What Did Progressives Believe In?

Progressives were reformers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who believed in creating a “new” America, a new order to replace the old order that didn’t have to deal with the economic, political and cultural changes borne from the shift from an agrarian society to an urban society. The Industrial Revolution and modern capitalism brought social ills that the Progressive movement sought to ease, believing that the democratic ideals and social justice espoused by ideals of the Founding Fathers could co-exist in this new world.

The nation’s influx of immigrants coming from Southeastern Europe to compete for low-wage jobs at the time caused great anxiety among the nation’s mostly Protestant middle-class citizens. Moreover, there was concern over the large corporations that were controlling a greater share of the nation’s finances.

To ameliorate these concerns, the Progressives formed, believing they had a social responsibility and a civic duty to help the less fortunate. Their era is marked by a sweeping national effort for reform, in which the need for change and for everyone to get involved and be responsible for the nation’s ills took place. President Theodore Roosevelt also endorsed the need for reform for everyone in the country, from farmer to factory workers.

Many tried applying Progressive principles to create enhanced democratic opportunities in particular, calling for the increased prevalence of direct senatorial elections, referendums and open primaries. Others became committed to forming idealistically imagined communities located outside mainstream society to serve as models. Still others embraced socialist principles, conservation movements, anti-monopoly initiatives and improved food and drug laws. The common theme in all these variations was that government had the responsibility to intervene more powerfully in improving social health and safety, eradicating corruption, involving the people in the political process and creating a fair environment for all.