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Progressive Movement in American History

The heyday of the Progressive movement in American history, the years 1890 to 1920, coincides with one of the world's most turbulent and fast-moving eras. It was the fin-de-siècle: 19th Century replaced by 20th; Victoria replaced by Edward; a frontier "closed" and a "world war" first fought. It was an era of innovation, as the telephone, automobile, airplane, motion picture, and radio -- not to mention the Singer home sewing machine -- were introduced to ever-widening public use. It was, in short, a time when anyone with a perspective on the surrounding world could feel, with justification, that it was changing faster than one could comprehend -- or keep up with. The word "Progressive" carries with it the full baggage of implications suggestive of this era.

It was also America's "Age of Reform." This is not to say that there were no great "reform" eras before or after -- certainly New Dealers in '32 and Gingrich Republicans in '94 would dispute that -- but the years 1890 through 1920 were nonetheless marked by a long-term commitment to some sort of essential makeover to the American society, its economy, and U.S. political institutions. The Progressive movement was a central player in this era's activities in and around the various reform issues that sprang up as constant and persistent as an annual crop of dandelions.

The metaphor is deliberate -- "annual crop of dandelions" -- for the issues raised by the Progressive movement did have their origins in land-based issues, i.e., agricultural concerns. The Progressive's constant press for reforms was as persistent and repetitive as any farmer's crop that, once planted, continues to bear fruit. And, like the dandelion, quite often the issue from the Progressive earth was more colorful than useful, more annoying than critically pertinent -- and more ephemeral than constant. William Jennings Bryan's thundering "Cross of Gold" speech in 1896 may have shaken the land, but t...

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Progressive Movement in American History. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 16:32, March 20, 2019, from