The Progressive Era
|The Roots of Progressivism||Previous||Next|
|Digital History ID 3134|
The Social Gospel
Religious ideas and institutions have always been one of the wellsprings of the American reform impulse. Progressive reformers were heavily influenced by the body of religious ideas known as the Social Gospel, the philosophy that the churches should be actively engaged in social reform. As elaborated by such theologians as Walter Rauschenbusch, the Social Gospel was a form of liberal Protestantism which held that Christian principles needed to be applied to social problems and that efforts needed to be made to bring the social order into conformity with Christian values.
Muckraking reporters, exploiting mass circulation journalism, attacked malfeasance in American politics and business. President Theodore Roosevelt gave them the name "muckrakers" after a character in the book Pilgrim's Progress, "the Man with the Muckrake," who was more preoccupied with filth than with Heaven above.
Popular magazines such as McClure's, Everybody's, Pearson's, Cosmopolitan, and Collier's published articles exposing the evils of American society--political corruption, stock market manipulation, fake advertising, vices, impure food and drugs, racial discrimination, and lynching. Upton Sinclair's The Jungle exposed unsanitary conditions in the meat packing industry. John Spargo's Bitter Cry of the Children disclosed the abuse of child laborers in the nation's coal mines. Lincoln Steffens' The Shame of the Cities uncovered corruption in city government.