The Progressive Era denotes the period of attempts to address reform both in the economic as well as social sphere between the years 1900-1918. The name obtained from the forward thinking or the progressive goals that were the subject of advancement by supporters of the movement. Its supporters were advocates from both sides of the political divide mainly Democrats, Republicans as well as other third parties’ members whose focus was on certain specific issues. Among the concerns that the movement targeted at reform included direct and indirect results of the significant wave of immigration and industrialization witnessed at the time. Between the years 1900-1910, around 8.8 million immigrants had migrated into the United States from different nations, religions and ethnicity and who were distinct from immigrants from Western Europe. Indeed, nearly sixty percent of immigrants into the United States at the time came from southern and Eastern Europe and were mainly from nations such as Hungary, Poland, Italy and Greece deficient of skills required in the industry.
Consequently, they were relegated to the bottom ranks upon entering the factories, mines and sweatshops. At this time, most of the labor employed by the industry was foreign. Immigrants working in factories also founded company towns in cities where there existed only one dominant corporation. Without doubt, there was a connection between the experience of new immigrants in the United Sates and the Progressive Era politics. In fact, the Progressive movement arose out of a need to get a voice so as to secure government response to socio-economic problems brought about by the immigration and industrialization. Labor conflicts, depression and populist revolts that were popular at the time caused Americans to seek a platform in the way of the Progressive movement. The movement reached its apogee in the year 1912 when four presidential candidates embraced progressivism as a campaign platform.
Initially, the United States was neutral to the Great War with the then President, Wilson Woodrow urging Americans to remain impartial both in action and in thought. Some of the arguments proffered by supporters of America’s entry into war included the unacceptable atrocities committed by Germans in Belgium and the tampering with the United States free international waters with the sinking of its ships. Britain refused to allow the shipping of American goods to Germany declaring all goods in the neutral waters as contraband and subsequently seizing the goods. The turning point came in 1915 when Germany sank a Lusitania ship killing 1200 persons of whom 128 were Americans. The entry into war was the only option for a nation that prided itself in democratic ideals and it was, therefore, argued that America could not continue to remain aloof when the principles and ideals it believed in, were being denigrated. Opponents of America’s entry into war saw the entry as a plot by the wealthy to exploit the poor and amass more wealth. The German Americans were likely to oppose the entry of America to war though they had weak links to their country for fear that they would be treated harshly. Other opponents were likely to be Irish Americans as they were against supporting Britain which had denied their country independence. Proponents of the war were likely to be businessmen who hoped to obtain raw materials for their businesses following the war. Farmers, workers and African Americans were neutral as to the whole issue.
Following the Congress declaration of war, there still was a split opinion on the decision as to whether to send troops to fight against the Central Powers. In a bid to mobilize support for the task, President Wilson formed a Ceel Committee whose work was to sway public opinion towards supporting the war. In a move to stifle dissent, the United States government enacted the Espionage Act of 1917 which laid down a punishment of 20 year jail term or a fine of $10,000 for anyone caught aiding an enemy, obstructing the recruiting of military or inciting rebellion in the military. In yet another move of stifling dissent, the Congress passed the Sedition Act of 1918 which proscribed anyone from speaking against the purchase of war bonds or against the government or the constitution. In the United States, the war’s legacy was a stronger Republican Party and a weaker Democratic Party as well as better business for the average Americans. In contrast, Germany was weakened by the war and saw an institution of a militaristic monarchy that paved the way for the dictatorial regime of Adolf Hitler.
Clark Jnr., C. E., & Salisbury, N. (2008). The Enduring Vision: A History of the American People. Connecticut: Cengage Learning.
Southern, D. W. (2005). The Progressive Era and Race: Reaction and Reform. Wiley,2005.