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Progressive Era Amendments

Progressive Era Amendments

Struggles between the working class and wealthy industrialists between the 1890s and the 1910s brought about considerable social and political change. Conditions in the now heavily connected, urbanized, and industrialized country was addressed by progressive reformers. Some of the most powerful and long lasting of these reforms would be changes to the US constitution itself. What were these changes and how successful were they?

Progressive Era Amendments  photograph of a women's suffrage meeting StudySmarterFig. 1- Women's Suffrage Meeting

Progressive Era Constitutional Amendments

From the late nineteenth century through the early twentieth century, the Progressive movement had incredible political power. Serious reforms came across American society to address social issues and inequalities. Four major changes took the form of amendments to the US Constitution itself. These were the 16th through 19th amendments, ratified between 1913 and 1920.

16th Amendment

The 16th Amendment changed the primary method by which the federal government generated revenue. Previously, federal money came from tariffs which became a regressive tax, as poorer people spent a higher percentage of their income on basic, necessary goods. The progressive movement had long pushed for a progressive tax on income but a previous attempt to legislate the issue in Congress in 1861 was struck down by the US Supreme Court in 1872. Since the Supreme Court had declared the law unconstitutional, a constitutional amendment was required for the income tax to become law. The amendment was passed in Congress in 1909 and ratified in 1913.

Regressive Tax: A tax applied as the same fee to all, thereby taking a larger percentage of the income of those who earn less.

Progressive Tax: A tax applied at a higher rate to those who have a higher income.

17th Amendment

In 1913, the 17th Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified. This amendment changed how Senators were elected and placed much more power in the hands of ordinary Americans. Before the amendment, senators were chosen by the state legislature in the states they represented. With the 17th Amendment, Americans were now able to vote for their Senate representative in direct elections.

Progressive Era Amendments A black and white photograph of Federal Agents destroying alcohol barrels during Prohibition in the United States StudySmarterFig. 2 - Federal Agents Destroying Alcohol

18th Amendment

The 18th Amendment outlawed making, distributing, and consuming alcohol. Changes in alcohol production at the time had made alcohol stronger and cheaper, resulting in increased consumption. Organizations like the Woman's Christian Temperance Union tied increased alcohol consumption to many social problems of the day ranging from domestic violence to health issues. The broader progressive movement picked up the issue, calling it a "noble experiment", and pursued prohibition as a constitutional amendment. The amendment was ratified in 1919.

19th Amendment

Ratified in 1920, the 19th Amendment provided women with the right to vote in the United States. The issue had been discussed in Congress since 1878 and had been fought for by activists since the turn of the nineteenth century. The progressive movement was finally the vehicle that moved women's suffrage into the constitution.

Although women could not vote in national elections until 1920, a woman named Jeanette Rankin had been elected to the House of Representatives in 1917 before women could even vote nationally

Progressive Era Amendments Women's Suffrage political cartoon 1920 StudySmarterFig.3 - Suffrage Cartoon 1920

Progressive Era Amendments Success

The reforms under presidents like Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson helped to balanced power between average Americans and wealthy elites. Although Taft had been viewed as more conservative than his predecessor Roosevelt, he still supported progressive measures such as the income tax. Their reforms increased citizens' say in government.

16th Amendment

The 16th Amendment had been initially supported by conservatives in Congress as a means to kill the income tax issue because they believed that the states would never ratify such an amendment. They were wrong and in 1913 the first income taxes were collected, but only from one percent of the population. When the US entered WWI, Congress turned to raising income taxes as a major method for financing the war. The federal budget increased significantly under the new income from the rising taxes. In the end, a third of the war costs were paid through the new income taxes.

Between 1913 and 1930, income tax grew to account for 60% of federal tax revenue.

17th Amendment

When drafting the constitution, Federalists had feared a "tyranny of the majority," where the rights of those who held minority opinions would be trampled. The adoption of the 17th amendment was the end of a safeguard that had been placed in the constitution for that purpose. Despite intentions, these appointments were susceptible to corruption themselves. In 1912, shortly before the amendment was ratified, the election of Senator William Lorimer was overturned as it was found that members of the Illinois state legislature had been bribed into supporting his election. The 17th amendment and direct elections took the selections of senators out of the hands of just a few men.

