The Progressives and Civil Liberties
Progressivism is a political philosophy, which is targeted at improving the conditions of citizens through improvements in government. In the United States, progressivism was seen in the years between 1890 and after the First World War. American leaders such as Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt took progressivism seriously, and there was subsequent social change in the nation. However, they did not pursue the cause of civil liberties.
In the election of 1912, it is arguable that all three candidates were progressives, despite their party philosophies (Pestritto & Atto 241). Following Wilson’s victory, the reasons for the failure of progressivism can be seen. Firstly, it is important to note the background of the then progressive leaders. President Wilson was a southerner that was raised in Virginia. Consequently, his brand of progressivism was influenced by southern ideals. In his presidency, he supported segregation in race relations. Similarly, he oversaw the removal of minority groups such as Blacks and Hispanics from the civil service. President Wilson also publicly denounced the idea of female suffrage (Brinkley 593). However, he succumbed to public pressure in that respect. The progressive membership consisted of the middle-class population (Brinkley 559). Their key concern was labor issues such as safety and working conditions. They were hostile to the black population and did not see benefit in pursuance of civil rights (Kersch 246). During the 1910s, a new wave of radical labor protests began taking place. The Government saw labor protests as menaces to the society and it consequently intruded on the right to dissent. The violent activities that took place alienated the middle class. Consequently, the progressive movement retracted its support for the labor protests, and did not speak out against the federal government’s intrusion of civil liberties.
From historical knowledge, it is seen that the progressive movement was riddled with hypocrisy. This is attributable to the different power groups that supported the ideals. The progressive movement viewed women as more moral than men (Eisenach 173). However, women were denied suffrage by President Wilson prior to the 19th constitutional amendment. The progressive movement was mainly supported by the middle class population. Due to its membership, its objectives in labor reform were unclear. The middle-class population sought to reestablish its political decision-making power. Consequently, the progressives supported actions such as racial segregation and restrictions on immigrations (Brinkley 575).
Brinkley, Alan. The Unfinished Nation, Volume 2. 6th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010. Print.
Eisenach, Eldon J. The Social and Political Thought of American Progressivism. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub, 2006. Print.
Kersch, Kenneth Ira. Constructing civil liberties. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Print.
Pestritto, Ronald J and William J Atto. American progressivism. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2008. Print.
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