The Progressive Era: Conflicting Viewpoints Essay

1703 words - 7 pages

The Progressive Era: Conflicting Viewpoints
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Two people witnessing the same event can have very different views on it depending on their information and perspective. The presentation of history also changes depending on the resources and prior prejudices and personal views of the historian. Four historian’s interpretations on the Progressive Era and Progressivism were reviewed to determine whether their arguments and use of evidence were sound. Also, the particular known views of the historian were occasionally taken into account. Each of these works has its own particular view on the Progressive Era and its importance in history.

In The Age of Reform, Richard Hofstadter reviews both the Populist and Progressive movements from a psychological standpoint. He maintains that both were groups, Populist farmers and Progressive long- established wealthy professionals, known as mugwumps, both of which formerly had had much power and influence in the United States and were being overshadowed by the growing importance of cities and the nouveau riche, respectively. Hofstadter’s main arguments are taken from the novels, magazines, poetry, other literature, fiction and popular myths that abounded in the two groups. Hofstadter maintains that these two groups were created because the industrialization of the United States and the rise of cities and big business had resulted in a status revolution, and the Populist and Progressive movements were just attempts to retain and regain position by the farmers and mugwumps. Populism, however, was a rural movement, while Progressivism took Populism and turned it into a large, national movement.

According to Hofstadter, the Populist movement was created mainly because the farmers and rural communities, supposedly the ‘salt of the earth’ and the backbone of the nation, felt that they were “losing in status and respect”(33) as compared to the cities. Populism was a narrow movement, confined mostly to the western and southern farmers, and was a movement of small- town ignorance lashing out against progress and espoused many ideas which simply could be categorized as fear of the other, a sort of “conspiratorial theory and… suspicion of the stranger that haunted, and still tragically haunts, the nativist American mind”(82). Hofstadter quotes editorials and poems from farmers’ magazines which display their state of mind, and their suspicion of cities and city- life. Progressivism, however, took some of the issues of the Populists and made a genteel, nation- wide movement of reform. The Progressives, according to Hofstadter, were the long- established wealthy professionals who were losing in status and prestige in comparison with the nouveau riche robber barons and railroaders and losing political clout to the ‘bosses’ who controlled the immigrant populations of the cities. Hofstadter refers to the Progressives as ‘gentry’ and they took a stance of liberal, well- intentioned, noblesse...

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