The progressive era

The time interval of 1890 to 1920 could be described as a change of the United States from a local power to global powerhouse. This period was referred to as the progressive era and it started with an expansion of the role of the United States in the Caribbean and southern part of the United States, such as the annexation of Hawaii islands, success in the Spanish-American war and following getting of Cuba, Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico. This identified the almost complete elimination of Spanish from South American region and also parts of Asia by the United States. Theodore Roosevelt in 1904 engaged the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, which described that the United States could get engaged in Latin America and the Caribbean to improve and stabilize them if it was in the interest of the United States. It removed European Nations out of the whole hemisphere, making it under the sphere of influence of the United States, developing the first position all over the globe under the hegemony of the United States. This period finally culminated in World War I, when the United States intervened in a war across the sea and became one of the well-known global dominant powers. The progressive era of political reform, social activism and foreign policy was primarily detrimental because of the policies and political reforms adopted by United States.

Kazin et al. (2010) pointed out that progressive movement in the United States was a movement that characterized changes in the United States and was enthusiastic about enhancing political reform, reducing political corruption, and reducing the political impact of huge political machines. Although many Progressives saw the United States’ power in a foreign area as a probability to create the contemporary domestic policies foreign and to improve foreign cultures, others who were not sympathetic to the progressive movement were very much concerned about negative results of the United States’ treatments and colonialism, which were detrimental to the global arena (Kessner et al., 1999).

According to Faragher et al. (2006), the progressive movement that existed in the Progressive Era started with the domestic agenda. Progressives were enthusiastic about developing a clearer and more responsible government, which would work to improve the society of the United States. These reformers made such suggestions as public service modifications, food security recommendations, and improved government privileges for females and United States’ employees. In the 1890s, the movement also started to question the power of huge organizations and monopolies after a sequence of document exposed unclear business practices. This intervention, as observed by Abbott (2000), really jeopardized independence and operations of some of the multinational companies on the territory of the United States.

The United States government throughout the period of 1890s became gradually dependent on its army and financial power to take aspect in foreign policy goals (Muzzey, 1911). The most well-known action during this interval, the Spanish-American War, led to the United States’ control of the former Spanish territories and colonies, such as Puerto Rico, the Philippines, as well as increased influence on Cuba. These territories taken over during the Spanish-American war had different responses toward United States occupation. In the Malaysia, the forces of United States met ready insurgency, while in Puerto Rico working-class and Progressive Puerto Ricans saw the United States as an effective counterweight to the local sugar market elites (Kazin et al., 2010).

Many Progressives, such as president of the United States Theodore Roosevelt, saw no problem between imperialism and the home reforms. To them, both were types of reforms, uplift and improvement, and they saw in these new territories a probability to further Progressive agenda all over the globe (Kessner et al., 1999). However, particularly after the violence of the Philippine-American War, other Progressives became gradually stating their opposition to the intervention and imperialism of the United States. Others considered that foreign projects would be little so much needed societal and domestic changes. This also resulted to racial tension in the country that linked imperialism and progressivism. Progressivism was associated to the whites which was stereotypically associated to imperialism on the black Americans.

Faragher et al. (2006) pointed out that under the power of the United States’ Senator Robert La Follett, Progressive opposition with foreign contribution further improved under the Dollar Diplomacy suggestions of Republican President of the United States William Howard Taft and secretary of State Philander Knox. However, Progressives stayed mostly enthusiastic about domestic problems, and the Republican Progressives sometimes hesitated to break the party lines on the foreign strategy, expecting to create higher influence on the domestic issues within the Republican Party. In the same way Abbott (2000) observed that after the election of Democratic president Woodrow Wilson, Democratic Progressives also decided to follow Wilson’s lead on the foreign policy issues, while opposition against them was led by other Progressives from the Republican Party. President Wilson also experienced resistance from Director-General of the Pan-American Cooperation, John Barrett, whom Wilson gradually forced out of office in 1919 (Muzzey, 1911).

Kazin et al. (2010) pointed out that President Wilson may have had more grandiose plans about foreign intervention of the United States in both South and North America in comparison with the former president Roosevelt’s intentions, but he was ready to interfere with Mexican Revolution. Anxiety about possible German submarine warfare also made him order the United States army invasion of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and also led to the purchase the Denmark’s Virgin Islands. The military occupation integrated components of Progressive program, trying to develop the country’s infrastructure, to set up effective local police forces, to reform land laws and improve access of the public to education. However, local opposition was against these programs, U.S. occupation and U.S. policies, which turned to be counterproductive. Where Contemporary policies expected destabilization of the United States authority, the US officials in charge of occupying force had to choose stability rather than real Progressive changes. This was detrimental to the United States in the long run because it was costly to the nation and it also generated international tension between United States with other foreign nations like Germany. (Kessner et al, 1999).

The progressive movement in the 1920s was gradually replaced by other movements. In some instances, such as women’s suffrage, Progressive success caused activists to miss the opportunity to make new steps towards further reform (Abbott, 2000). The Republican Party split twice in 1912 and 1924, which weakened Progressive wing of the party. The progressive wing of the Democratic Party would gradually be subsumed under New Deal coalition of Franklin Roosevelt. The issues of foreign policy would gradually be focused on the buildup of military forces to the Second World War, and Progressive matters had to take the back seat to the interventionist split (Muzzey, 1911).

Kazin et al. (2010) observed that The Progressive Era was one of typical achievements after the panic of 1893, a serious depression that ended in 1897. The panic of 1907 was short and mostly impacted on the creditors and financiers. However, Kessner et al. (1999) points out the mistakes of the economic system of 1907-1914, connecting them with public requirements for more Modern treatments. The panic of 1907 was followed by a small loss of real earnings and improved absence of the profession, with both problems lasting until World War I. Campbell specializes in the leading force on public finance and their effect on the policies of Wilson’s administration. The damaged economic system and serious government problems led to the changes in the working plan, such as the imposition of government taxation on organizations and people and development of the Government Source System. Government organizations were also personalized in an attempt to enhance management efficiency. This generally was detrimental to the government, public and the entire nation as a whole as it affected the economic muscles of the country because of the economic downfall of the nation. (Faragher et al., 2006).

In conclusion, many factors discussed in the essay such as the formation of the progressive movement, formulation of the foreign and domestic policies and the local political developments in the country revealed that changes in American foreign policy from the 1890s to 1920 were primarily detrimental to the country in many ways such as economic downfall, international relations problems and local political developments. The period characterized by progressive reforms in the international and domestic arena was promising but in the long run proved otherwise.







Abbott, J. (2000). American history. New York: Sheldon & Co.

Faragher, J. M., Buhle, M. J., Armitage, S. H., & Czitrom, D. J. (2006). Out of many: A history of the American people. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

Kazin, M., Edwards, R., & Rothman, A. (2010). The Princeton encyclopedia of American political history. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Kessner, T., Rosenblum, A., & City University of New York (1999). A graduate curriculum guide to philanthropy in American history: The elite experience, 1890-1940. New York: Center for the Study of Philanthropy.

Muzzey, D. S. (1911). An American history. Boston: Ginn and Co.




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