Essay about Interpreting American Progressivism

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Interpreting American Progressivism

The period referred to as the Progressive Era in American history is one which historians often disagree over, and as in all areas of history, there are many theories surrounding the era which sometimes contradict each other. Historians are always aware of prominent theories within the field, and they often participate in an ongoing dialogue concerning their research. One of the first historians to make a major mark regarding the Progressive Era was Richard Hofstadter in his book The Age of Reform, published in 1955. Other prominent works include Peter G. Filene’s “Obituary for the Progressive Movement” , published in 1970, Richard L. McCormick’s “The Discovery that Business Corrupts Politics” , …show more content…

Hofstadter argues that during the Progressive Movement, these reformers wanted to restore and ensure equality and democracy against the new economic order. Many of their leaders were fairly wealthy men themselves, but they “distinguished…between ‘responsible’ and ‘irresponsible’ wealth”, condemning industrialists, the leaders of political machines, and monopolies, claiming that their rapid growth was unethical. They instead wished to “restore popular government as they imagined it to have existed in an earlier and purer age”, persistently emphasizing individualism. Though they knew they had to establish organization to a point in order to achieve their goals, they were at the same time trying “to retain the scheme of individualistic values that this organization was destroying.” Hofstadter also points out that they saw the increasing numbers of politico-business relationships as dangerous and corruptive, and felt as if the so-called “public interest” of citizens was being overlooked and ignored for the private interests of those men who ran these powerful corporations. However, though they were “‘liberal’ in the classic sense”, Hofstadter argues that Progressives were actually conservative in their political beliefs

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