It was a political persuasion that had adherents in both major political parties - most notably Theodore Roosevelt among the Republicans and figures like William Jennings Byran and Thomas Woodrow Wilson among Democrats. Their philosophy basically advocated the notion that government was a salvation resource, taken from efforts in the 19th Century and earlier eras to have great religious revivals for renewing America's Christian soul. However to the Progressive, government was an effective substitute for God and government run by compassionate and competent bureaucratic or elected office holders who were wiser than the average voters or venal political hacks out for enriching themselves superior to any other form of governmental arrangement. Essentially I believe they borrowed the Platonic ideal of a Philosopher King from the Greek philosopher's utopia written of in his seminal work The Republic. Put intelligent people in positions of power and have them rule or administer over the rest of us for the common weal or greater good of all mankind. The 20th Century blueprint for this philosophy callled the Progressive Movement was also celebrated partly in a political fiction novel written by Woodrow Wilson's friend and confidante Colonel Edward Mandell House - Philip Dru Administrator, published in 1912.
The Progressives have the bizarre notion that human beings can be perfected through efficient, honest government, in some ways likening them to other utopian social movements - the Fabians of Great Britain, various Socialist or Social Democratic movements in Europe and the former USSR's Bolshevik Communists. To that end, they always sought a more muscular, interventionist government with ever expanding political power to regulate and legislate wisely for the aim of guiding the world into a better tomorrow. Theodore Roosevelt was the first Progressive politician elected to the Presidency and did meddle somewhat more than his more recent Republican predecessors in that office. He attempted to regulate corporate interests that were believed to be too large, forgetting that the marketplace and inefficiencies in larger companies when challenged by smaller, leaner competitiors was more effective at regulating business and giving customers what they wanted. He was instrumental in getting government in the business of natural preservation and creating parks that tied up lands from being owned by private hands. He pushed what today some might call National Greatness Conservatism for the purpose of America becoming a world power equal to the empires of Europe and Japan of that day. Roosevelt was also a meddler in foreign affiars, brokering peace between Russia and Japan after their two-year war over control of eastern China and Korea. He encouraged Panama to secede from Columbia to open the way for a US controlled Central American isthmus canal zone built by American companies. Of course, this tendency was lessened by his successor William Taft. But the Progressives found champions outside of the government advocating social changes such as Ida Tarbell and Sinclair Lewis among intellectual circles. After the Depression of 1907, during which big bank cartel owners such as J. P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller helped stabilize Wall Street by buying up key stocks, they and other bankers began lobbying in 1910 for another plank of Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto that Progressives believed would make America better - a central bank.
The problem with a central bank run by private bankers but chartered by the US Govermnent was it had been tried twice before in the 18th and 19th Centuries. In 1791, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, the original crony capitalist when the idea was called mercantilism (government subsidizing economic activity for the benefit of well connected businessmen), lobbied Congress to charter the First Bank of the United States for a 20-year period. This bank was privately owned but guaranteed by Congress to fund any liabilities and debts, but profits were privatized for the benefit of shareholders (including the government). Sound familar in spirit? Try the 2008 bank bailout called Troubled Assets Relief Program (or TARP) - privatizing profits for the bankers and socializing losses by the taxpayers. After the First Bank expired in 1811, the Democratic-Republican Party did not renew the charter of what had been a Federalist Party supported institution. But after the financing of the War of 1812 had been problematic the Democratic-Republicans came around to chartering a Second Bank of the United States in 1816. This bank like the first one was run privately but backed by the US Government. However, by the time the Democratic-Republicans became the Democratic Party led by Andrew Jackson, western states and their politicians resented eastern banking interests and their power over the Second Bank. When the Bank's director Nicholas Biddle lobbied for the charter's renewal by Congress beginning in 1833 and threatened dire financial consequences if that did not happen in 1836, President Jackson managed to have the Bank defunded and closed before its charter would've expired by existing law. Other attempts to create a central bank, especially during the Lincoln Administration in the 1860 failed just as their Income Tax to pay for the war against the Confederacy would be struck down as unconstitutional law.
