Progressives sought to restore economic competition, make government more efficient, and stem the tide of socialism. To what extent were progressives successful in achieving these goals?



Everybody is talkin’ these days about Tammany men growin’ rich on graft, but nobody thinks of drawin’ the distinction between honest graft and dishonest graft. There’s all the difference in the world between the two. Yes, many of our men have grown rich in politics. I have myself. I’ve made a big fortune out of the game, and I’m getting’ richer every day, but I’ve not gone in for dishonest graft—blackmailin’ gamblers, saloon-keepers, disorderly people, etc.—and neither has any of the men who have made big fortunes in politics.

There’s an honest graft, and I’m an example of how it works. I might sum up the whole thing by sayin’: I seen my opportunities and I took ‘em."

Just let me explain by examples. My party’s in power in the city, and it’s goin’ to undertake a lot of public improvements. Well, I’m tipped off, say, that they’re goin’ to lay out a new park at a certain place… I go to that place and I buy up all the land I can in the neighborhood. Then the board of this or that makes its plan public, and there’s a rush to get my land, which nobody cared particular for before.

Ain’t it perfectly honest to charge a good price and make a profit on my investment and foresight?" Of course it is. Well, that’s honest graft.

Source: George Washington Plunkett in an interview with a newspaper reporter, 1905.



The practice of interlocking directorates is the root of many evils. It offends laws human and divine. Applied to rival corporations, it tends to the suppression of competition and to violation of the Sherman [antitrust] law. Applied to corporations which deal with each other, it tends to disloyalty and to violation of the fundamental law that no man can serve two masters. In either event it tends to inefficiency; for it removes incentive and destroys soundness of judgment. It is undemocratic, for it rejects the platform: "A fair field and no favors," substituting the pull of privilege for the push of manhood. It is the most potent instrument of the money Trust. Break the control so exercised by the investment bankers over railroads, public-service and industrial corporations, over banks, life-insurance and trust companies, and a long step will have been taken toward attainment of the New Freedom.

Source: Louis Brandeis, Other People’s Money (1914).



          Work in the coal breakers is exceedingly hard and dangerous. Crouched over the chutes, the boys sit hour after hour, picking out the pieces of slate and other refuse from the coal as it rushes past to the washers. From the cramped position they have to assume, most of them become more or less deformed and bent-backed like old men. When a boy has been working for some time and begins to get round-shouldered, his fellows say that "He’s got his boy to carry round whenever he goes."

          The coal is hard, and accidents to the hands, such as cut, broken, or crushed fingers, are common among the boys. Sometimes there is a worse accident: a terrified shriek is heard, and a boy is mangled and torn in the machinery, or disappears in the chute to be picked out later smothered and dead. Clouds of dust fill the breakers and are inhaled by the boys, laying the foundations for asthma and miners’ consumption.

Source: John Spargo, Bitter Cry of Children, 1906.




Senators to be elected by popular vote.

  1. The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people hereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. the electors in each Sate shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of [voters for] the most numerous branch of the Sate legislatures.

Source: U.S. Constitution, Seventeenth Amendment.



…The machine controls the whole process of voting, and practices fraud at every stage. The [tax] assessor’s list is the voting list, and the assessor is the machine’s man… The assessor pads the list with the names of dead dogs, children, and non-existent persons. One newspaper printed the picture of a dog, another that of a little four-year-old Negro boy, down on such a list. A "ring" orator, in a speech resenting sneers at his ward as "low down," reminded his hearers that that was the ward of Independence Hall, and, naming over the signers of the Declaration of Independence, he closed his highest flight of eloquence with the statement that "these men, the fathers of American liberty, voted down here once. And," he added with a catching grin, "they vote here yet."

Source: Lincoln Steffens, The Shame of the Cities, 1904.




          … There have been spread before your Committee elaborate tables of so-called interlocking directorates, from which exceedingly mistaken inferences have been publicly drawn. In these tables it is shown that 180 bankers and bank directors serve upon the boards of corporations having resources aggregating $25 billion and it is implied that this vast aggregate of the country’s wealth is at the disposal of these 180 men.

          … The testimony failed to establish any concerted policy or harmony of action binding these 180 men together, and, as a matter of fact, no such policy exists. The absurdity of the assumption of such control becomes more apparent when on considers that, on the average, these directors represent only one quarter of the memberships of their boards. It is preposterous to suppose that every "interlocking director has full control in every organization with which he is connected, and that the majority of directors who are not "interlocking" are mere figureheads, subject to the will of a small minority of their boards.

Source: J. P. Morgan, speech to the Pujo Committee, 1913.



Socialist Vote: 1904-1920



# of Voters

% of Total Voters

Electoral Votes


Eugene Debs





Eugene Debs





Eugene Debs





A. L. Benson





Eugene Debs




Source: Bailey and Kennedy, American Pageant, 1994.



          … If the government is to tell big business men how to run their business, then don’t you see that big business men have to get closer to the government even than they are now? Don’t you see that they must capture the government, in order not to be restrained too much by it?…

          …I don’t care how benevolent the master is going to be, I will not live under a master. That is not what America was created for. America was created in order that every man should have the same chance as every other man to exercise mastery over his own fortunes… If you will but hold off he adversaries, if you will but see to it that the weak are protected, I will venture a wager with you that there are some men in the United States, now weak, economically weak, who have brains enough to compete with these gentlemen and who will presently come into the market and put these gentlemen on their mettle.

Source: Woodrow Wilson, New Freedom, 1913.



 Tariff Levies on Dutiable Imports, 1880-1940 
(Ratio of Duties to Value of Dutiable Imports)


Source: Historical Statistics of the United States and Statistical Abstract of the United States.



"Trusts--The Main Issue"

Woman's headband says "Liberty"
Tablet held by ape says "Republicanism"
Arrow shot into ape reads "Democracy"

Source: The Verdict, July 10, 1899, cartoon by C. Gordon Moffat.



DBQ Question created by:

Mr. Steven Mercado
Chaffey High School
Ontario, CA
created in:  April, 2000