The Progressive Era was rich in events and reforms. From the end of the 19th century and throughout the Great Depression, America went through one of the most unique stages in its history. This paper discusses the most important aspects of the Progressive Age in the U.S. First, women’s suffrage and the formation of the National Civic League are discussed. Second, reasons why the movement for women’s suffrage originated in the West are reconsidered. Third, the paper describes the effects of the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914 and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 on today’s business. The role of the Spanish-American War in the creation of the Empire is discussed. The effects of the Progressive Era and the Great Depression on federal government’s involvement in the national economy are considered in drawing conclusions.
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Keywords: Progressive Era, Great Depression, reform, Roosevelt, women’s suffrage.
Progressive Era through the Great Depression
The Progressive Era was one of the most interesting periods in the history of America. The Progressive Era was filled with problems and economic and political tensions, but the solutions provided at the end of the 19th-the beginning of the 20th centuries laid the foundation for the continuous economic, political, and social progress in the U.S. The formation of the National Municipal League (later, National Civic League) and women’s suffrage were, probably, the two most important points in the historic evolution of the country during the Progressive Era. Given that “the Progressive Movement was a massive assault on the problems that plagued American life at the turn of the century”, both women’s suffrage and the creation of the NML (NCL) helped to resolve a number of conflicts that existed at that time (Sage, 2010). Wells (1929) wrote that the contribution of voting women was much greater than the size of the vote they had earned. The ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment that gave men and women equal voting rights created the basis for gender equality in all aspects of the social and economic life of the country. In the meantime, the National Municipal League (currently, National Civic League) became the country’s main advocate for community democracy (Saros, 2009). The main goal of the organization has been and still remains strengthening and favoring citizens’ involvement in democracy by transforming political institutions (Saros, 2009). It would be fair to say that the NCL contributed greatly to the present-day image of the United States through openness to citizens’ involvement in all local and national political initiatives.
The movement for women’s suffrage was one of the crucial points during the Progressive Era. The beginning of the 20th century has finally put an end to women’s fight for equality in voting rights. Unfortunately, the fact that the movement for women’s suffrage began in the West is frequently ignored. Ignored are the reasons why the suffrage movement originated in the American West. Rebecca J. Mead (2004) provides an exhaustive account of how and why women won their voting rights in the West. According to Mead (2004), four important factors were responsible for women’s suffrage victories in the West. First, the western part of the U.S. had a longer history of political formation, which created favorable conditions for the protection of women’s voting rights (Mead, 2004). By the time the movement for women’s suffrage began to flourish, western territories had already established constitutions and mature statehood (Mead, 2004). Second, the maturity of the political environment in the West facilitated political groups’ involvement in democracy (Mead, 2004). At that time, western groups played a huge role in the creation of the desired political outcomes (Mead, 2004). Third, the American West had been historically more diverse than the other parts of the U.S., and the movement for women’s suffrage exposed other inequality controversies, affecting Mexican Americans, Asians, and European immigrants (Mead, 2004). Leaders of the movement for women’s suffrage linked their goals with the issues of race and ethnicity, as they knew it benefited their cause. Fourth, Mead (2004) suggests that “a younger cohort of suffrage activists who utilized direct action tactics and alliances with working women to increase their base were prominent in western campaigns during the early twentieth century” (p.222). All these factors predisposed the rapid development of the movement for women’s suffrage in the West.
The Progressive Era was also marked with the profound transformations in the legal field. Many of the laws and regulations passed at the beginning of the 20th century still influence the way companies do business in the U.S. Among the most important pieces of legislation were the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914 and the Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906. Both were passed by Congress under President Roosevelt and exemplified essential points of the Roosevelt-Taft-Wilson era. The Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906 was the first piece of food and drug law enacted by the U.S. at the federal level. The law obligated manufacturers to indicate the presence of impurities and mixtures on product labels and, simultaneously, outlawed trade of misbranded and adulterated foods (Law, 2010). The provisions of the Act applied both to foods and drugs (Law, 2010). The passage of the Act raised the debate over whether or not it could benefit smaller manufacturers or simply favored the rapid expansion of large producers at the expense of small businesses. Whichever the answer to these questions is, it is clear that the effects of the FDA continue to persist up until present. Despite the changes in FDA legislation, the Act of 1906 can be considered as the first legitimate source of quality standards imposed on foods and drugs.
The Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914 was another important piece of legislation enacted during the Roosevelt era. The Act created the Federal Trade Commission and, actually, promoted Theodore Roosevelt’s philosophy of new nationalism, which would set the stage for the state’s regulation of business and, at the same time, eliminate all monopolies (Northrup, 2003). In a broader sense, the Act created an atmosphere of fair market competition and prevented business players and non-profit organizations from using unfair business practices. The Act became the beginning of the new era of ethical business conduct that continues to exercise its authority until present.
Apart from the fact that the Progressive Era changed the legal and political climate in the U.S., it also fostered the rapid expansion of the U.S. and turned it into an Empire. The Spanish-American War greatly contributed to the formation of the American Empire. At the end of the war, the United States annexed the Marianas, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines (Stromberg, 1998). Cuba was placed under the U.S.’s protectorate (Stromberg, 1998). Not all members of the Congress welcomed new territorial possessions: they perceived them as new overseas burdens for America (Stromberg, 1998). Nevertheless, the discussed territories became a part of the U.S. The Spanish-American War launched a mechanism that became a distinguishing feature of the U.S.’s policymaking for years ahead: the U.S. would act as a formal empire grounded on state power with the main aim of delivering commercial profits through political friends and associates (Stromberg, 1998). Apart from the fact that the Spanish-American War provided additional territories, it also strengthened the power of government and President in the political life of America. Unfortunately, with the easy acquisition of the new territories during the Spanish-American War, the U.S. continued its way towards expansion and domination in the worldwide arena.
The age of Progressivism and the Great Depression that followed delineated the basic principles of government’s involvement in the national economy. The end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century witnessed serious transformations in the way business relations in the U.S. were organized. A series of mergers resulted in the emergence of huge industries and trusts (Saros, 2009). The dominance of monopoly capital and severe restrictions on competition called for government interventions. Only government had the potential to reduce the scope of capital concentration in the U.S. economy. During the Progressive Era, a number of organizations were formed with the goal of managing policy issues and stabilizing the pace of industrial development in America (Saros, 2009). The American Anti-Trust League, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the National Civic Federation are just some of the numerous examples of such organizations that were created in the age of progressive reforms. At that time, government’s involvement in business emerged not as an instrument of coercion, but as the only way to ensure fairness and competiveness in the American business landscape. The primary goal of government’s involvement in business was to represent and defend the interests of small businesses in America (Saros, 2009). With time, the model of government’s involvement in business transformed and expanded to cover the interests of the American workforce. To a large extent, the Progressive Era created the basis for the development of the model of government’s involvement in business decisions and processes, with the goal of promoting ethical business conduct and giving all business players equal decisionmaking rights.
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