By 1900, the United States was headed for rebellion. Millions of laborers faced harsh working conditions, and many felt the country was sliding into depravity. The Progressive Movement arose to address the problems plaguing society, attempting to reign in corruption and immorality. The President, Theodore Roosevelt, championed many of their concerns.
The 19th Amendment afforded women the right to vote, but the Progressive Movement and women's organizations also worked for a wide variety of women's rights. Between 1880 and 1910, female workers in the United States grew from 2.6 million to 7.8 million. During the Progressive Era, women gained the right to control the money they earned, own property and take custody of their children in divorce. But not all women believed in social and economic equality, finding it just as threatening to the fabric of American life.
The move toward Prohibition started in the early 20th century. Primarily supported by the middle classes, the goal was to break the controlling interests of liquor distillers and their influence over corrupt politicians in city, state and national governments. In 1918, Congress passed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, prohibiting the manufacture, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages. President Herbert Hoover called it a "noble experiment," but enforcement was difficult, and in 1933, Prohibition was repealed.
The 1910 census reported more than 2 million children, ages 10 to 15, working in America, some forced to work as many as 20 hours a day in terrible conditions. The Progressive Movement made attempts to curb the exploitation of children by factory owners and big business. In 1916, Congress passed the Keating-Owen Act to protect children working in industries engaged in interstate commerce, but it was declared unconstitutional. Only in 1941 did the Supreme Court overrule this decision, forcing businesses to abide by the rule, stating children could only work outside of school hours and that children under 18 could not hold jobs hazardous to their health.
16th and 17th Amendments
During the Civil War, the federal government enacted an income tax law, taxing incomes over $800 per year at 3 percent. The law expired in 1872, but was reenacted twice. In 1895, the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. The result led to the passage of the 16th Amendment in 1913, which enabled the government to collect income taxes.
That same year, Congress passed the 17th Amendment, which allowed for the direct election of United States senators by the people. Up until that point, senators were elected by the state legislatures, which were often influenced by powerful business interests. Reformers pushed for the amendment to end corruption.
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