Populism vs Progressivism
American society has a strong reformist tradition, and populism and progressivism are two of the most popular mass movements or ideologies that have contributed to ongoing reforms over the past 150 years. Despite their many similarities, there are key differences between populism and progressivism. This article highlights these differences by examining the features of both ideologies.
Populism emerged in the last decade of the 19th century as a revolt by farmers and those associated with agriculture. The decline in farmers’ economic conditions, coupled with their desire to unite and improve the lot of farmers and other working-class people, led to the rise of populism. The society of that time was divided into the haves and have-nots, with those from farming backgrounds feeling that the government favored banks and industrialists and was plotting to destroy agriculture altogether. Rural workers in the farm sector, mainly from the South and poor whites, voted for Republicans but wanted comprehensive changes in the government’s financial policies.
Populists demanded greater government control of banking and industries, a graduated income tax through the 16th amendment, and direct election of senators from their states, which the government granted through the 17th amendment. Other populist demands, such as regulation of banks and industries, civil service reforms, and an eight-hour workday for laborers, were gradually accepted by the government.
Progressivism, on the other hand, arose in the early 20th century. The movement targeted the unfair election system, exploitation of workers, women, and children, corruption in the business class, and a legal system that favored the rich. Progressivism reflected the dissatisfaction of urban and middle-class people, who felt exploited by the wealthy and burdened by rising prices and inflation due to the influx of immigrants and blacks. The growing middle class also opposed socialism, believing it was a scheme to take away what little they had left in the wake of corruption and government policies favoring the poor.
Despite the populist demands bordering on communism, the government eventually accepted the majority of their demands, and they became law.
– Populism emerged in the late 19th century as a revolt by farmers and the working class, while progressivism arose in the early 20th century among the urban and middle class.
– Populism focused on reforming the economic system, while progressivism aimed to change the political system itself.
– Although populism had some communist elements, most of its demands were eventually accepted by the government and became law.