The Unfinished Nation, Chapter 21 “The Rise of Progressivism”


Chapter 21 Main Themes:


  1. The growth of progressivism as a reaction to the problems caused by the rapid industrialization and urbanization of the United States in the late nineteenth century.


  1. The nature of the progressive impulse, particularly the optimistic vision shared by all progressives that an active government and human intervention could solve problems and create an efficient, ordered society.


  1. The desire of progressives to reduce the influence of party machines on politics and foster instead rule by "experts.


  1. The crusade-like nature of many progressive movements, including prohibition, immigration-restriction, and women's suffrage movements.



A thorough study of Chapter 21 should enable the student to understand:


  • The origins and complexities of the progressive impulse.


  • The progressive emphasis on scientific expertise, organizational reform, and professionalism.


  • The role of women and women's organizations in promoting reform, and vice versa.


  • The success and significance of the women's suffrage movement.


  • The desire of the progressives to limit the role of political party organizations, and the measures they advocated to accomplish this goal.


  • The prohibition movement and its relationship to other progressive reforms.


  • The origins of the NAACP and the importance of W. E. B. DuBois.


  • The movement to restrict immigration and its relationship with other avenues of "reform."


  • The alternate approaches to the problems of the trusts: socialism, regulation, or trust busting.


  • The historical debate concerning the origin and nature of progressivism.






At-Large Election:

An election in which each candidate for a city council (or other representative body) is voted on by all the voters within a city (or other jurisdiction) rather than by only the residents of a specific ward (or district).


Direct Primary:

A progressive effort to limit the power of parties and improve the quality of public officials, the direct primary was an attempt to take the selection of candidates away from bosses and instead give it to the people (through a primary vote.) The direct primary was also used to disenfranchise African-Americans in the Jim Crow South.



A letter on a current issue of church concern, circulated to Roman Catholic clergy by the pope. Encyclicals, such as Rerum Novarum, are considered to constitute official church policy.



A populist innovation which allowed reformers to circumvent state legislatures by submitting new legislation directly to the voters in general elections.


Interest Groups:

Political groups who have come together on the basis of one particular interest. In the progressive era, a new pattern of politics emerged in which many individual interests organized to influence government directly rather than operating through party structures. This "interest group democracy" has continued until the present day.



Another populist-progressive reform effort, the recall gave voters the right to remove a public official from office through a special election, which could be called after a sufficient number of citizens had signed a petition.



A method devised by populist and progressive reformers by which actions of the legislature could be returned to the electorate for approval by placing an issue on the general ballot.