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Progressive Era Through the Great Depression

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The Progressive Era marked a time of new reforms throughout our nation and these changes have shaped the country we live in today. This era was the nation’s response to the Industrial Revolution. It affected all Americans and transformed the role of government in American society. Most racial issues and women's rights, were ignored during the progressive era, but the groundwork was laid for future reforms in those areas. Many events occurred during the time of the Progressive Era and Great Depression that made a big contribution to today’s society. One of the first turning points of this era was the founding of the Anti-Saloon League. It was a non-partisan political pressure group established in 1893 with Protestant churches as its primary support in rural areas and the South. In the words of leader Ernest Cherrington, it was "the united church militant engaged in the overthrow of the liquor traffic.” The League also used churches more directly to achieve its objectives. For example, it arranged for pastors in over 2,000 churches in Illinois to discuss a pending temperance measure and urge congregations to ask their representatives to support it. The Anti-Saloon stressed its religious character and since it acted as an agent of the churches and therefore was working for God, anything it did was seen as moral and justified because it was working to bring about the Lord's will. This became the first modern, single-issuing lobbying group in the America and opened the doors for more groups to establish new movements. Today’s society has been affected by the initial views on alcohol and laws have been created to control the sale and distribution. Also, the efforts of the Anti-Saloon League have indirectly empowered other religious lobbyists who exercise their freedom of speech on the many social issues of today. During this time in history, there was focus on improving the education. Progressives strived to create an importance in better schools and better wages for teachers. They believed that in order for Americans to work better in their everyday jobs and be active in politics, they need to be well educated. John Dewey helped develop what was later called “Progressive Education”. He was philosopher at the University of Chicago and founded the Laboratory School. This school was structured around giving children the ability to pursue their own creative interests rather than forcing them to memorize a curriculum. He believed that this approach taught children to live in democracy and how to make good moral choices in all areas of their lives. Another effort in improving education was the creation of the General Education Board. It was established in 1902 by John D. Rockefeller. In its first seven years, Rockefeller gave the GEB over $53 million and directed its efforts primarily toward the South, where it shared personnel and funding with the Southern Education Board. The GEB helped improve primary education and opened over 500 high schools in the southern states between 1905 and 1920. Annual spending, the average length of the school year, enrollment, and teacher salaries all increased among middle-class, town-dwelling whites. The GEB offered little help to African American southerners in deliberately segregated and underfunded schools. The factors of better education are still major issues today. The improvement of schools and teacher wages are a focal point that has increased recently and it all started long ago during this Progressive Era. Inner city schools that are full of minorities still face issues of limited resources and are often underfunded compared to neighboring schools in higher income areas. The concepts that Dewey believed in are more widespread and our world as a whole believes in the importance of education for children starting at a younger age nowadays. Henry Ford contribution to American history was another big turning point that spearheaded new ideas that helped boost the economy. The creation of the Model T Ford and the development of the assembly line changed the American way of life forever. Henry Ford did not invent the car but he produced an automobile that was within the economic reach of the average American. Instead of pocketing the profits, Ford lowered the price of his car. As a result, Ford Motors sold more cars and steadily increased its earnings while transforming the automobile from a luxury toy to a mainstay of American society. The Model T made its debut in 1908 with a purchase price of $825.00. Over ten thousand were sold in its first year, establishing a new record. Four years later the price dropped to $575.00 and sales soared. Prior to the introduction of the assembly line, cars were individually crafted by teams of skilled workmen - a slow and expensive procedure. The assembly line reversed the process of automobile manufacture. Instead of workers going to the car, the car came to the worker who performed the same task of assembly over and over again. With the introduction and perfection of the process, Ford was able to reduce the assembly time of a Model T from twelve and a half hours to less than six hours. More cars produced and more American families had cars within a matter years. Other industries adopted the assembly line concept and it still used today in