The Progressive Movement
The conflict behind solving America’s social problems lay with the inherent differences of America’s citizens. There was a struggle as to how men, women, and children should live their lives as a part of one nation. The struggle was because of the myriad of fundamental differences in upbringing, traditions, values, beliefs, and history of the American people. The people were so intrinsically different that efforts to remake America were almost fruitless. Consensus on social cohesion could also not be achieved because of the societal perceptions of gender roles, family structures, work, and leisure. It seemed that everyone, regardless of race, was embroiled in the conflict from the metropolis to the countryside, and from the south to the north.
It was impossible to eradicate the myriad of social ills in the country without addressing the root cause of these ills. Social ills were abundant because of the entrenched classicism in every part of the nation. Everywhere one looked, he would notice that classes played a vital role in how communities operated, and how people in the nation viewed one another in regards to class. The presence of the classes led to class conflicts, with people in lower classes denied access to basic rights as American citizens. The progressives saw the bigger picture and focused their attention on changing men and women, and not just institutions. They aimed at changing big business men as well as big business. They believed that changing the individual’s mindset and behavior would have a ripple effect on his family, community, and eventually the entire society.
The progressives attempted to address the social ills of the American working class. These middle class reformers began by calling for the ban on liquor and prostitution as these were seen as vices that led to the corruption of the individual, the family, and consequently, the society. The progressive movement viewed alcohol as the worst fiend to have ever been invented by man. Alcohol outweighed any other social ill in America at the time according to the reformists. The movement also believed that alcohol spurred the growth of prostitution in cities and towns across America. Establishments that sold alcohol were a den for prostitution. Naturally, they believed that if alcohol were prohibited, prostitution would also decline to a negligible level.
They also called out a number of suspect practices and compelled people to stop engaging in them. The practices included gambling, card-playing, horseracing, contraception, pornography, breaking of the Sabbath, and dance halls. The progressives viewed these practices as detractors from building stable homes and a stable society enshrined on the pinnacles of Protestantism.
The progressives also called on the upper ten to change their lifestyles and the ways through which they made their money. The reformers believed that the class conflicts were a direct result of the actions of the upper ten. Individuals in this category would earn huge amounts of money at the expense of the middle and lower classes leading to mistrust and friction amongst the classes.
To reshape other classes, the reformists attempted to improve the living conditions of the workers by demanding better pay for them. They also tried to revolutionize the agrarian communities so that they could be at par with the modern lifestyle. They also sought to reconstruct childhood as an effort to protect the future of the new society they were building. The reformists realized that the war and changes in gender roles were leading to higher divorce rates. Single parents or even grandparents were now raising children. It was time to reconstruct family values so that more children could be raised in stable homes with both parents. Part of the reconstruction would mean stopping divorce, which went hand in hand with alcohol and prostitution.
The reformists were part of the progressive movement that wanted to change adult behavior in the nation. They wanted to create a new America where the individual had a higher societal calling above self-interest. They wanted to change middle-class values and had a sense of urgency about them. They wanted to change the society’s view on pleasure, and restrict it because it seemed to blind people from behaving according to middle-class societal norms. They especially focused on reining in the masculine behavior.
The progressives were appreciative of and embraced the role of women outside domestic boundaries. They wanted women to work and be self-determined so that the home could be stronger and more cohesive. The reformers were also more interested in compelling people to change and alter their behavior rather than relying on moral suasion and cajoling.