Progressive Era Toolkit
Roosevelt on the Stump. 1900. Public Domain.

Progressive Era Toolkit

A confluence of factors, including the quickening pace of industrialization, urbanization, increasing immigration, and a growing presence on the world stage faced America in the late 19th Century. These pressures gave rise to various political movements, each seeking to provide answers to the most serious questions of the day. Overall, Americans found answers to these issues in the ideas of the Progressives. From both major political parties, the Progressives offered solutions to economic, social, and political problems, in some ways using and in others changing the American system of government that had existed for a century at that point.

Guiding Questions

  1. What principles undergirded Progressive ideas regarding foreign policy? How can one explain their aggressive, expansionist tone?
  2. Progressives envisioned a new society and a new economic order for America. What were the major features of that vision and what did Progressives see as obstacles to it?
  3. How can one explain the differences between Progressive conceptions of the state and those of the Founding generation?
  4. How did Progressives understand the nature and scope of executive authority?

Suggested answers

Essential Documents

  1. The Sherman Anti-Trust Act, 1890
  2. The Significance of the Frontier in American History, 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner
  3. In Support of an American Empire, 1900, Albert J. Beveridge
  4. Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, 1904, Theodore Roosevelt
  5. New Nationalism Speech, 1910, Theodore Roosevelt
  6. Progressive Party Platform, 1912
  7. The New Freedom, Chapters 1 and 2, 1913, Woodrow Wilson
  8. Invisible Government Speech, 1915, Elihu Root
  9. “Fourteen Points” Message, 1918, Woodrow Wilson
  10. Speech on the 150th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, 1926, Calvin Coolidge



  1. Enduring American Questions: How Did the Progressives Differ from the Founders?
  2. Documents in Detail: 1912 Progressive Party Platform
  3. American Minds: William Jennings Bryan
  4. American Minds: Jane Addams
  5. Documents in Detail: TR’s Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine
  6. Documents in Detail: Wilson’s Fourteen Points
  7. Great American Debates: Imperialists vs. Non-Interventionists
  8. Documents in Detail: Theodore Roosevelt’s New Nationalism Speech
  9. Moments of Crisis: The Sinking of the USS Maine
  10. American Presidents: Theodore Roosevelt
  11. American Controversies: Has “The Day of Enlightened Administration” Come?

Lesson Plans

  1. Woodrow Wilson and Foreign Policy – a four-lesson arc examining Wilson and Wilsonian foreign policy
  2. America, Race Relations, and World War I – study the efforts of African-American soldiers during the Great War as a lens on race relations of the time
  3. The Progressive Era and Lincoln – A week-long lesson sequence studying Progressives’ use of Lincoln, and the extent to which their ideas aligned, or clashed with, those of the 16th president
  4. America as Empire: The Debate and the Reality – a 2-3 day lesson sequence studying the issues surrounding American expansion overseas during the Progressive Era
  5. Defining Progressivism – A documents-based lesson through which students will develop valid definition and description of Progressivism as a coherent set of ideas and policy means and goals. Using a variety of original documents, students will hone close reading and analytical thinking skills, and learn how to effectively synthesize meaning from multiple sources
  6. Civil Rights in the Progressive Era – learn about some of the origins of the 20th Century Civil Rights movement in the words and ideas of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois
  7. Wilson and the Treaty of Versailles – Learn about Wilson’s Progressivism as applied to foreign policy, and the domestic political debate that erupted over the League of Nations