Did the Progressive movement help or hinder the labor movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries?



          "The typical business man is a bad citizen; he is busy. If he is a "big businessman" and very busy, he does not neglect, he is busy with politics, oh, very busy and very businesslike. I found him buying boodlers in St. Louis, defending grafters in Minneapolis, originating corruption in Pittsburgh, sharing with bosses in Philadelphia, deploring reform in Chicago, and beating good government with corruption funds in New York. He is a self-righteous fraud, this big business man. He is the chief source of corruption, and it were a boon if he would neglect politics. .....Naturally..when he talks politics, he talks shop. His patent remedy is quack; it is business."

Source:  Lincoln Steffens, Shame of the Cities.



          "Is this a fair, reasonable and appropriate exercise of the police power of the State, or is it an unreasonable, unnecessary, and arbitrary interference with the right of the individual to his personal liberty or to enter into those contracts in relation to labor which may seem him appropriate or necessary for the support of himself and his family? Of course the liberty of contract relating to labor includes both parties to it. The one has as much right to purchase as the other to sell labor...Clean and wholesome bread does not depend upon whether the baker works but ten hours per day or only sixty hours a week. The limitation of the hours of labor does not come within the police power on that ground..."

Source:  Supreme Court Decision, Lochner vs. New York, 1905.



          "The legislation and opinions referred to...may not be...authorities, and in them is little or no discussion of the constitutional question presented to us for determination, yet they are significant of a widespread belief that woman’s physical structure, and the functions she performs in consequence thereof, justify special legislation restricting or qualifying the conditions under which she should be permitted to toil...as healthy mothers are essential to vigorous offspring, the physical well-being of woman becomes an object of public interest and care in order to preserve the strength and vigor of the race..."

Source:  Muller vs. Oregon, 1908.




          "We Progressives stand for the rights of the people...The only effective way in which to regulate trusts is through the exercise of the collective power of our people as a whole through the Governmental agencies established by the Constitution for this very purpose...Grave injustice is done by the Congress when it fails to give the National Government complete power in this matter...The Inter-State Commerce Commission...should have free access to the books of each corporation and power to find out exactly it treats employees, its rivals, and the general public. It should have power to compel the unsparing publicity of all the acts of any corporation which goes wrong."

Source:  Theodore Roosevelt, Acceptance Speech, August 6, 1912.



          "I take my stand absolutely, where every progressive ought to take his stand, on the proposition that private monopoly is indefensible and intolerable. And there I will fight my battle. And I know how to fight it. Everybody who has even read the newspapers knows the means by which these men built up their power and created these monopolies...What these gentlemen do not want is this: they do not want to be compelled to meet all comers on equal terms."

Source:  Woodrow Wilson, The New Freedom.



           "Again, through the perversion of democracy to the ends of plutocracy, labor is robbed of the wealth with it alone produces, is denied the means of self-employment, and by compulsory idleness in wage slavery, is even deprived of the necessaries of life...[Social Demand #10]--"Official statistics concerning the condition of labor. Prohibition of the employment of children of school age and of the employment of female labor in occupations detrimental to health and morality. Abolition of the convict labor contract system."

Source:  Socialist Labor Party Platform, July 4, 1896.



           "There is a studied effort made in some quarters of this country to teach that the employer of labor is attempting to enslave the workingman. I submit to you men of toil all around and about me, who is the better friend of labor, he who gives you work that brings contentment, or he who breathes only words that create discontent? There cannot be, there ought never be, any enmity between labor and capital. The interest of the one is the interest of the other."

Source:  William McKinley, in Cleveland Gazette.



          "These, I believe are the gravest obstacles at the present time to the enforcement of the child labor law [in Illinois]: first, the general hypocrisy of the American people, believing that child labor is evil, and that, therefore, we do not tolerate it -- when there are working children on the streets before our eyes, every working day in the year, in every manufacturing city; second, the failure to make the work of enforcing the law a desirable and recognized profession into which the ablest men will willingly go. The trouble is ourselves. We get exactly the sort of care for the children through the officials that the community determines they shall have; and we register our indifference in accepting such printed records as we have now, obscuring the actual conditions of the working children in nearly all the states. The next step which we need to take is to insist that this is a national evil, and we must have a national law abolishing it."

Source:  Florence Kelley, "Obstacles to the Enforcement of Child Labor Legislation," 1906.


DBQ Question created by:
student of Mr. Herb Meserve
Shoreham Wading River H. S.
Shoreham NY 11786
created in:  April, 2000