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The Birth of The Progressive Era from The Flaws of The Gilded Era

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The Gilded Era (1870’s – 1900) was a time in American history in which many new ideas were brought to the forefront. However, with all these new ideas being uncovered, it opened the door for errors. With the new found political machines, there was corruption brought into the voting as citizens were not truly able to voice their opinion. Women were ineligible for voting. Ostentatious displays of wealth led to the rise of alcoholism, meaning more violence, and less income to spend. It was with these problems the Progressive Era (1890 – 1920) shone through. The Progressive Era was the Gilded Era’s “cry for help.” It is what made all the ideas brought about during the Gilded Era worth something; it fixed the errors brought about. This era brought about ideas such as secret ballots, referendum and several amendments to right the wrong of which the Gilded Era bestowed onto America. The Gilded Era gave many great ideas, but because of their flaws, the Progressive Era was started, and allowed for reformation.

The main political problem during the Gilded Era was the political machines. Political machines were organizations of politicians who would locally oversee voting processes. These were highly corrupt when first unveiled and had many issues. For starters, because there were politicians overseeing the whole voting process, it was easy for them to sabotage elections in their favor. They could buy votes, intimidate voters, or blackmail voters. By the end of the election, it was ultimately up to those who ran the machine to decide who was elected. Millions of dollars in government funds were embezzled during this time, with one major example being the Tammany Hall Machine, in which William Tweed embezzled somewhere around $200 million.

The Progressive Era, however, had solutions to combat the corruption found in these machines. One of these ways was the introduction of the secret ballot, first introduced in Britain in 1872, then later adopted by America. The secret ballot was the progressive solution to political machines, giving voters peace of mind, and freedom to vote for whomever they wanted. They would no longer have to worry about things such as bribery or blackmail. Referendum during the Progressive Era gave citizens an even louder voice, as they now had a chance to vote on whether to approve or repeal a law. This was used as a safe guard, as to prevent further corruption in the governmental system. While the Progressive Era did have many fixes to the cumbersome problems brought about by the Gilded Era, it was not a catch-all. There are still issues the progressive era was unable to fix, but it was a step in the right direction.

Problems persisted in constitutional aspects as well, with women being ineligible to vote. In an era where voting was becoming more popular and secure thanks to the Progressive Era’s secret ballot, it is no wonder why everyone wanted to be given the chance to voice their opinion. Women however, were in a segregated group in which they were unable to vote. They were thought to be inferior to men, hence making their vote meaningless. Equal right for women very quickly became a major issue within the united states.

The Progressive Era had a solution for this as well. This time, it came in the form of an amendment which was passed at the very end of the Progressive Era. The 19th amendment is an important amendment which gave women the right to vote. Thanks to the 15th amendment, neither federal, nor state government could deny any U.S. citizen the right to vote. This didn’t stop them however, and it wasn’t until the 19th amendment, passed in 1920, that unified voting laws and allowed for women’s suffrage. This all is due in large part to women’s activists like Susan B. Anthony, for without women like her, women today may still not have all the rights they do.

Finally, the social aspects of people’s lives were beginning to become effected in a negative way with the rise of alcoholism. Men were bringing home more income now than ever before, and with this newfound income came the purchasing of alcohol. Men we be drunk a majority of the time, and when drunk would cause harm to themselves and their families. It was almost to the point of no return when families could no longer afford the things necessary to survive. The men were spending so much money on alcohol that they were unable to provide food and water for their families.

Prohibition was taken into effect in 1920 which put a ban on anything having to do with alcohol. It remained in effect until 1933. This seemed to cause more problems than it solved however, as men were becoming angrier, and some being jailed because of bootleg alcohol. Crime rates rose, and it was clear now something else had to be done, and in 1933, the 21st amendment was passed. This simply repealed the 18th amendment, which was what put a ban on alcohol in the first place.

The Gilded Era gave many great ideas, but because of their flaws, the Progressive Era was started, and allowed for reformation. Before they would ever do any good, they needed to be revised. The Progressive Era could accomplish this, and make everything that came out of the Gilded age salvageable. The previously corrupt political machines were tamed with the implementation of the secret ballot. Women’s suffrage came about because of women’s activists and the passing of the 19th amendment. And Prohibition was both started and ended during this time.

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The Birth of the Progressive Era From the Flaws of the Gilded Era. (2018, August 02). GradesFixer. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from
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