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The Progressive Era: Government


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Title: The Progressive Era: Government

The Progressive Era Government Election Reform
The Assault on Political Parties
  • Reformers agreed the only way to carry out
    most of the progressive goals and successfully
    counter the powerful interest groups that
    threatened the nation would be through
    governmental intervention

Reforming Government
  • Progressives believed that every level of
    government (national, state, local governments)
    were outmoded, inefficient, and corrupt
  • Progressives believed the two dominant political
    parties (the Democratic Republican Parties)
    were corrupt, undemocratic, and reactionary

  • 1880s-1890smost states adopted the Secret
    Ballot System, known as the Australian Ballot.
  • Prior to this time, Party Bosses could monitor
    and shape voting practices because they were the
    ones to distribute voting tickets


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The Advantages Significance of the Secret
  • Ballots were printed by the government
  • Voters filled out/cast ballots in secrecy
  • Significancechipped away at the power of
    political bosses and political parties and
    increased the power of the voters

Municipal Reform
  • Many progressives believed the impact of
    Political Parties and the Party Rule was most
    damaging in cities
  • Muckracking journalists were especially
    successful in arousing public outrage against
    corruption and incompetence in city politics

                Joseph Lincoln Steffens(1866-1936
Corruption in the Cities The Political Boss
Middle Class Progressives Lead the Charge
  • Middle Class members of old aristocratic
    families take interest in government
  • Reformers face opposition by powerful and
    sometimes corrupt special interest groups
  • Saloon owners, brothel keepers, business owners
    who partnered up with the political machine
    (those who received benefits for being loyal to
    the political machine)
  • Many influential newspapers attempted to ridicule
    and undermine the efforts of the reformers

Middle Class Progressives Lead the Charge
  • Political machines (Party Bosses) need immigrants
    to stay in power (voting them into office)
  • Party Bosses use immigrants as cheap labor
  • The number of political reforms increases in
    American cities due to
  • Failure of politicians in cities (inability to
    deal with natural disasters, management problems,
    growing debt, racial tensions, overpopulation,

Two New Forms of Governing Cities
  • Commission Plan
  • Began in Galveston, TX (1900)
  • Disaster (tidal wave) devastated the city
  • City government couldnt handle the disaster
  • Reformers able to enact a new city charter
  • Mayor city council replaced with a non-partisan
    (not affiliated with a political party)
  • 1907Des Moines, IA adopted its own version of
    the Commission Plan, other major American cities
    adopt their own versions as well.

Two New Forms of Governing Cities
  • City Manager Plan
  • Outside experts (typically a professionally
    trained business manager or engineer) hired to
    run the city government
  • City manager typically NOT affiliated with one of
    the two major political parties (non-partisan
    management of the city)

Statehouse Progressivism
  • Many reformers sought to increase the power of
    the electorate by diminishing the grip party
    bosses had over state legislatures
  • Intended goalto limit, control, and eventually
    end corruption in state governments

Two Important Changes in State Governance
  • Initiative
  • Allowed reformers to circumvent state
    legislatures by submitting new legislation
    directly to the voters in general elections
  • Referendum
  • Provided a method by which actions of the
    legislature could be returned to the electorate
    for approval
  • (i.e. city budget, school budget, laws that
    affected residents of the state)

Direct Primary
  • Direct Primary
  • Took selection of a candidate out of the hands of
    the party bosses
  • Primaries would determine which candidate for a
    particular political office would run as the
    partys candidate
  • The South used direct primaries to
    regulate/limit black voting and instituted black

The 17th AmendmentPassed by Congress May 13,
1912. Ratified April 8, 1913.
  • The Senate of the United States shall be composed
    of two Senators from each state, elected by the
    people thereof, for six years and each Senator
    shall have one vote. The electors in each state
    shall have the qualifications requisite for
    electors of the most numerous branch of the state
  • How did this limit the power of Party Bosses
    Political Parties on both the State National
    Level? How did this amendment increase the power
    of the electorate?

  • Recall
  • Gave voters the right to remove a public official
    from office at a special election which could be
    called after voters collected the required amount
    of signatures on a petition to recall a
    governmental official
  • Making Connections to todayDue to the failing
    economy and a general dissatisfaction with the
    performance of their governor, Californians
    voted in 2004 to hold a special election to
    determine whether Democratic Governor Gray Davis
    should be removed from office.
  • Who did California voters elect to replace
    Governor Davis?
  • What is the significance of this power given to
    the electorate?

Other Political Reforms
  • Between 1903-1908
  • 12 states passed laws restricting lobbying of
    businesses in state legislatures
  • 22 states banned campaign contributions by
  • 24 states forbade public officials from receiving
    free railroad passes
  • What is the significance of restricting lobbying
    practices and campaign financing by corporations?

Laboratory for Democracy
  • Robert La Follette
  • Elected governor of Wisconsin in 1900
  • Successful in winning support for enacting direct
    primaries, referendums, and initiatives in
  • Eventually led to success in regulating Rail
    Roads and Public Utilities in Wisconsin

Photo of Robert M. La Follette (1855-1925)
speaking before an audience of 12,000 in Los
Angeles, 1907
Political Parties Interest Groups
Decline of Influence of Political Parties
  • Decline in the power of political parties due to
    the following
  • Low voter turn out
  • Successful progressive reforms aimed at corrupt
    party bosses political machines
  • 3rd party power influence decreased
  • Rise of interest groups

Interest Groups
  • Organizations that emerged outside the party
  • Designed to pressure the government to do its
    members bidding and advance its demands on
  • Examples labor organizations, farm lobbies,
    particular businesses industries (steel/oil
    companies/industries), social rights groups,
    social workers

Evaluation How successful were political
reforms during the Progressive Era?
  • What is the significance of reforming city and
    state governments during the progressive era?
  • What is the significance of reforming political
  • In terms of government, voting, and political
    parties, were the objectives of the progressive
    reformers met? Explain your answer provide at
    least 2 specific examples to support your answer.