The Progressive Era

"I regard my people . . .

...as I regard my machinery. So long as they do my work for what I choose to pay them, I keep them, getting out of them all I can. What they do or how they fare outside my walls I don’t know, nor do I consider it my business to know. They must look out for themselves as I do for myself."

— Massachusetts Business Owner

The Progressive Era

— from the series America in the 20th Century

One could argue that many issues of American foreign policy in the twentieth century had their origins in the emergence of the United States as a major world power at the end of the 19th century. The Spanish-American war was the great conflict of the era, Teddy Roosevelt its great warrior. For nationalist Americans, empire building was intoxicating. The Washington Post editorialized:

“A new consciousness seems to have come upon us—the consciousness of strength—and with it a new appetite, the yearning to show our strength. . . . Ambition, interest, land hunger, pride, the mere joy of fighting, whatever it may be, we are animated by a new sensation. We are face to face with a strange destiny. The taste of Empire is in the mouth of the people even as the taste of blood in the jungle. It means an Imperial policy, the Republic, renascent, taking her place with the armed nations.”

Of course, not everyone was infected with the blood fever. Sober citizens, Mark Twain among them, vehemently opposed American imperialism in general and the Spanish-American War in particular. With the benefit of more than a century of hindsight, we know the consequences of that "splendid little war" were monumental. Indeed, its lesson endures today: "'Tis much easier to win the war than to secure the peace."

Robert LaFollette

Video Chapters

The Progressive Era is the second volume in the award-winning video series America in the 20th Century. It explores the turn-of-the-19th-century reform movements that arose in response to the economic and social problems rapid industrialization introduced to the United States. It profiles reformers such as Jane Addams Jacob Riis, Ida Tarbel, and Eugene Debs, as well as presidents Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson.

The Progressive Era is presented in four video chapters. Preview them here or log in to the members-only Streaming Room™ to access the complete videos. Not a member? It's easy to subscribe now.

Early Voices of Reform
Early Voices of Reform
The Limits of Progressivism
The Limits of Progressivism
Progressives' Programs
Progressives' Programs
Progressivism at the National Level
Progressivism at the National Level

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