Populist and Progressive Reform in American History
Progressives pushed to improve urban labor conditions, dismantle trusts and monopolies, conserve of environment, and to install an active government. Populism and Progressivism had many similarities and differences, which made them two of the most influential political movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Each movement used reform to achieve the change they desired, but with different supporters, actions, and results. This era influenced social, political and economic trends of the modern age.
The populist and Progressive Era happened in the years following the Civil War, after the U. S. Began to rapidly industrialized, in turn creating wealth, growth of big genuineness, technological advances, population shifts from rural to urban centers, and large scale immigration of different ethnic groups. Within this business-oriented society money began to replace morality in national politics. The urban transformation meant new material surroundings, causing a metamorphosis of personal values, political ideas, and group identities.
Massive production and the new factory system altered the character of the originally agriculturally oriented society into a consumer culture. Populism was one of the first fundamental political movements rated in response to the growing changes of industrial America. Throughout the 1 sass rural discontent grew among Middle Westerners and Southerners, due to crop failures, falling agricultural prices, and poor marketing and credit facilities. The agrarian sector of the economy felt that the financial interests of eastern industrialists and bankers were to blame for the depressed economy.
The message of the Greenback Party, which was formed to lead the efforts for currency expansion, was dulled due to a brief return of prosperity. However, hard times quickly returned, leading to the emergence of the farmers’ alliances. The alliances’ attempts to take united political action were unsuccessful due to varied political allegiances. In 1890, when congress passed the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, a totally inadequate gesture toward currency expansion, differences were put aside in order to form the new political party.
During the presidential election Of 1892, neither Republicans nor Democrats addressed rural distress to the satisfaction of the farmers’ alliances, resulting in their nomination of Populist candidates, James B. Weaver and James G. Field. The Populist Party supported an array of regressive ideas and ran an unexpectedly successful campaign, but their more serious run came 4 years later. In 1 896, the Populists candidate William Jennings Bryan ran a campaign dominated by the silver issue, but ultimately failed to sway the electorate outside of the farm belt.
The party’s superseding goal was to right the wrongs of industry and economy, in order for farmers to obtain economic equality with business and industry. Their platform, commonly known as the Omaha platform, demanded an increase in the circulating currency, the abolition of national banks, graduated income tax, overspent ownership of the railroads, the direct election of senators, and other measures to strengthen political democracy. While the populist movement concentrated on industrial and economic issues, the progressive movement focused more attention on America’s social issues and creating morally correct ideas.
The Progressive Movement was an effort to cure many of the ills of American society that had developed during the great surge of industrial growth in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The frontier had been controlled, and large cities and businesses developed but not all tizzies shared in the new wealth, prestige, and optimism. Specific goals of the Progressive movement included prohibition, immigration restriction legislation, women’s suffrage, and ending child labor, as well as prostitution and sweatshops.
Progressivism was also instilled with strong political objectives, such as, eliminating undue influence from the government through the taming of bosses and political machines, including more people more directly in the political process, and making the government play a role in solving social problems and economic inequality. There were numerous, moieties conflicting objectives regarding a wide spectrum of issues, but the principal aim of Progressives was to make the government take action in protecting the weakest members Of society.
Both movements attempted reform and progression, but in different aspects of American life, and as a result, achieved victory in different ways. The populist movement experienced many obstacles and setbacks during the creation and progression of the People’s Party, and ultimately did not see the same success as the progressive movement. The populist movement did achieve victory in the creation of the segregated national Farmers’ Alliance, and the Colored Farmers’ Alliance.
Although they came to win some significant regional triumphs, the alliances achieved little influence on a national scale. They advanced a number of inspired ideas, but focused too much on the allure of free silver, an Issue that resonated poorly with urban workers whose votes were badly needed. Discontented farmers, despite their passion, lacked the numbers to make a national impact. They accomplished many of their goals, though most were not recognized as populist achievements.
