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The Progressive Era Versus The New Deal: Comparative Analysis

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The period in United States history from the 1890s to the 1920s is usually looked at as the “Progressive Era”, which happens to be an era of crucial social and political reform aimed at making progress toward a better society for America. Progressive Era reformers thought to grasp the power of the U.S. federal government to eliminate unethical and unfair business practices, reduce corruption of the nation, and counteract the negative social effects of industrialization.

In the 1900s, the progressive era began during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt and continued until Woodrow Wilson. During the progressive era, it was a full time of several reforms, as it focused on the lower classes as they try and improve wages and working conditions. The new deal came during 1933 at the time of the great depression as the economy of the United States failed as a result of the stock market crash. The new deal began and ended during Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency. “The new deal was a plan to try and revive the United States economy and create more jobs”.[footnoteRef:1] [1: David Justice Lecture, March 28.]

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The new deal and the progressive era were similar, in which they improved the working conditions and set minimum wages, and set actual working times. This can be seen as one of the main agendas and goals of the progressive movement as many of the union members wanted to have an increase in their wages as life because working in the factory was so tough that it was almost to the point of exploitation. The wages were very low that sometimes they would have to make their wife and children work in other factories as one job wouldn’t be enough to provide. Also, they wanted fewer working hours and sometimes laborers would work more than 8 hours. Finally, workers also wanted better working conditions. This was a result of the triangle shirtwaist fire that caused the deaths of many workers and this led to improvements to the working environments. “The factory occupied the top three floors of a ten-story building in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City. Here some 500 workers, mostly young Jewish and Italian immigrant women, toiled at sewing machines producing ladies’ blouses, some earning as little as three dollars per week”.[footnoteRef:2] This can be seen in the NRA of the new deal, as it reduced hours a person can work in a day. It also set a fair level of minimum wage for everyone and is completely fair given that these women and children working in scolding hot factories all day was brutal work, especially for only getting paid for an all-time low minimum wage of three dollars. The way some of these people went out is just so sad, especially most of them being girls. Knowing this, however, it had to of been very bad for a girl to want to jump out of a building in only hopes of living. “More than a third of those who lost their lives did so in jumping from windows. The firemen who answered the first of the four alarms turned in found 30 bodies on the pavements of Washington Place and Greene Street. Almost all of these were girls, as were the great majority of them all. . . .”[footnoteRef:3]

In addition to both the progressive era and the new deal, their stance on African American civil rights were ignored by the government. During the progressive era, it was thought to be a time for reform so African Americans tried to get their rights protected and lynching parties were common, but they were not protected. As a reaction, African Americans joined together to form the NAACP, which was their form to protest these lynching’s hoping the government would notice their problems. There was also the Niagara movement, which both the Niagara and the NAACP were headed by W.E.B. DuBois. Unfortunately for the African American people, there was no reaction from the government. In the new deal, conditions did not get any better during The Great Depression of the 1930s. The economy worsened then already before and endangered the black economic situation of African Americans. African Americans were the first people to be fired from their jobs as they suffered from an unemployment rate two to three times that of whites. In early public assistance programs, blacks often received substantially less aid than whites, and some charitable organizations even excluded blacks from their soup kitchens. It was an extremely poor and desperate time for most African Americans. [2: Eric Foner, Page 547.] [3: Norton Mix, The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, Page 1082.]

However, in contrast, the progressive era was during a time of economic stability as the economy was not failing compared to the time period of the new deal. During the progressive era, there was a rising middle class that would lead to reforms, as these people would approach the government for reform. In this time, the people would go to the government for change rather than during the new deal. The government was trying to get jobs for the people, rather than the people being more involved in jobs. Reforms in both the progressive era and the new deal had some similarities. For example, in both of the times, they had reforms for workers, as well as the industries, and workers had received better conditions, better pay, and better hours. Both of these periods’ stances on African American civil rights were passive and ignored their needs. They differed, however, on activity where the people were more active in the progressive era than the government and vice versa for the new deal. “Yet although the New Deal significantly expanded the meaning of freedom, it did not erase freedom’s boundaries. Its benefits flowed to industrial workers but not tenant farmers, to men far more fully than women, and to white Americans more than blacks, who, in the South, still were deprived of the basic rights of citizenship”.[footnoteRef:4] This was true until the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King. The civil rights activist would be heard in the 1960s as Martin Luther King will successfully end all segregations between African Americans and whites. [4: Eric Foner, Page 645.]

Works Cited

  1. Foner Eric, Give Me Liberty! Fifth Brief Edition, “THE PROGRESSIVE ERA 1900-1916”, Pg. 546-577.
  2. Justice David, “THE GREAT DEPRESSION AND THE NEW DEAL 1890-1930”, March 28, 2019.
  3. New York World, “THE TRIANGLE SHIRTWAIST FIRE (MARCH 26,1911)”, Pg. 1081-1085.
  4. Foner Eric, Give Me Liberty!, Fifth Brief Edition, “THE NEW DEAL 1932-1940”, Pg. 643-675.
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