Progressive Era in United States Essay

June 18, 2022 by Essay Writer


Progressive Era was a period of great reforms in the United States that occurred in the early part of 20th century. The progressives formulated reforms focused on promoting good governance and welfare of the Americans by advocating for radical changes in economic, political and social policies. Economically, the progressives advocated for the economic reforms that that regulated businesses in order to provide a level ground for a healthy competition.


Prior to Progressive Era, there were unfair business practices that promoted monopoly of some businesspersons like John Rockefeller, which prompted formulation of policies that ensured fair business practices. Due to poor employment standards, child labor, unfair business practices and rampant corruption in the government, muckraking journalists investigated these vices and exposed them for the society to perceive, and this prompted the government to make reforms (Leonard 112).

The progressives also rooted for the adoption of laissez-faire and formation of labor unions in face of high rate unemployment in order to improve the working conditions of the workers. Overall, the government formulated laws and policies, which ensured that the economic growth benefitted all citizens.

Politically, the progressive had perceived that the government was full of inefficiencies and corruption that led to various injustices against the Americans. The progressives wanted to clean up the government to be free from inefficiencies and corruption scandals that have affected delivery of quality services to the people.

According to Leonard, “four constitutional amendments were adopted during the Progressive era, which authorized an income tax, provided for the direct election of senators, extended the vote to women, and prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages” (115).

The sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth amendments promoted both political and social reforms in the United States. The seventeenth amendment empowered the people to choose their preferred leaders thus promoting democracy. Moreover, the nineteenth amendment empowered women by allowing them to vote and participate in the political arena. In addition, the introduction of the secret balloting enhanced democracy because it promoted free and fair election of senators and presidents.

Socially, due to deteriorating moral standards that occurred because of rampant abuse of drugs such as alcohol, the progressives supported the prohibition of manufacturing, sale and distribution of alcohol. The religious progressives argue that alcohol consumption destroy the moral fabric of the society and thus advocated for the society that is free of alcohol.

Therefore, the passage of the eighteenth amendment that prohibits manufacture, sale and distribution of alcohol significantly reduced consumption of alcohol in the United States. Since there was high gender inequality in the society, the progressives opened women’s colleges as an affirmative action to encourage more women to gain skills and knowledge so that they could be competitive in the employment market.

Emergence of Railroads

Rapid economic and demographic growth during the Progressive Era enabled the United States government to expand and regulate her transport system throughout the country in order to stimulate more economic growth. Creation of large plantations and industries during the late 19th and early 20st century led to the massive production of goods that necessitated expansion and regulation of the railroad system.

Realizing that the railroad system is effective, cheaper in the transportation and opening up of remote areas for investors, the United States government immensely supported construction and regulated it to offer sustainable transport, which stimulate economic growth. During the Progressive Era, the reformers struggled against conservatives who did not want regulation of the railroad system by the government for they wanted to monopolize and exploit businesspersons in the transportation of industrial goods.

Although the railway system had much significance to the industrial and financial sectors, the management did not put efficient measures that would ensure its sustainability. According to Doezena, “the drastic features of some enactments would have been avoided had railroad managers always exercised the spirit of forbearance and compromise,” (62). Thus, due to the mismanagement, the government formulated drastic polices that led to the stringent regulation of the railroad system during Progressive Era.

Under President Roosevelt, the government regulated the railroad system by ordering powerful corporations to comply with policies and enactments that promote fair competition and eliminate exploitation of businesspersons.

The government investigated railroads unfair practices and recommended in Elkins Act (1903) that no shippers should receive rebates to encourage the use of certain railway company. Moreover, the Hepburn Act (1906) gave powers to the Interstate Commerce Commission to set the rates of transportation and limit free railroad passes.


Pendleton Act (1883) is a civil service reform Act of the United States formulated to guide government officials in the recruitment and employment of the civil servants according to their own merit. Earlier before the Act was effective, the recruitment and employment of the civil servants was quite unfair, as many people had to bribe or belong to certain political parties in order to access the privilege of employment. Hence, Pendleton Act (1883) established merit system of employing civil servants that ensured fairness in the employment.

First Reconstruction Act (1867) was an Act that provided effective and efficient governance of the rebel states in line with the United States government. The Act acknowledged the presence of rebel states such as Virginia, Georgia, Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

For efficient governing of these states, the First Construction Act classified these states into five military districts in which the United States president has prerogative to assign military commander to each military district in order to provide enough security to life and property of the citizens.

Tenure of Office Act (1867) is an Act that protects people holding executive and constitutional offices against imperial powers of president. This Act limits the capacity of the president to appoint new people into the office while the tenure of the current officers has not expired.

Since presidents have powers to appoint constitutional officers, the Act guards the officers from haphazard removal in the office particularly when there is a change in regime. Therefore, the president must respect tenure of office and if necessary to make any changes, congressional approval is essential.

Interstate Commerce Act (1887) is an Act formulated to regulate transport system in the United States particularly the railroad industry. Since monopolization of the railroad system led to the exploitation of the farmers and businesspersons, the Act sought to establish policies and laws that govern transport industry. The Act resulted into the establishment of Interstate Commerce Commission that has the responsibility of ensuring that the transport system comply with the federal regulation and set fair rates of transportation.

Thomas Platt was a powerful political figure in the United States politics in 1873 to1909. He was a republican who was in the House of Representatives between 1873 and 1877 and become New York Senator in 1897 to 1909. During his political life, he exercised great power both in the House of Representatives, and in the Republican Party. Due to his overwhelming influence in the government and politics, many considered him as the father of politics.

Works Cited

Doezena, William. “Railroad Regulatory Leadership in the Progressive Era: Consideration and Conclusions.” Journal of American History 11.2 (1996): 61-66.

Leonard, Thomas. “American Economic Reform in the Progressive Era: Its Foundational Beliefs and their Relation to Eugenics.” History of Political Economy 41.1 (2009): 109-140.

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