The People's Experience: Progressives
Industrialization and urbanization wreaked devastating effects on the living and working conditions of many of the nation's poor. A mulitfaceted political and social movement in the early twentieth century calling themselves the Progressives sought to improve the lives of those suffering from these effects. With emphasis on slum clean-up (such as the one pictured here, Washington DC circa 1910) and labor reform and involving a high degree of participation and commitment by women, by 1912 the movement had organized politically as well as socially. In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt and other Progressives split from the Republican Party and formed a third party, the Bull Moose, under which Roosevelt ran for the presidency (the cartoon at bottom pokes fun at Roosevelt as a Bull Moose). By 1916, the Bull Moose (or Progressive) Party had lost a great deal of its influence. The Party held its own convention in 1916, eventually nominating Roosevelt, however, the Bull Moose leadership realized that with the Republican party split, the Democratic party would continue to win elections. A new institution for discussion, known as “Harmony Conferences,” was established as a communication gateway between Republican and Progressive leadership to steer the Republican Party towards policy accepted by both the Republicans and the Progressives. Though nominated on the third party ticket, Roosevelt chose not to run in 1916 and threw his support behind Hughes. The Bull Moose Party was dissolved.
Not all Progressives were ready to rejoin the Republican Party, and the Democratic campaign spent a great deal of time and resources attempting to win Progressive votes. Stressing Wilson's liberal legislation record and the peace issue, Democrats were successful in gaining a great many Progressive votes, even carrying Roosevelt's stronghold: the West.
In the end, Progressives joined with the Democrats or the Republicans in 1916 for different reasons. Many Progressives believed Republicans to be inseparable from eastern business interests. Raymond Robins, Illinois Senator, labor leader, and chairman of the Progressive convention, sided with Hughes, arguing that the Democratic Party remained unable to aid all workers due to Southern Democrats' dependence on an African-American working class and Northern Democrats' use of corrupt political machines to control a manipulated immigrant class. However, eleven out of nineteen original drafters of the Bull Moose Party platform of 1912 officially endorsed Wilson, stating that they were
"...unalterably in favor of the retention in office of President Wilson, under whose guidance and leadership more Progressive principles have been enacted into law than we believe might have been enacted into law than we believe might have been accomplished had the Progressive party been in power."
(Columbus Citizen, October 31, 1916)
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