Progressivism and Reform

GabeAmerican History(ML), Mini Lessons

Read from Common Sense American History eBook

The emergence of large, powerful corporations, squalid urban conditions, working conditions and political corruption produced a reform movement called progressivism. Signs of reform were already apparent in the late 19th century. Calls for reform were seen in attempts to regulate railroads, urban reform, agrarian populism and factions within both the Republican and Democratic parties. Progressive reformers, often hostile to agrarian populism, appeared first on the municipal level, then the state level and eventually on the national level. In 1912, all three major presidential candidates, Democratic Woodrow Wilson, Progressive Party candidate Theodore Roosevelt and Republican William Howard Taft ran as progressive reformers.

Later progressives shared much in common with these early reformers. Both tended to look upon the enlargement of government power as necessary to correct the abuses of corporations and special interests. Progressives throughout the early 20th century projected an optimism that the American economy would continue to grow. Later progressives in the 21st century remained less optimistic in American economic growth. Progressives in the 20th century accepted American exceptionalism; 21st century progressives were less confident in the exceptional character of the nation.

  1. Comparing the two videos, was the Progressive Era simply a good thing? What were some of the downsides of Progressive views?
  2. Wilson’s support of segregating the federal government is one of the blights on his record. In what ways was this policy inconsistent with other progressive reforms? In what ways was it inconsistent?

This reading is an excerpt from Certell’s Common Sense American History eBook.  Certell offers curriculum materials and eBooks free of charge for students and teachers.  Click Here to download the Common Sense American History materials.

Image Citation:

31, Jan. 2018, Armour refrigerated car [Digital photo].  Retrieved from <>.