement. Conclusively, an evaluation institutional reform movements in America suggests that progressivism was a social political and economic movement in the United States.


Buenker, J., & Crunden, R. 1982. W “P”? What Was Progressivism?: Scholars Interpretations Progressivism, 1, 31-35.

Eisenstark, Reyna, Lora Friedenthal, and Jennifer L. Weber. 2010. Progressivism. New York: Chelsea House. Web.

Null, J. Wesley. 2010. American Educational History. Information Age Pub Inc.

Piott, Steven L. 2011. Daily life in the progressive era. Santa Barbara, Calif. [u.a.]: Greenwood.

Wallace, James M. 2006. The promise of progressivism: Angelo Patri and urban education. New York, NY [u.a.]: Lang.

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