Ultimately, class played a primary ole in the apparent failure of the populists in comparison to the success of the progressives. Despite the brevity of its existence, the Populist movement exercised a profound influence on subsequent U. S. Political life. Almost all the Populist demands, which at one time were widely viewed as radical and contradictory to America’s free enterprise system, were eventually enacted into law. The Progressive Movement was an outgrowth of previous reform eras, including the ideas first presented by the Populists.
While many Progressives were originally anti-populists, they eventually came to believe hat the large corporations and other monopolies that they were trying to reform were similar to the farmer’s revolts against the railroads and commercial practices and regulations of the government. As a continuation of populist ideology, the progressive movement accomplished a great feat with the passing of the Interstate Commerce Act and the Sherman Antitrust Act. The Interstate Commerce Act of 1 887 created the Interstate Commerce Commission, the first true federal regulatory agency, to control the issues of railroad abuse and discrimination.
Railroad companies were required to have ND publish reasonable and just shipping rates. Price discrimination against small markets was made illegal and secret rebates were outlawed. The Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 ensured competition and free enterprise by preventing large firms from controlling any single industry. The Progressive movement was also responsible for the addition of many new amendments to the Constitution regarding the direct election of senators and the protection of society through prohibition and women’s rights.
The aims of the populist and progressive movements were also very different. The Progressive movement differs mostly from the Populist movement in focusing on reforming the political process as a whole, rather than focusing on the economic system. The main intention of the Populists, being a grass roots movement, was to unite together to improve the conditions of farmers and the people in the lower income brackets as compared to the wealthy interests. Populists had a less influential impact due to their lack Of representation by upper level elites.
Progressives were aimed at instituting some of the reforms of the Populists and had the means to do so more effectively. The Progressive approach to reform was through legislation and the courts. Investigative journalists, known as muckrakers, were also an important force in the progressive movement, as a result of the increasing sales and growing influence of newspapers and magazines. Because of the freedom of the press provided by the First Amendment of the Constitution, muckrakers inspired social justice movements by constantly reporting and publicizing the dark corners of American society.
While Populism was a group action from the masses, Progressivism was more represented by elites in the Universities, the courts, and the halls of legislation. Instead of living by the superior expertise of these authority figures, populist wanted to take an active role in political, social, and economic regulations that would directly affect their lives. Although populism and progressivism both relied heavily on reform, the movements had different views on the public and private relationship between citizens and the government.
Populism advocated public participation in governing politics and did not support government involvement in certain aspects of their private lives. Dedicated to defending he interests of ordinary citizens, Populists saw large and powerful organizations as untrustworthy and any concentration of power or privilege would lead to moral and political corruption. Furthermore, populists were skeptical of the expertise of the academic, social, or political elites who ran these institutions.
Populism was based on the idea that ordinary citizens can actively participate, when they choose to participate, in the political governing process. People wanted to participate in government without being manipulated by a mold for effective governance, which they had no part in. Progressivism stood for enlightened public policy in the public interest based on structured public participation. Progressives believed that educated and civilized individuals were more capable of determining what was best for society, than an ordinary citizen.
They felt that a rational deliberation concerning public policy required sufficient education on the topic after any emotional elements had been eliminated. Like populists, progressives believed that governments should be pure of corrupting influences, in order to deliberate on public interest. However, populists saw corrupting influences s ignorance or biased self-interest. Progressives were less concerned with centralization and concentration of power, recognizing that certain issues required centralized authority.
Whereas both groups believe in establishing a non-corrupt government, populists saw elites as less trustworthy and were unwilling to have their suggestions tweaked because a more educated elite sees them as inadequate or insufficient. Many reforms occurred in the period between 1870 and 1930, but they were geared towards different ideals. The populist movement concerned itself with bettering the working notations for farmers and industrial workers, where as, the progressive party concentrated on social issues by establishing prohibition and other morally correct ideas.
Populism was supplanted by progressivism at the turn of the century, which eventually led to the contemporary political position known as liberalism. Without the efforts and failure of the populist movement, progressivism would not have been the same. These two movements regardless of their differences helped develop America after the Civil War and inspired political and social change that is still in practice today.