The Progressive Era - Liberal or Conservative

Topics: Liberalism, Progressive Era, Richard Hofstadter Pages: 5 (1796 words) Published: April 21, 2004
The Progressive Era - Liberal or Conservative

During the latter part of the nineteenth century, presumably around the 1890's, it became known as the Progressive Era, a time of change, reform, and adaptation. As Vernon L. Parrignton put it, it was a "democratic renaissance" (Vernon L. Parrington in The Progressive Movement: Liberal or Conservative). So what was Progressivism? Well, its main goals were to curb corporate power, to end business monopolies, and to wipe out political corruption. They also wanted to democratize electoral procedures, protect working people, and bridge the gap between social classes. They called for reforms such as the referendum, initiative, and the recall. They wanted the Americanization of the immigrant and the regulation of child and woman labor. But many historians argue what the main idea was behind the Progressive Movement; whether it was to help democratize the nation, or was just a cover up for a group of well-to-do-middle-class people who wanted to climb back up the social ladder and reassert its declining position of leadership. Although it had its many failures, and there were many reasons to believe it as a conservative movement, the Progressive Movement was in fact a liberal movement.

The term liberal is used to describe someone or something that is not strict, that has a loose interpretation of things, and is not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes or views. People who are liberal favor proposals for reform, are open to new ideas for progress and are tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others (Dictionary.com: Liberal). So with that being said, the question is was the Progressive Movement liberal. According to many historians such as Vernon L. Parrington and John D. Hicks believe it was. The Progressive Movement was "a movement of the masses against a 'plutocracy' that had been corrupting the very fabric of American society since the Civil War" (The Progressive Movement: Liberal or Conservative). In other words, ever since the Civil War, America had been becoming more and more corrupt, and the progressives wanted to restore the nation back to how it was before the Civil War. Hicks believed that although the Populists ultimately failed, they were victorious in the long run, for it was they that set the stage for future movements such as the Progressive Movement (John D. Hicks in The Progressive Movement: Liberal or Conservative). David P. Thelen would definitely be one historian to classify the Progressive movement as liberal. In his quote, "All groups could unite on the urgent necessity for tax reform and the need to control 'corporate arrogance'...'When the progressive characteristically spoke of reform as a fight of the people or the public interest against selfish interests, he was speaking quite literally of his political coalition because the important fact about progressivism...was the degree of cooperation between previously discrete social groups now united under the banner of the public interest'" one can see that Thelen easily supported the notion that it was a reform and therefore liberal movement. Two more prime examples of historians who believed that the Progressive Movement was a liberal one would be that of Richard L. McCormick, and Daniel T. Rodgers. As Rodgers said, "progressivism can only be understood in terms of dynamic and changing social and political structures" (The Progressive Movement: Liberal or Conservative). Therefore it meant they wanted to change society which means that it was a liberal movement. Richard McCormick said that "the regulatory authority of government at this time increased in precisely the same period that voter turnout declined, ticket-splitting increased, and organized pressure groups gained power at the expense of party. In discovering that business corrupted politics during this era Americans created a demand for the regulatory and administrative state, thus facilitating the activities...
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