Plessy Vs Ferguson: The Legal Case

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Contextually, preceding the progressive period urbanization was rapidly increasing as immigrants flooded into America's cities. Urbanization spurred by never before seen levels of immigration from southern and eastern European countries changed America's demographics and population. Industrialization helped by increasing urbanization and immigration quickly increased as cheap immigrant labor was concentrated into cities with poor living and working conditions. Given increasing immigration, urbanization, and industrialization prior and during this period it is no wonder that the progressive era occurred during this period. The progressive movement greatly fostered political change during this period as expansive labor reforms and expansion of democracy were put in place, despite this however racism and injustices against African Americans continued throughout the progressive era.

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Labor reforms passed into law during the progressive era changed the quality of living for many workers. For example in the US supreme court case Muller v. Oregon of 1908 the court ruled that under Oregon law limiting working hours for women to ten hours a day was constitutional. This was a big win for labor reformers as they had been battling for shorter working hours for workers for decades prior to the ruling. Although most labor reformers would have preferred hours to be cut back to eight a day and extended to male workers as well, the Muller v. Oregon case was a step in the right direction for labor reform. The Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914 added to the previous Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 namely in that it added exemptions for labor unions and other such organizations and forbid labor unions of being prosecuted under an antitrust law. This greatly helped labor unions and labor reformers as they received more freedom to act and obtain increased wages, shorter working hours and better working conditions when negotiating with employers. Most importantly the Adamson Act of 1916 fulfilled one of the labor reformers longest lasting demands of a standard eight hour workday and paid overtime hours for railroad workers. This was monumental for the labor movement because it was a demand that had lasted since the days of the knights of labor and it was an integral part of the platform of the progressive party. Although it only gave railroad workers the eight hour day it was a start for greater reforms for all workers and not only railroad workers. Muller v. Oregon, The Clayton Antitrust Act, and the Adamson act extended greater rights and freedoms to workers that had never been seen before in American history.

Democracy was also greatly expanded during the progressive period giving more democratic power to the people through various reforms and amendments. The 17th amendment, ratified in 1913, gave the people for the first time the ability to directly elect senators. This was an important amendment to the constitution because it gave the people more say in Congress and therefore it was easier for the people to pass the reforms that defined the progressive era. The 19th amendment ratified in 1920 for the first time gave women, half of the population of the US, the right to vote and have a say in the Democratic process. The enfranchisement of women made the democracy stronger as a democracy has to represent the people and it cannot represent the people if half of the people have no say in the democracy. Lastly the initiative, referendum, and recall laws were enacted in various states throughout the country during the progressive era. These laws greatly expanded the American democracy as voters for the first time could directly propose new laws through initiative and vote on them through referendums. They could also for the first time remove politicians from office before their term expires through the process of recall. These powers given to the people allowed the people to further shape their country and their democracy and they contributed to progressivism during the early 19th century. Expansion of democracy during the progressive period had profound effects on the democracy and the people of the United States.

Despite the great strides made in labor reform and expansion of democracy, racism and injustices against African Americans persisted through the progressive era. The supreme court case Plessy v Ferguson in 1896 reaffirmed 'separate but equal' and was used as a justification for widespread segregation throughout the South and the US as a whole. Most public places especially in the South were designated 'separate but equal' but consistently public places were separate but unequal. Segregation and unequal treatment justified by Plessy v Ferguson was not addressed by most progressives and was ignored by most politicians. Also throughout the era Lynchings and endorsement of the KKK were commonplace in the South terrorizing african Americans and restricting their freedoms. In fact throughout the progressive era lynchings and KKK support increased rapidly in the South, degrading the quality of life for african americans in turn. These issues were also ignored mostly by progressives and politicians in Washington. Most importantly disenfranchisement of african americans throughout the south was rampant. Southern states accomplished this in many ways such as poll taxes, literacy tests, and general scare tactics which largely succeeded in keeping african americans out of polling places. These tactics used to discourage african Americans from voting also went unnoticed by progressive leaders. The racism and injustices that african americans faced during the progressive era show that most progressives did not care or pay attention to africans american issues and in turn few lawmakers cared about african american issues.

In conclusion, while the progressive era greatly fostered labor reforms and expansion of democracy, it ignored the racism and injustices that faced african americans during this period. The progressive movement could be compared to reform movements in the US in the first half of the 19th century such as transcendentalism, abolition, asylum reform, and the temperance movement as certain goals such as abolition, and asylum reform were achieved during movements at the beginning of the 19th century but other issues such as women's rights were ignored by most people and lawmakers. In both cases the movements accomplished the goals of certain groups while leaving out others. Ultimately the progressive era left out issues facing african americans and the effects of this can still be seen today as african american still face racism and racial injustices.

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