The Industrial Revolution and the Progressive Era

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The late 19th century and Business Growth

The late 19th century was a time of massive growth in both business industry. Sectors such as manufacturing, construction, and transportation were thriving hence offering employment to millions of Americans. Business growth during this era was influenced by technological advancements, improvement of transportation, and the development of new financial institutions. The level playing field made businesses grow rapidly resulting in intense competition. By the end of the 19th century, there were over a thousand railroad companies in the country, highlighting the nature of business at the time. Besides the challenges of competition, there were frequent economic contractions particularly between 1873 and 1878, and between 1893 and 1897. Business people, therefore, sought new ways of creating economic stability. One notable attempt was the formation of pools or cartels to deal with the destructive competition. The arrangements among competitors sought to divide markets and forbid practices such as price cutting. Other strategies adopted by the pools included setting prices and fixing production quotas. The moves beneficial to business people at the time and soon the pools grew in size and stature to become trade associations. Failing firms could receive financial assistance from the associations thus helping many businesses stay afloat. Despite the success of pools in solving competition-related problems, most of them could not survive economic contractions. The explanation is that some firms became tempted to cut prices and increase their market share when economic conditions were tight (Carlton and Perloff 21). As a reaction to this trend, business people came up with the idea of forming trusts in which firms were contract-bound. The trusts could fix prices and set marketing policies for the involved firms. The first trust was the Standard Oil Company. Soon after, other industries followed because they saw the benefits of the business model. While trusts succeeded in resolving the competition problem, they faced intense legal challenges. Eventually, they were outlawed by the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890 (Levenstein 451). This move marked the start of another alternative solution, the holding company, which could buy other companies.

Progressivism and Its Reforms

Progressivism refers to a movement of the late 19th century and the early decades of the 20th century that focused on resolving economic and social problems that resulted from the country's rapid industrialization. Major figures associated with the ideology include Jane Adams, John Dewey, Upton Sinclair, Woodrow Wilson, and Theodore Roosevelt (Durant 11). Progressivism was variously successful through its reform-based agenda. First, it helped solve political corruption through civil-service reforms in the federal government. The merit system which was introduced by the Civil Service Reform Act of 1883 helped eradicate the "spoils system" hence fostering the professionalization of the federal administration. However, political corruption survived in local government for much longer due to jurisdiction issues. Secondly, progressivism helped reform the country's political systems to one in which the non-ruling class had more influence on matters governance. Concepts such as the initiative, the referendum, and the recall let voters decide how issues should be addressed. Progressives also formulated and implemented antitrust laws in addition to regulating industries such as railroads. Progressive activism is credited with four constitutional amendments, the 16th to the 19th, resulted in federal income tax, the direct election of senators, prohibition, and women's suffrage. The last two illustrate the increased involvement of women in public decision-making credit to the movement.

Limitations and Contradictions of Progressivism

While progressive activism led to greater efficiency in government and increased the political power of the citizenry, the progressive era was highly exclusive. The benefits were limited to white Americans, with minorities such as African Americans continued to experience widespread discrimination. The era coincided with institutionalized racism where everyone was entitled to receive the same service, but there were separate provisions for each race. Services and facilities reserved for African Americans were of considerably lower quality and received less public funding as compared to nearby white facilities. Progressive reformers did little to improve the plight of African Americans even as most states moved to disenfranchise black voters (VanPatten and Davidson 128). Another weakness of progressivism was the contradictory nature of some of its goals that led to political antagonism. For instance, Wilson sought open competition while Roosevelt insisted on increased federal regulation of big companies.

Allied Powers' Strategy during WWII

The Allied Powers- Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union- came together in response to the unprovoked war started by the Axis powers. While the partners had different political aims, they were aware that an alliance was key to defeating their opponents. The major war aim was to defeat Germany first before dealing with the Japanese. Due to limited naval resources before the spring of 1942, the Allies planned a bombing campaign on Germany in addition to sending war materials to Soviet troops fighting the Nazi in Russia. The Allied forces planned to weaken the Germans by attacking them on multiple fronts. The British played their role by attacking Germany from the Mediterranean where it had strategic resources. The plan was to weaken Germany before finally making a cross-channel invasion of Europe. The Tehran Conference of 1943 provided the final blueprint for the victory of Allied forces. The plan was to mount a massive cross-channel invasion of Europe, an all-out offensive against Germany on the Russian front, and a small invasion of Normandy. The attack on multiple fronts would crush the German resistance for good. The second goal of the alliance was to defeat Japan in the Pacific Ocean. The Pearl Harbor attack left military resources heavily depleted, so Japan was able to capture most of the western Pacific Ocean region. The strategy of choice, in this case, was island hopping with the American troops looking to recapture the islands seized by Japan. The strategy was a success with key battles such as Guam, the Philippines, and Guam. This campaign gave the Allied forces a considerable advantage since they were close enough to either continue bombing Japan or plan a large invasion of the Japanese Islands. Despite the challenges in coordinating their efforts the Allied powers ultimately achieved their major war objectives.

Martin Luther King Jr. and Civil Disobedience

As the face of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. is best known for advocating non-violent methods such as civil disobedience. While the strategy was beyond the realm of the law, the context in which the strategy was used and its ultimate success vindicates King's choice. The civil rights movement had to contend with institutionalized racial discrimination on all levels of government. In addition, there was a growing militant revolutionary ideology that was fostered by groups such as the Nation of Islam. These groups were relatable to the generation of disillusioned black youth hence making King's job harder. The complexity of the situation pressured Martin Luther King to create a middle way (Jackson 107). As a Baptist minister, his ideology was heavily influenced by teachings of the Bible. Also, he also borrowed from the non-Christian ideas of leaders like Mohandas Gandhi. One of King's first displays of civil disobedience was when he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. The protest was against segregation in the town's buses. King argued that it was an individual's moral duty to disobey unjust rules. The boycott would, therefore, continue until the town eradicated the discriminative law. King's stance addressed the inequalities of segregation while still dissuading people from violent confrontations with the authorities. The middle way bred resentment from some African Americans who felt that he was too lenient with the oppressor hence the formation of militant groups. However, King was ultimately vindicated since the government gradually changed some of the discriminatory policies. Civil disobedience helped King gain "moderate" allies from the white community. These moderates were eventually influential in helping drive goals of the social justice movement. King chose the right strategy to engage the government by protesting against discrimination while still promoting love and truth. The efforts eventually cost him his life, but his contribution is still evident in the modern day.

Works Cited

Carlton, Dennis W., and Jeffrey M. Perloff. Modern industrial organization. Pearson Higher Ed, 2015.

Durant, Robert F. "Taking time seriously: Progressivism, the business–social science nexus, and the paradox of American administrative reform."PS: Political Science & Politics 47.1 (2014): 8-18.

Jackson, Thomas F. From civil rights to human rights: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the struggle for economic justice. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013.

Levenstein, Margaret C. "Antitrust and Business History."S. Cal. L. Rev. 85 (2011): 451.

VanPatten, Jim, and Barry Davidson. "Progressivism: another look then and now."Journal of Philosophy and History of Education 60 (2010): 126-132.

November 24, 2023


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