our all types of manufacturing industries. Our economy has grown tremendously as a result of manufacturing and we should give Henry Ford credit for creating of world of mass-production. Women suffrage was a battle spread through many years. I believe that the right for women to vote was first adopted in the western frontier because views were still too strong against women and blacks. Overall, the south was still opposed to allowing blacks to vote even though the Fifteenth Amendment gave black men the right to vote in 1869. Southern households were still male dominated and wives were often beaten and held inferior to the husband. Southern whites were in fear that if women were granted the right to vote then this would also allow black women voting privileges. They also knew that the majority of women had prohibitionist views on alcohol and their votes would be in opposition. Granting women the right to vote would increase the strength of the women’s voice in all aspects of life not just in politics. President Roosevelt’s was concerned in all national affairs and business activities. During his terms in off the Hepburn Act of 1906 was passed. This federal law formally gave the Interstate Commerce Commission the authority to establish maximum railroad rates. This power enabled the government to discontinue free passes to loyal shippers. The Interstate Commerce Commission was able to view all financial documents and records associated with the national railroad system. The Hepburn Act was passed in response to the Standard Oil Company’s monopolization of the oil market, and hence its control of oil prices. Storage facilities, terminals, ferries and pipelines were also put under the jurisdiction of the Interstate Commerce Commission with the passing of this law. Roosevelt’s influence put tight grip on the railroad business and more laws continued to diminish the railroad industry’s power. For example, the Adamson Act of 1916 mandated an 8-hour workday for all railroad workers. This maximum work day disallowed railway companies from exploiting their workforce and the law stands to the present day. Roosevelt’s successor was William H. Taft who continued the progressive agenda. He supported two constitutional amendments. The 16th Amendment which authorized a federal income tax and the 17th Amendment, ratified in 1913, which called for the direct election of senators by the people. In 1909, Taft proposed a 2% federal income tax on corporations by way of an excise tax and a constitutional amendment to allow the previously enacted income tax. He helped to establish the first federal income taxes that have been modified throughout the years. Our country has not went astray from collecting these taxes from American citizens and it is still a major source of revenue for our government. Until 1913, when the 17th Amendment was ratified, the citizens of the states elected U.S. senators indirectly. Voters elected the state legislators, and they in turn selected U.S. senators. From 1913 onward, voters have directly elected U.S. senators in statewide elections. The Spanish-American War of 1898 helped America emerge into a major world power. America initially sought out to support Cuba against Spain. After four months of war, not only did America help Cuba gain independence but they also took over possession of Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam. These islands would enable America to gain more power in global business and military strength. No other country in the world had as much control of the seas as America after the war was won and new annexations were made. The roaring twenties created a sense of freedom and America began to drift away from the social norms. But by the end of the twenties, the economy hit its worst point and the Great Depression began. New federal regulations were made to help combat the effects of the stock market crash. First, the Hawley-Smoot Tariff was adopted to help protect American goods from foreign completion. Unfortunately, U.S. foreign trade suffered a sharp decline and the depression intensified. Later on, Franklin D. Roosevelt pushed the Emergency Banking Relief Act in 1933 which gave federal control over banks and rescued them with government loans if needed. Furthermore, Roosevelt used the National Industrial Recovery Act to stimulate business recovery through fair-practice codes during the Great Depression. The NRA was an essential element in the National Industrial Recovery Act which authorized the president to institute industry-wide codes intended to eliminate unfair trade practices, reduce unemployment, establish minimum wages and maximum hours, and guarantee the right of labor to bargain collectively. President Roosevelt was proactive in helping pull America out of the slump and pushed to get federal government more involved in the national economy.
REFERENCES:
Schultz, Kevin M. (2012). HIST Volume 2, 2nd Edition. Cengage Learning
Sage, Henry J. (2010). The Progressive Era: The Great Age of Reform. http://www.academicamerican.com/progressive/topics/progressive.html
Hanson, D.J. (2012). Anti-Saloon League. http://www2.potsdam.edu/hansondj/Controversies/Anti-Saloon-League.html
Cocks, C., Lessoff, A., & Holloran, P. C. (2009). The A to Z of the Progressive Era. Scarecrow Press.
Adas, M. (2010). Essays on Twentieth-century History. Temple University Press.
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