Michigan: A History of the Great Lakes State

By Bruce A. Rubenstein; Lawrence E. Ziewacz | Go to book overview

Chapter 14

From Bull Moose to Bull Market

NEAR THE TURN OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY the great reform movement known as progressivism took root. This movement was unusual in that it originated during a period of economic prosperity, whereas most other American reform impulses began during economic distress. Progressivism was never an organized, monolithic movement but was rather a spontaneous, sporadic response by various groups to what they perceived to be threats to both their way of life and the nation's traditional values. Three major factors were responsible for the rise of progressivism: industrialization, immigration, and urbanization.

Industrialization had brought rapid change, especially in the development of large corporations which seemed to be able to manipulate economic and political power to the detriment of the general public. As a result of this corporate growth, a maldistribution of wealth became evident. An average laborer was fortunate to earn $1,000 per year, while the president of Standard Oil, John D. Rockefeller, received an annual income of over $50 million. To many, this was paradoxical and contradictory in a nation that stressed egalitarianism and equal opportunity.

Growth of cities caused new societal problems as well. Decreasing agricultural prices coupled with a declining rural population meant that the Jeffersonian ideal of the yeoman farmer being the cornerstone of the Republic was rapidly becoming a fading memory. In the cities, unprecedented demands, caused by thousands of persons crowded into areas that had not expanded as quickly as the population, forced municipal officials to try to provide mass transit, sanitation, police and fire protection, and urban renewal necessitated by the urban explosion. Even the simplest tasks seemed overwhelming. In urban areas, for example, the

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