Progressive Government Reforms


US History (11th) Progressive Era Progressive Government Reforms
Students explore the similarities and differences in the populist and progressive ideologies and the parties those ideologies gave rise to. Then, they analyze and evaluate several government reforms of the Progressive Era: initiative, referendum, recall, and the 16th and 17th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Finally, they examine populism and progressivism as terms that are still influential in American politics.

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Overview

In this experience, students explore the similarities and differences in the populist and progressive ideologies and the parties those ideologies gave rise to. Then, they analyze and evaluate several government reforms of the Progressive Era: initiative, referendum, recall, and the 16th and 17th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Finally, they examine populism and progressivism as terms that are still influential in American politics.

Objectives

  • Analyze the Populist and Progressive parties.
  • Evaluate the impact of the 16th and 17th amendments.
  • Explain voter powers to remove an elected official from office.


The Progressive Era was a time of adjustment for American politics. In the aftermath of a severe economic depression that had occurred in the 1890s, Americans desperately wanted new approaches to government that would ease the stress of hard times. In this experience, you’ll learn about the political upheavals and constitutional reforms that occurred.

Objectives

  • Analyze the Populist and Progressive parties.
  • Evaluate the impact of the 16th and 17th amendments.
  • Explain voter powers to remove an elected official from office.




Political cartoon: “The Bosses of the Senate,” 1889


It always helps to begin by defining terms. Look up the word populism and write a definition of it in your own words on the following table. You may use additional dictionaries.






Now look up progressivism and write a definition of it in your own words.






Sample definitions:

  • populism: a political outlook that views the common people as exploited by a privileged, wealthy elite
  • progressivism: a political outlook that seeks reforms for the advancement of society and generally favors a strong government to carry out reforms
For additional introductory discussion, have students examine the political cartoon “The Bosses of the Senate” shown above and interpret its meaning. The cartoon claims that the U.S. Senate has been bought and controlled by powerful trusts—industrial monopolies, including steel, iron, copper, oil, sugar, tin, coal, paper, and salt. Some of the names of the trusts, such as “Nail” and “Paper Bag,” are undoubtedly comic inventions.


Populists and progressives disagreed on many issues, but they agreed on at least one thing: that the wealthy corporate interests held too much power over American politics and the lives of working people. From the 1890s to the 1910s, both views expressed themselves through third parties—new political parties that tried to defeat the established Democratic and Republican parties.


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