The middle class, frightened by the economic unrest of the 1890's and the actions of giant business organizations, was more willing to accept progressive reforms than it had been earlier.
After the quick victory in the Spanish-American War, there was a new feeling of confidence in the nation=s future. Progressivism had many aims. The general aims of Progressivism were as follows: to extend political democracy by shifting control of government from the political bosses and powerful industrialists to the people; to curb the power of big businessmen, in order to give greater economic opportunities to small business and labor; and to eliminate the social ills of society through needed reforms. Although the aims of Progressivism were shared by all Progressivists, support came from many different groups.
Progressives came from both major parties, as well as from minor or third parties. Important political leaders in the movement included Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, and Governors Robert La Follette, Charles Evans Hughes, and Hiram Johnson. Support came from the farm, because the farmers wanted their problems to be recognized. Support came from artists and writers, who wrote stories about social ills. Progressivism accomplished many things. Political democracy was extended by initiative, referendum, recall, and the short ballot. The Seventeenth Amendment was passed and provided for the direct election of U.S. Senators. The Nineteenth Amendment gave the franchise to women to permit the selection of party candidates by registered voters. Many limitations and restrictions were placed on trusts. Monopolies were prosecuted and the Clayton Act was passed. The Federal Trade Commission Act was passed as well. Many laws which safeguarded labor and the public were enacted. More adequate factory and building inspection codes were adopted, greater provisions were made for sanitation and public health, and Congress enacted the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act which further improved the quality of foods.
Perhaps the most dangerous beliefs of the progressive era may be the uncritical acceptance of the power of state to coerce individual behavior. The idea of individuality, which is vital for democracy, seemed, at times, to be threatened. This acceptance of the government's control over its nation's individuality opened the door for the surge of socialist views. The idea of a 'cooperative commonwealth' began to take it's roots in American society. (Dittmer, 12-22) Such socialist ideas and government control over individual behavior was very easy to sell to the poor working class, which made up a high percentage of America, who had become over-burdened by capitalist oppression. The government's ability to gain strength was looked upon by this class as the only way to control the overpowering private sector, which were the big-businesses. As Wilson stated 'Our duty [government] is to cleanse, to reconsider, to restore, to correct the evil without impairing the good, to purify and humanize every process of our common life without weakening or sentimentalizing it.' .In the idea of government controlling 'every process of our common life' lies a great danger; the control of government lying in the hands of the people, not the