The Progressive Movement Essay example

The Progressive Movement Essay example

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The Progressive Movement


The progressive movement of the early 20th century has proved to be an intricately confounded conundrum for American historians. Who participated in this movement? What did it accomplish, or fail to accomplish? Was it a movement at all? These are all significant questions that historians have been grappling with for the last 60 years, thus creating a historical dialogue where in their different interpretations interact with each other.

The most commonly known, and consequently most watered down, version of the progressive movement argues that this era was simply an effort by the middle class to cure many of the social and political ills of American society that had developed during the rapid industrial growth in the last quarter of the 19th century. This explanation has proven to be a woefully inadequate in the face of the complexities that characterize these times. In Richard Hofstadter’s The Age of Reform, Peter Filene’s “An Obituary for the Progressive Movement,” Richard McCormick’s “The Discovery that Business Corrupts Politics,” and Paula Baker’s “The Domestication of Politics” each author asserts their own unique interpretations of the progressive movement. These distinct examinations each chart and thus manifest the fluidity of knowledge about this particular time period and how it has been shaped reshaped by new analysis.

Richard Hofstadter, the leftward leaning author of Age of Reform, in his appraisal of the progressive movement makes the central argument that the progressive movement was not catalyzed by economics or moral principal but instead by psychology. Hofstadter describes the progressives as primarily “urban, middle class, and nation wide.” He makes the case that t...


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... an impact on the system as a whole. An interesting comparison can be made between Hofstadter’s “status revolution” and Baker’s suffrage movement. Both can be seen as psychologically driven movements that interacted during the progressive era. Baker and Hofstadter also both cite a vast and complex struggle to improve the status of a particular social group. Baker on one hand describes women’s fight for the right to be seen as equal to men, most definitely in a political sense if not in a social sense as well, while Hofstadter makes the case that the progressives were driven to action by the need to reclaim their former status of superiority over the emerging newly rich industrialists. Although Baker does not seem to give the amount of attention to psychology that Hofstadter does an undeniable correlation can still be made between the arguments of both authors.

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