So, Progressives wanted some mechanism to fund government expansion for the good and secular salvation of mankind fo the sake of human progress as they defined it. As a result of the Supreme Court striking down the first Income Tax law, since the Constitution didn't provide for any taxing of income, and since earlier temporary chartered central banks had failed to endure to control the money supply for driving and regulating the economy, the banking interests met at Jekyll Island, Georgia in 1910 to construct what would become the Federal Reserve Banking System. A private corporation that would print and regulate the US money supply (despite the Constitution giving Congress the power to coin money - not print it, after bad experiences with inflation of Revolutionary War paper Continental Dollars), The FED as it would be known in shorthand was made America's permanent central bank in 1913 by Congress after passing the Federal Reserve Act in 1912 (interesting side trivia note: There are two Federal Reserve regional banks out of the existing twelve in Missouri - St. Louis and Kansas City - because of the political influence exerted by then Democratic Speaker of the House Champ Clark from the Show Me State). Of course, giving a central bank the power to legally counterfeit money with Congress' blessing was not enough to fuel the Progressive agenda for expanding government's over the lives of free people by manipulating the economy. An income tax would be needed to fund the political priorities and programs Progressives wanted to create. But after the first US Income Tax laws in 1861 and 1862 expired by 1866 and the 1894 law was struck down by the Supreme Court, it would have to be enshrined in the very Constitution itself as a new Amendment. Hence in 1912, Congress passed by necessary majorities in both houses the 16th Amendment, sent to the states for ratification by February 1913. For the first time in the Constitution a tax would not be apportioned among the states by population, as with tariffs, but levied upon individual income.
But the Progressive mischief would not end with taxation and central banking to make America perfected. They also wanted to eliminate the Constitutional rule by which United States Senators were elected by State Legislatures, allegedly to eliminate backroom political deals and inherent corruption of the Senators being selected by any group other than the voters. The original intent of indirect election of US Senators was similar to the Electoral College actually electing a President and Vice-President every four years, in that the Constitution's authors did not trust or believe in too much direct democracy in a government system to prevent a tyranny of the majority from the electorate. In effect, the United States Senate was a counterweight to the popularly elected US House of Representatives in that both houses had to approve legislation before it was sent to the President for signature. It was also effectively, in addition to being a more deliberative body, the Chamber of the States (as opposed to the House being the Chamber of the People) in which Senators acted as equal ambassadors of the sovereign states to the Federal Government doing the will of each state government with two Senators from every state. By proposing and ratifying the 17th Amendment, the Progressives eliminated further state's rights power, just as the Civil War had ended state sovereignty in other ways. Now an at large state population would decide who their Senators were directly, instead of voting in state legislators to select those Senators.
Also starting in the 19th Century, the Progressives became joined to the rising social cause of alchhol prohibition in the temperance movement. By the end of the First World War, a conflict funded by Income Taxes in addition to war bonds and by the printing of money by the Federal Reserve indirectly, the prohibition forces managed to get the 18th Amendment passed in Congress by 1918 and ratification completed by 1920, with Congress passing the Volstead Act over President Wilson's veto in that same year ending the manufacture, sale, transportation and distribution of alcohol in America to enforce the amendment. This of course created a whole new slew of social problems. First, there were loopholes in the law that allowed for citizens to homebrew up to five gallons of beer or lesser amounts of distilled spirits for home consumption. Second the criminal organizations took over the alcohol business once the legitimate companies were forced to stop under the Volstead Act, fighting for control of market share by using violence, intimidation, bribery and coercion. The Prohibition experiment was realized a failure, but persisted legally until Amendment 21 repealed 18 in 1933. Strangely enough, the US government still believes it can regulate human behavior regarding narcotic drugs in a similar manner (starting with the Progressive-championed Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 and the Harrison Controlled Substances Act of 1914), just without enshrining it in the Constitution.
Amendment 19 was another creation spawned by political agitation over many decades before it was passed or ratified, beginning with the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention seeking the vote for women, the crusades of Susan B. Anthony and her fellow early feminists, and Wyoming becoming the first state allowing women the vote by 1890. Progressives were long involved in this crusade also and even had the strong backing of Woodrow Wilson. The 19th Amendment did broaden partiipation of women into the political world, as other nations would allow in years after 1919 as few had before then. But there are times, in my opinion, that all the women have done with this vote is use it in the quest to keep abortion legal and not much else especially in recent decades.
