From 1900-1920 in the United States of America the reformers of the Progressive Era and the Federal Government were effective bringing about reform dealing with reforms to improve the social disgrace of the working conditions, the enthusiasm to be a nation of self-governed people, and the individual interests of presidents despite limitations in the rulings of court cases, the application of reforms reached, and the varying effectiveness of presidents.
Reformers looking to improve the working conditions of the progressive Era made significant headway in their attempted reforms, though they were eventually limited by the decisions of the supreme courts. Muckrakers (people who wrote critiques on society and its faults) like Upton Sinclair wrote pieces of literature that called for reform. In particular Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle was one of the sole motivations for Congress to pass the United States Meat Inspection Act of 1906.
The federal government took action and implemented the Neil-Reynolds report, which found problems in conditions that not only affected the quality of the food but also the workers’ physical health (Document B). The president and government found this unacceptable and multiple laws that regulated food inspection were passed after the report – laws that directly resulted from the muckrakers’ reforming work. The fight for child labor also used literature to express their protests.
Many reformers protested children being introduced to the factory life at the age allowed by the state because it was thought to have a negative effect on both the child’s mental as well as physical health (Document C). The ruling in Hammer vs. Dagenhart (concerning Congress’ control over the flow of goods that was manufactured with child labor) was a limit of the success of the reformers. The courts stated that Congress did not have the authority to interfere with the circulation of goods.
Despite this limitation, the success with the physical working conditions and later acts passed to regulate both child labor and food inspections made the overall efforts of the reformers a success. Improvements through laws were also made regarding the right to represent oneself in government as well. Multiple voices in the United States called for the betterment in the ability for the people to be self-governed – which they achieved to an extent, even when limited by the failure to fully honor and take advantage of the reforms they passed.
Blacks received the right to vote after the civil war, though this success was limited by the fact they were still not treated as equals (Document I). However women were furious their suffrage was not included in the amendments; the fury led to a long and hard campaign for their rights. They felt cheated that the government of the United States was sympathetic with people around the world who weren’t self-governed, but turned a blind eye to the fact that significant number of their own citizens could not vote either (Document H).
Through unions and associations, marches on the capitol and works of literature – despite the reluctance to grant them their rights in the governmental branches – they work of the reformer eventually resulted in the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, the right for women to vote. A limitation in the eyes of the reformers to this success was the lack of complete enthusiasm for women’s suffrage by women, and the lack of a drastic change in the government despite their argument the addition of women to the ballots would make politics less corrupt.
Another issue that campaigned for the right to be directly self-governed concerned the election of Senators. Reformers voiced that they believed Senators should be elected directly by the people, instead of indirectly by legislators (Document D). Eventually the Seventeenth Amendment was passed, achieving the reformer’s aims. Despite the downward trend of attendance at the polls (Document J) (which did not help the reformers’ cause) reformers still managed to get two amendments passed into law through their efforts.
Reformers’ efforts also had to overcome challenges in their fight for issues because of the actions of individual Presidents. The federal government was able to aid the fight for reform with the influence and enthusiasm of their commander in chief, though at the same time were limited by the same office because of the differing personalities of the presidents. Reforms involving economics were popular between 1900 and 1920. It was believed that complete and absolute monopolies in commerce were not beneficial to the rest of the economy (Document E).
One person in particular – Theodore Roosevelt – elevated the issue of breaking trusts to one of his top priorities, becoming an iconic symbol for the ‘trust-busting’ reform (Document A). He reinstated the Sherman Act and sued multiple large corporations including Standard Oil, which was later forced to break up by the justice department under the act that Roosevelt reinstated. He also voiced support for a number of other reforms, like the direct election of Senators (Document D) which could have influenced thinkers and people in Congress.
However the President didn’t always help the reformers’ causes –It took a significant amount of pressure, time, and criticism for Woodrow Wilson to acknowledge women’s suffrage. Despite being an intelligent man at times he was thought to support the fundamental wrongs of society – which no doubt hampered the ability of the Reformers and limited their successes. (Document F). The success of the reformer’s protests depended heavily the country’s leaders, specifically the individual qualities and strategies that either limited or furthered success.
Progressive Era reformers and the federal government were successful in furthering the issue of reform against horrible working conditions, in supporting the citizens of America to be self-governed people, and reforms specific to individuals leading the federal government. This was all done in spite of limitations in the judicial branch, the application of reforms reached, and the individual actions and characteristics of presidents.