In the history of the United States, there have been several transformations socially, economically and politically. In terms of governance, the people’s consent was often sought and this became the basis upon which the nineteenth-century democratic polity was established. However, with time, this concept underwent some redefinition so that it was no longer meaningful for the authorities to take into account the majority’s consent since different social interest groups started advancing dissimilar social programs so that it was viewed as possible an attempt by one portion of the society to force its wishes on another without taking into account the other’s will. Despite this being a positive measure, a lot of evils became the order of the day in running of government affairs.
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Rikard (3) asserts that there were a lot of excesses on the part of government officials. A lot of corruption took place, the inflow of immigrants was too much, pollution, crime and urban decay, increased poverty levels and presence of fraudulent corporations that manipulated the local business environment by taking over them by storm and taking charge of transportation and credit resources. Populists, progressives, farmers and workers responded profoundly to this by forming social and political movements to address the menace. For example progressives attempted to nationalize the immigrants and improve lifestyles of the poor.
Groups that had been suppressed got a voice in this and with more power and success they acquired an opportunity to make known their desires. With the passage of time, reconstruction, populism, progressivism, the women's movement, the labor movement, the civil rights movement, and the anti Vietnam War movement came in to re-in force the push for certain necessary adjustments. Since the beginning of industrial growth in the USA, several other undesirable externalities were experienced. Despite the numerous benefits such as new overseas territories, big cities and flourishing commerce not every citizen was able to enjoy the optimism, the mass of wealth and the prestige that was the result. It was thus necessary that this is addressed (Rikard, 2).
The first of these movements I will dwell on is the Progressive Movement. This is said to have been in existence even before the Civil war where it had taken the form of activists attempting to have working conditions improved and struggling to alter how prisoners and mental cases were handled. The basis for this earlier form of reform was what is referred to as abolitionism. It is the urge that someone has to do away with what was viewed by society as an inhuman and morally wrong practice; slavery (US Department of State, 2).
Reconstruction refers to the period of readjustment just after the civil war. The war had wrought a lot of physical destruction such that there was nothing to replace the previously stable social and economic situation that had been founded through slavery. It became necessary to redefine the roles of those freed slaves and also restore the areas that were damaged to their former productive status. The emancipated African-American citizens were for this reconstruction idea and they therefore used their newly acquired voting rights to elect leaders they deemed would support their choice of reconstruction and who were in favor of civil rights.
The increasing gap between the rich and the poor coupled with the growth of big national parastatals is the major issue of concernfor the Populist Movement. The social reform supported by this group of individuals is the protection and conservation of the American democracy from the wealth-minded (Rikard, 2).Their push for political reforms came due to the conception that the poor were marginalized, specifically when there were threats of loss of land and farms and a fall in grain prices.
The suppression of women in a nation that claimed to be a democratic one led to the formation of a women’s rights group that later gave birth to the suffragist movement .Following the Civil war, there emerged two separate factions fighting for women’s voting rights: the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) which was for the idea that an amendment to the US constitution should be sought; and the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) which felt that the surest and most effective means was to mount pressure on the state parliamentarians to make amendments to the constitution.
US Department of State (5) explains that later on the two factions came together and formed the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) to collectively pursue the two strategies. However, in the year 1920, this association underwent dissolution after performing the role it was intended to do and was replaced by the National league of women voters which had a civic function to educate the women concerning the use of their newly acquired right to vote. Carl Degler adds his voice to the women movement in his readings. He made contribution to the history of women and their struggles in his works titled ‘Out of Our Past: The Forces That Shaped Modern America’.
Social unionism is a term that grew out of the commitment to justice for the masses that was fostered by the Jewish American women. Labor movement dates back to the time when there was Jewish mass immigration into the United States. This period was the same period when the ready-made clothing industry was jump-started. Apart from the support they got from New York’s dominant socialist newspaper, the Jews were an organized group of people, unlike other semiskilled groups of people. Despite women’s earlier devotion and commitment, their men were not in favor of their membership and participation in these unions. They therefore organized themselves into women groups and together fought for their rights. With time, they befriended civil rights movements of the time most specifically to attract attention to issues of gender and racial segregation (Rikard, 5).
Efforts by African slaves to emancipate themselves and their descendants from the dehumanizing practice of slavery and racial discrimination and oppression lay the foundation for a social movement by the name civil rights movement. It refers to the social protest activities by the people as from the 1950s to fight the racial discrimination and oppression especially in the south of the United States. After achieving much accolades in its objectives, the proponents started viewing it in another light; that is , as a liberation movement to free them and the other citizens from cultural, political and economic effects of historical racial activities (US Department of State, 1).
George Washington Plunkitt for example in his writings he expresses his perception that slavery is inhuman and should be eliminated from the American society. Other movements under this included the abolition movement whose activities were opposed by thhe anti-slavery movement. The civil rights movements held mass protests, and boycotts. These made them acquire media attention that enabled the spread of their activities and made known the plight of certain people. Up to date, civil rights activities continue to be felt and draw global attention. For example the ascension of Barrack Obama, who is a black, to power in the United States shows a great degree of success of the American people in fighting societal evils, thus ramifications for civil rights movements. Professor Eric Foner dwells on matters of history of American race relations. One such publication is titled ‘Nothing but Freedom: Emancipation and its Legacy’.
According to US Department of State (1), Anti-Vietnam war movement is a reaction in opposition of the policy taken by the US in the Vietnam War by people, both international and domestic. Graphical press and television coverage of the anguish of the war conscripts and the civilians elicited sharp criticism from people all over the world to the stand taken by the United States. Demonstrations involving thousands of people were mounted worldwide in response to the inhuman condition other humans were being subjected to. The first of these was in New York and in a period of about two years other similar demonstrations erupted in cities like London, Washington D.C. among other European major cities. Members of the clergy and elected politicians were too opposed to the war. Even on the political front, this became a decisive factor on who became what in elections carried out in that year. Up to date, implications, the legacy, and meaning of the oppositions to the American involvement in the Vietnam War continue to draw sharp debates.
Of all these movements, the most important is the civil rights movement. This is because, it is presently a power to reckon with as it has survived the test of time into the twenty first century. Most achievements or gains that have been realized as a result of the movement are just too many. Desegregation is one such achievement. It was ruled that no public amenities should be made available on the basis of a color bay. Because of this, swimming pools, buses, washing facilities, entertainment spots among others could be accessed by anyone despite their skin colors. The federal government was pushed by the movement so that the number of Blacks in employment was increased. Another area of recognition is justice. The movement has much to boast off to this end, a case in point is the one involving the Ku Klux Klan where the ruling put in mind fair play. Though not much was achieved in the education, voting and housing fields by 1980, it is worth noting the progress that was made.
Social movements have to a large extent shaped the American history, and the progress made so far owes much to it. The once mentioned here are just but the most important of those social movements, there are others, though not considered as most important can’t be assumed. It is thus true to say that each stage of development of the American history was characterized by social reactions. The government’s excesses have been put in check by these movements and much gain has been made to this regard. The movement is still active and continues to bear such desirable fruits. Writing works by people such as Eric Foner, Tony Horwitz and George Washington Punkitt lay emphasis to this fact. Most of them tend to oppose slavery, a feature commonly associated with civil rights movements.