muckrakers and other progressives-U.S. late 1800s
In writing about the muckrakers and the other progressives who sought to effect social change at the turn of the 20th century, it is important to note the nature of that change. Most progressives actually believed in the United States social system and its extensions into areas of finance, industrialization, sanitation, and more that Progressives were concerned about during this era. They simply wanted to fix these things, rather than completely overhaul them or set up new social systems and institutions. To that end, muckrakers and other progressives effectively wrought social change by working within and with the current system. They created action at the federal, state and local levels by disseminating information and motivating people to action that sought to help the weaker elements of the country — those that were exploited by big business and industry, and many of the other developments created by the Industrial Revolution.
Muckrakers viewed social responsibility as a means of correcting problems in society. As members of one of the newly industrialized nations on the planet, muckrakers felt they had an obligation to create a society in which the ideals of justice, equality, and liberty that were written in documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were actually practiced. It is key to note that during this period in the country’s history, there was still a major mass of immigrants arriving in America daily. The vast majority of these immigrants, unlike those involved in immigration today, were from European countries. Thus, muckrakers felt a need to uphold the country’s ideals in the face of its new members, as well as for those in society who were less fortunate than others. Still, it is important to realize that race was never a huge priority in Progressivism. For the most part, however, Progressives thought it necessary and a part of having a society as advanced as America’s was to better the daily living conditions of those who were a part of it — instead of just those things for the wealthy elite.
There a couple of different writers who were part of the muckraker category during the Progressive era. Similarly, they wrote about a variety of social issues that were relevant and real for this time period. Upton Sinclair was one such writer. He wrote several different novels, all of which featured social themes. He is most widely known for The Jungle, which many historians have categorized as a portrayal of the meat-packing industry. However, an analysis of this work reveals that it is actually a call to socialism and a drastic redistribution of the nations, and then the world’s, wealth. Lewis’s novel also depicts the poor plight of immigrants during this time period; additional works created by him details the ills of coal, oil, and inner city slums. Jacob Riis wrote How the Other Half Lives in the declining years of the 19th century, which is an expose about poverty. Other muckrakers were involved in newspapers and the print media, which gained a large following due to the investigative journalism tendencies that became popular during Progressivism. These most prominently included William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. They detailed real-life tales of crime, finance, politics, and scandals that excited people and helped to move them to action. Muckrakers tended to malign big business corporations and the ubiquitous trusts that emerged during this time period.
There were also a number of different politicians that made substantial contributions to the Progressive movement. Not surprisingly, many of these were located in the Western states which were the last to be settled on the continent and seemed, in some ways, to tolerate less corruption than in more established cities in the Midwest and back east. Robert La Follette, who became governor of Wisconsin, was a particularly notable politician during this time. The political climate was considered somewhat bi-partisan during this era, with Progressives taking on the role of liberals. La Follette was able to use his election to clean up the political scene in Wisconsin, and inspire a few more states to do the same. Specifically, La Follette was able to create a direct primary system and to pass a corrupt practices act, which was useful for reducing the influx of corruption into politics at the state level. To further sanitize the political scene in Wisconsin, the governor managed to weaken the hold that lobbyists had by enacting limits on spending for campaigns. These issues, although illustrated in Wisconsin with this particular example, were prevalent across the country and were concerns that Progressives everywhere sought to address.
At the national level, the most exemplary Progressive politician was none other than Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt was not quite an enemy of big business, but he did take some specific actions to ensure that Progressive values related to business were upheld. A good example of this fact is his revival of the Sherman Antitrust Act which he used to successfully breakup monopolies created by the American Tobacco Company, Northern Securities Company, and the Standard Oil Trust. Roosevelt was in office when the result of Sinclair’s The Jungle helped foster the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Additionally, the roots in today’s environmental movement can be traced to Progressivism. This…