Us History Essay, Research Paper
1. Progressivism in US. history was a broadly based reform movement that reached its height early in the 20th century. In the decades following the Civil War rapid industrialization transformed the United States. A national rail system was completed; agriculture was mechanized; the factory system spread; and cities grew rapidly in size and number.
The progressive movement arose as a response to the vast changes brought by industrialization. Progressivism began in the cities, where the problems were most acute. Dedicated men and women of middleclass background moved into the slums and established settlement houses. Reformers attacked corruption in municipal government; they formed nonpartisan leagues to defeat the entrenched bosses and their political machines. Urban reformers were often frustrated, however, because state legislatures, controlled by railroads and large corporations, obstructed the municipal struggle for home rule. Reformers turned to state politics, where progressivism reached its fullest expression. In state after state, progressives advocated a wide range of political, economic, and social reforms. They urged adoption of the secret ballot, direct primaries, the initiative, the referendum, and direct election of senators. They struck at the excessive power of corporate wealth by regulating railroads and utilities, restricting lobbying, limiting monopoly, and raising corporate taxes. To correct the worst features of industrialization, progressives advocated worker’s compensation, child labor laws, minimum wage and maximum hours legislation (especially for women workers), and widows’ pensions.
As progressives gained strength on the state level, they turned to national politics. Little headway was made, however, since conservatives controlled the Senate. Some progress was made against the trusts during Theodore Roosevelt’s administration, and Congress passed two bills regulating railroads. The expos6s of business practices by the muckrakers aroused public opinion. Although Roosevelt supported the progressive drive for regulation of corporations and for social welfare legislation, Congress remained adamant. Roosevelt’s successor, William Howard Taft, was a determined opponent of progressive reform; in 1911 progressives, whose ranks had been swelled by middleclass professionals, small businessmen, and farmers, formed the National Progressive Republican League to prevent Taft’s re-nomination. When this failed, progressives united in a third party and nominated (1912) Roosevelt for President. Although Roosevelt was defeated, the new President, Woodrow Wilson, sponsored many progressive measures. The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 reformed the currency system; the Clayton Antitrust Act and the Federal Trade Commission Act (1914) extended government regulation of big business; and the KeatingOwen Act (1916) restricted child labor.
America’s entry into World War I diverted the energy of reformers, and after the war progressivism virtually died. Its legacy endured, however, in the political reforms that it achieved and the acceptance that it won for the principle of government regulation of business. Most of the social welfare measures advocated by progressives had to wait the New Deal years for passage.
2. The Civil War and the postwar era of Reconstruction brought farreaching economic and social changes. Because of the destruction of slavery, the South’s social and economic transformation proved even more farreaching than the North’s. The central institution of southern life, slavery was simultaneously a system of labor, a form of race relations, and the foundation of a distinctive regional ruling class. Its demise led inevitably to conflict between blacks seeking to breathe substantive meaning into their freedom and planters seeking to retain as much as possible of the old order. Out of this conflict arose new systems of labor and new kinds of relations between black and white southerners.
But these developments took place in a context that severely limited the region’s prospects for economic growth. A wartorn, capitalscarce region, whose level of per capita income continued to lag far behind the rest of the nation, the South lacked the institutional base for sustained economic development. To blacks, freedom meant independence from white control, autonomy both as individuals and as members of a community itself being transformed as a result of emancipation. This aspiration was reflected in the consolidation and expansion of the institutions of black life. Under slavery, most blacks had lived in nuclear family units, although they faced the constant threat of separation from loved ones by sale. Reconstruction provided the opportunity for blacks to solidify their family ties. Freed people made remarkable efforts to locate loved ones from whom they had been separated under slavery, and many black women, preferring to devote more time to their families, refused to work any longer in the cotton fields. Continuing resistance to planters’ efforts to bind black children for involuntary labor through court ordered apprenticeship revealed that control over their family life was a major preoccupation of the former slaves.
Despite Reconstruction civil rights laws, segregation was also the rule in many public facilities and private businesses. Almost all the new public school systems educated black and white children in separate schools, and many railroads, hotels, and theaters either excluded blacks altogether or relegated them to inferior accommodations. But the polity was colorblind. Blacks and whites sat together on juries, school boards, and city councils. Politics and government were the most integrated institutions in southern life during Reconstruction.
The appalling loss of life in the Civil War, and the widespread destruction of work animals, farm buildings, and machinery, ensured that the South’s economic revival would be slow and painful. Between 1860 and 1870, while farm output expanded in the rest of the nation, the South experienced declines in the value of farmland, the number of farm animals, and the amount of acreage under cultivation. But economic reconstruction required more than rebuilding shattered farms and repairing broken bridges. An entire social order had been swept away, and on its ruins a new one had to be constructed. In the postwar South, as in every nineteenthcentury society that abolished slavery, emancipation was followed by a comprehensive struggle over access to the land and the forging of a new labor system. The conflict between former masters aiming to recreate a disciplined labor force and blacks seeking to carve out the greatest degree of economic autonomy helped shape the transition from slave to free labor. Planters were convinced that their own survival and the region’s prosperity depended on their ability to resume production using disciplined gang labor, as under slavery.
The South’s economic problems were exacerbated by the depression that began in 1873. Within four years, the price of cotton fell by nearly 50 percent, plunging farmers into poverty and drying up the region’s already inadequate sources of credit. The depression shattered what hopes remained for the early emergence of a modernizing New South, and forced longestablished businesses into bankruptcy. It facilitated the penetration of northern capital, as outside corporations bought up bankrupt southern railroads and other enterprises. Long into the twentieth century, the South would remain the nation’s foremost economic problem a legacy not only of slavery but also of the social and economic changes that began during Reconstruction, and of Reconstruction’s political failure.