This unit on Progressive Era Politics provides you with an opportunity to explore some of the themes raised in our companion module—Muckrakers and Reformers of the Progressive Era. One of these is the philosophical watershed represented by this movement as reformers challenged prevailing laissez faire ideals and argued that government had a critical role to play in policing business and refereeing the marketplace. This argument was not uncontested. Social and economic conservatives challenged it in 1900 and continue to challenge it today. In fact, many argue that the Progressives would be shocked by how far their comparatively limited reform objectives have been eclipsed by contemporary reformers. Even so, the example set by Progressive Era reformers set the course for a century of social and economic legislation.
You might also want to explore the influence of liberal religious reformers. The Social Gospel of Walter Rauschenbusch and Washington Gladden challenged evangelical emphases on personal salvation and insisted, instead, that social regeneration lay at the heart of the Christian message. One of the activities we have included here will help your students compare this message to the competing ideas advanced around the same time by Social Darwinists.