The term "tyranny of the majority" did not refer to protecting minority populations but the fear that a mob of common people could not be trusted with real political power.

Progressive Era Amendments 18th Amendment repeal flier StudySmarterFig. 4 - 18th Amendment Repeal Flier

18th Amendment

Initially, the 18th Amendment did have some of the effects its supporters had hoped for, including a lower crime rate and lower rates of alcohol related health problems. As prohibition went on though, organized crime began to form around the business of selling alcohol which reversed the lowering trend of murder rates and increased the death rate from dangerous forms of black-market alcohol. The 18th amendment was ultimately repealed in 1933 by the 21st Amendment.

The 18th Amendment is the only constitutional amendment to be repealed in full.

19th Amendment

By the time the 19th Amendment was ratified, a number of states were already allowing women to vote in their elections. The election of 1920 would be the first to see women vote for national offices in the United States. Women drove an increase in voter turnout by 8 million from the previous election. Ironically, although the Progressive reformers had given the new right to vote in the election, it was won in a landslide by conservative candidate Warren G Harding, whose campaign slogan was the anti-progressive motto "a return to normalcy."

Progressive Era Amendments Income Tax Political Cartoon StudySmarterFig. 5 - Income Tax Cartoon

Progressive Era Amendments Impact

Although Americans would select conservatives to lead them through the prosperous Roaring '20s, the Great Depression of the 1930s would be an entirely different matter. The 1932 election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt set the United States back on the path of the Progressive Era. The reforms of the Progressives laid the groundwork for FDR's New Deal. To finance the New Deal, FDR used the 16th Amendment to raise income taxes on the wealthiest Americans far higher than Wilson had during WWI. Democrats aligned with FDR's New Deal would be supported by Americans suffering from the Great Depression in elections of the 1930s under the 17th Amendment's direct elections.

Progressive Era Amendments - Key takeaways

  • In the early twentieth century, progressives ratified the 16th through 19th amendments
  • The long-battled income tax became law under the 16th Amendment
  • When the 17th Amendment passed, Americans were now able to directly elect their Senators
  • Alcohol was banned in the United States with the 18th Amendment
  • Women were finally able to vote after the 19th Amendment

Frequently Asked Questions about Progressive Era Amendments

The 16th through 19th Amendments were from the Progressive Era.

The 16th Amendment gave the federal government the power to tax income

The 17th Amendment created direct elections for senators

The 18th Amendment outlawed alcohol

The 19th Amendment granted womens' suffrage

The goals of the Progressive Era amendments were to address social problems and balance power between average Americans and the elite.  

The 16th,17th, and 19th amendments were all sucessful, while the 18th was repealed.  

The 17th and 19th amendments increased Americans participation in government. The 18th amendment decreased crime and health issues firsts but later increased organized crime before being repealed.  The 16th amendment changed how the federal government generated revenue. 

Final Progressive Era Amendments Quiz

Question

What did the 16th Amendment do?

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Answer

Gave Congress the right to impose an income tax

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Question

What did the 17th Amendment do?

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Answer

Direct elections of senators 

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Question

What did the 18th Amendment do?


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Answer

Outlawed alcohol 

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Question

What did the 19th Amendment do?

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Answer

Granted women's suffrage 

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Question

What was the only constitutional amendment to be wholly repealed?


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Answer

18th 

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Question

When women were allowed to vote for the first time in 1920, the helped ensure a progressive candidate would win the 1920 presidential election. 

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Answer

False 

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Question

The first woman was elected to Congress in 1920, when women were allowed to vote for the first time 


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Answer

False

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Question

Which amendment most directly impacted US ability to engage in WWI?

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Answer

16th 

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Question

Why was a constitutional amendment required to impose an income tax?


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Answer

The Supreme Court declared income tax unconstitutional 

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Question

What was the effect of the 18th amendment?

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Answer

First health problems and crime decreased but then organized crime grew 

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