Ethical and Civic Consideration of the Progressive Era

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During the Gilded era, United States citizens faced significant economic, political, and social challenges. Despite the rapid economic growth associated with industrialization, many underlying issues were gilded by prosperity. The industrial revolution led to many problems such as unemployment, political radicalism, poverty, and corruption. As a result, a group of reformists advocating for a better America was established, known as the progressives. The reformists came from middle-class society and included religious leaders, politicians, and social activists who wanted to reform America by annihilating industrialization. This paper analyses and explains the civic and ethical considerations that progressives used in their reforms and achievements.

Ethical and Civic Considerations

Industrialization gave rise to high living standards and poverty due to unethical business practices. The emergence of corporate businesses influenced individualism, with business owners aiming at profits and unfairly eliminating competition. As a result, laborers and industrial workers were subjected to long working hours, poor living conditions, and brutality to achieve the owners’ targets (Nichols & Unger, 2017). Most business owners came from higher society; thus, middle- and lower-class individuals could not protest the cruelty and poor working conditions. Progressive reformers were driven by the need to establish a stable political, social and economic environment. Nichols and Unger (2017) states that progressives considered the Hamiltonian method of government as the best and wanted to have the same government effectiveness. The populist constitution was strict but only covered the federal aspects of the nation. Therefore, reformists had a vision for a democratic government that could consider the poor societies welfare in their legislature.

Corruption was widespread in business transactions, economies, employment wages and working conditions. Thus, the reformists advocated for fair wages, regulating working hours, increasing graduate wages, and creating stricter laws regarding child labor. Empowering women was also part of the motivation for social reforms where reformists supported the movement to allow women to vote. Progressives had the assumption that regulating large corporate businesses would liberate employees and laborers from the consequences and restriction of industrial monopolies (Nichols & Unger, 2017). Activists who stood for labor and wage regulations suggested eliminating monopolies to promote economic stability, growth, and better social lifestyles. On the other hand, economic reformists favored monopoly businesses arguing that they are more productive economically due to capacity and market distribution and were against their elimination. Thus, both sides agreed to have strict regulations governing employee wages, working hours, working conditions and taxation.

Reform Approaches

Progressive reformists used two approaches in creating reforms in the country. The first approach involved the formulation of legislative laws and punishments to guide society. According to progressives, organizations require effective management by following drawn rules and regulations with severe punishment for offenders (Nichols & Unger, 2017). Progressives argued that the constitutional laws were ineffective and could not extend to citizen protection since they had a limited scope involving only the federal government. The reformist considered society to be more important than the federal government. Therefore, laws must ensure the citizens are protected first. As a result, constitutional amendments were done considering social injustices, political imperialism, corporate corruption and unhealthy competition. The pure drug and food act in 1906 were established to eliminate unhealthy competition and counterfeit commodities, while the Clayton antitrust act in 1914 was founded to prevent Counterfeit businesses and unhealthy completion (Nichols & Unger, 2017). However, progressives had disagreements on whether breaking monopolies was a good idea since they dominated markets and controlled the economy. Breaking monopolies old lead to fairness and healthy competition, but it could influence other factors like economic stability. In the end, they set strict rules regarding businesses and monopolies to ensure justice and transformation.

The second approach involved using federal power to influence the masses and deal with influential business barons to establish fairness. Progressive reformists sought to use the federal government’s influence in eliminating unethical activities in business, curbing corruption, and promoting the social welfare of all citizens. Since high society dominated corporate companies, they dictated everything, including market prices (Nichols & Unger, 2017). Farmers sold their produce at low market prices because business owners also had farms that produced agricultural products in larger quantities. Reformists created communities such as the Peoples Party that helped farmers establish businesses and supply agricultural produce to corporate companies through mutual partnerships. Community leaders were also engaged in advocating for economic and social reforms.


Progressive reforms were successful in influencing the passage of some significant legislative amendments. The amendment includes establishing income tax in the sixteenth amendment, sanctioning direct election for senatorial seats in the eighteenth amendment, and allowing women to vote in the nineteenth amendment. Economic reforms and social justice included alienating poverty and promoting productivity. Poverty alienation involved establishing settlements shelters for the poor living in urban areas and middle-class society volunteering in activist reforms. By the beginning of the 20th century, progressives had settled over 400 families in various states where the most known establishment was the Hull House in Chicago.


The industrial revolution gave rise to many societal problems such as poverty, economic instability, and social injustices, resulting in reformist groups advocating for stability and fairness. Among the groups are the progressives, which included members from the middle class advocating for human rights equality, political stability and economic development. Although they believed in some populist ideas, reformers were more conservative in their reform approaches and achieved most of their goals through strategic planning and using political power to their advantage. Several amendments were enacted to protect citizens, including women suffrage, regulating monopolies and fair taxation.


Nichols, C., & Unger, N. (2017). A companion to the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. Wiley-Blackwell.

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DemoEssays. "Ethical and Civic Consideration of the Progressive Era." February 21, 2023.