Of course, the Progressives would be made a fallow force by the rise of two more conservative Republican Presidents from 1921-1929 and Congresses dominated also by that party starting in 1919. Unfortunately for America, 1928's election put a man in the White House who has often been called a "Do Nothing" President. Alas, if only he had done nothing to meddle in the economic crisis starting in October 1929 caused by overextended stock purchases with 10% of their worth on what stockbrokers call the margin being called to pay the balance owed. Herbert C. Hoover had made his reputation as The Great Engineer, being a mining engineer by profession before overseeing relief first to Occupied Belgium during the First World War when America was a neutral to that war, and later in charge of the US Food Administration under President Woodrow Wilson. The Progressive-minded Hoover would be a meddlesome Secretary of Commerce under both Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, creating the 1924 Federal Communications Commission among other agencies to regulate the broadcast airwaves of the new wireless radio commercial transmission businesses after 1921. Hoover was the sort of politician who wanted to take action, even if misguided in its nature with unintended negative consequences. When the heavy manufacturers wanted to cut back their plants and production after the stock market crash, President Hoover urged them in 1930 to keep plants open and men employed, even while expanding federal spending and increasing taxes on the rich to World War I levels (in the 70-95% range). Of course, Hoover should've done what predecessor Harding did when there was a recession in 1920-21 from the costs of demobilizing from the World War - cut spending and let the economy recover on its own - which aided the postwar economic boom of the Roaring 20s. Of course, the stock market crashed again, businesses that tried maintaining durable goods production went bankrupt and economic conditions became worse. Then in 1932 came Democratic Presidential candidate Franklin Roosevelt, a man who ran on a platform of maintaining sound money backed by gold, cutting deficit spending and other things that were the opposite of what Hoover tried and failed at to stimulate the economy.
Of course, Roosevelt was surrounded in the Democratic Party by Progressives from the Wilson Administration and that earlier era, and once safely elected over the hapless Hoover he proceeded to break every campaign platform promise and plank he ran on to get elected. I need not go into all the new controls and regulations he forced on the American public with a heavily Democratic majority in both houses of Congress - confiscation of privately owned gold in large amounts, suspension of federal contract payment in gold, imposing a bank holiday to give insolvent fractional reserve banks time to reorganize and guarantee their depositors by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, creation of agencies to regulate every aspect of business and commercial production, guaranteeing farm subsidies to prevent financial losses if commodities prices fell low (and paying farmers not to grow food or to butcher excess livestock when that food could have fed those in need), setting wage and price controls first through the National Recovery Act of 1935, creating the ponzi scheme known as Social Secuirty in 1935 and a host of other programs and policies allegedly designed to put workers back to work who were unemployed and ease economic hardships. Ultimately all his well-meaning meddling did was prolong the Great Depression in terms of real peacetime economic growth into 1947 (World War II prosperity was a sham, considering how goods were being rationed for the war effort). He was only opposed by the Supreme Court for the first few years, until they were threatened with court packing of extra Justices and fell into line approving all of Roosevelt's later initiatives as constitutional. I will not go into the ways he manipulated the US into World War II, starting with his meddling in foreign affairs after 1937, the illegal sale of destroyers to Great Britain in exchange for naval bases from the Caribbean to Greenland, his violations of the Neutrality Act against Germany by having US Navy ships aid Britain in hunting U-Boats in the Atlantic Ocean, provoking Japan to attack in 1941 by freezing their assets in US banks, cutting off metal and oil imports all to force their withdrawal from war with Nationalist China.
Essentially Franklin Roosevelt and his Progressive forces in 1933-45 changed America from a nation with some government meddling and regulation in private affairs and contracts to a bloated bureaucracy of endless agencies regulating and controlling everything they could, just as President Wilson's government had expanded such controls over the economy as part of mobilization in entering World War I, except using the excuse of economic depression followed by dragging this nation into World War II as their pretexts. Many have been educated to beleive that Roosevelt literally saved America from economic ruin and possibly even societal revolution and disintegration. In fact, FDR transformed America into its first vestiges of becoming a welfare state where the government would decide matters that had belonged to the individual citizen (certainly under Amendments 9 and 10 from the Bill of Rights stating the federal government could not do more than it was allowed in the Constitution and that other powers were delegated to the States and People). Progressives believe that only enlightened experts should run the public's lives and guide their choices through law and regulation.
Of course, these periods of expanded Constitutional Amendments, the Federal Reserve System's permanence and the Roosevelt New Deal legislation were only the beginnings of America's swing into tyranny of a modern socialistic-style nation state instead of a collection of sovereign states delegating certain listed limited responsibilities to a central government representing the states to the outside world. Both the Progressive (and World War I) Era of 1901-1920 and the Depression New Deal (World War II) Era 1929-1947 were each turning points and coups against the original intention of limited government, both effectively coups against the limited government ideal this republic was founded upon, even if the Constitution's creation and the War Between the States also altered the nature of our government as I outlined in my last essay.
Next, I will examine the third expansion of the Welfare/Warfare State by a domineering political hack President and his party in Congress beginning in 1964 and the final overthrow of this once-free republic by the tragic destruction of two (three if you count WTC Building #7) tall skyscrapers, damage on one side of a monument to the Military Industrial Complex by three hijacked commercial aircraft one September morning and a crashed fourth hijacked commercial aircraft in a Pennsylvania field. The latter event has done more even to change our everyday language and perception of reality that it may already be too late to step back from the abyss of tyranny and regain our lost freedoms.