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Robert Kennedy's United States History Class

Discuss the six problems which faced the progressives. 

1. The first problem was the confusion of ethics:

A confusion of ethics developed when society tried to take the moral code and values of a simple agrarian society (SAS) and tried to apply those moral values to a highly complex industrialized society (HCIS).


In the Landed Frontier, man was independent and only vulnerable to elements of the environment. The "Big Six Values" and moral codes (Social Darwinism, laissez faire, rugged individual , etc.) worked well there.


In HCIS man is interdependent upon certain elements within society for survival (upon the integrity of certain individuals and companies.) He is vulnerable to elements of complex society because he is dependent upon them for survival. The more complex society becomes the more vulnerable its people become .


Social sins and responsibility in society:


Man is a product of his environment and the environment advocated certain values . John D. Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan were only doing what society advocated. This created social sins or abuses and as more and more social sins were committed pressure was put on government for protection.


Simple agrarian society:


In simple agrarian society, social and personal morals are one and the same because you are doing business with your friends and neighbors . Direct responsibility: in most cases, social sins were not committed on purpose.


In a highly complex industrialized society, there are two sets of moral codes.

( 1) In business, the moral code is survival of the fittest or the en justifies the means. (2} In personal relationships, the 'general rule is to treat people honestly and as you would a friend.


In a complex industrialized society , there is also the diffusion of responsibility which makes social sins difficult to detect and difficult to stop.


Diffusion of Responsibility:


Diffusion of responsibility developed as a result of the isolation between the corporate producer, the marketing system, and the consumer. The complexity of corporate America made it easier for management and the worker to carry out the social sins. Hence, the impersonality of social sins, along with the complexity and diversity of the new industrial society , made it difficult to fix responsibility on any one group .


The Progressives had to educate the public to a new morality. and to new values in order to make business more responsible and operated on personal morality , instead of social morality .


In order to protect people, they had to do the following :


Educate the Public to abuses .


This was accomplished mainly by the muckrakers who exposed social ills and put Pass laws to make the social sins or abuses such as horizontal trusts, railroad rebates , and drawbacks illegal.


Third, create an administrative bureaucracy (i.e. Pure Food and Drug Administration) to enforce the laws--to protect individual rights.

2. Trust Regulation:

New social and economic problems within society developed when the "economic base" or organization of society changed from a simple agrarian society to a highly complex industrialized society. Trust regulations were Roosevelt's and Wilson's way of dealing with this change in the "economic base" caused by the rise of big business, the growth of trusts and monopolies .

3. Uneven Distribution of Wealth:

The problem of an uneven distribution of wealth came about because a small percentage of people had a large percentage of the wealth which provided for an unhealthy economy. The corporation was the key tool used to create this situation along with the trickle-down theory or supply-side economic philosophy .


For example, the first half of the nineteenth century saw the rise of only a few large fortunes. Most of these came from off the land or in shipping.


The industrial revolution changed all of that. An estimate in 1890 indicated that 12.5% of the people owned 87.5% of the property. It should be noted these people used their economic power to avoid just taxation and regulation of their property.


The great fortunes of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries came from the land, but from the exploitation of workers, as well as natural resources manufacturing , banking , and speculation.


In 1892, the New York Tribune compiled figures on the millionaires of the country.

There were 1,000 millionaires from merchandising , 600 in manufacturing , 300 in banking , 200 in transportation , and 26 farmers had made the grade.

4. The Rise of the American Cities American cities

had a rapid unregulated growth during the late 1800's as a result of people moving in at a faster rate than the cities could adjust. This growth created problems such as housing , health and sanitation and crime. The number of prison inmates in the United States increased by 50% in the 1880's and the homicide rate nearly tripled , with most of the rise occurring in the cities.

People were moving to the cities because they saw new opportunities which were no longer available to them in the landed frontier.

5. Political Corruption: 

Whether working within the framework of the city, state, or federal government, the reformers frequently confronted the fifth major problem: the prevalence of political corruption. The progressive movement in politics started in the cities, spread to the state, and ultimately reached the federal government. The reasons for the breakdown of the political system were that the administrative organization, inherited from a simpler day, could not function under the weight of its new duties as it lacked the financial ability and administrative structure to solve its own problems. Also, the legitimate financial rewards of politics were so meager that able men preferred business and political offices became good only for the extra-legal benefits they brought.

6. Race Relations: 

With the Compromise of 1877, the position of the black man deteriorated . From 1877 to 1901, the Supreme Court decisions basically undermined their position in society .


In the Civil Rights Cases of 1883, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government hao no jurisdiction over su,ch matters as social discrimination directed by private-persons or organizations against persons of a different race or color.


In 1896 the Court held in Plessy v. Ferguson the separate but equal facilities satisfied the 14th amendment 's requirement that the states give "equal protection of the law."


The black man was left to fend for himself and with the help of some white sympathizers in the progressive movement tried to gain his rights in society through two different approaches.


Booker T. Washington was a black leader in the 1890's who was looked upon as a spokesman for the majority of the black people. He felt the black man should remain quiet, not be a social or political disturber, and try to improve his economic worth with education and new skills. If the black man improved, then society would reward him by giving him social and political equality.


W.E.B. DuBois was involved in the Niagara movement which eventually became the NAACP (DuBois was the only black ; he was Director of Publicity). DuBois felt the only way a black man could get equality in society was to gain his political rights . Blacks needed to get laws changed and get their political and civil rights guaranteed before they could enjoy economic and social benefits from whites.


Both of these views have merit, but must be done simultaneously to be effective as a solution for the black man. It is also necessary to try to modify the white's attitudes and behavior towards the black people in society.