Congress and the Progressive Era

From the 1890s to the 1920s, a period known as the Progressive Era, the United States experienced dramatic social, cultural, and political change. Confronted with domestic and international challenges, Congress reexamined the government’s role in the economy and the environment and the nation’s place in the world.

Prominent investigative journalists––called “muckrakers”––and citizen activists pushed Congress to pass landmark legislation, and states ratified new amendments to the Constitution. This period of dynamic reform forever altered the democratic process, the notion of “We the People,” and the everyday lives of all Americans.

Common Defense

Congress appropriates funds for national defense and has the power to declare war. By approving international agreements and the appointment of ambassadors, Congress also supports efforts to resolve conflict through diplomacy. Congressional contributions to matters of war and peace throughout the nation's history are registered in these documents.

General Welfare

Congress is charged by the Constitution with providing for the general welfare of the country's citizens. Historically, this has meant improving transportation, promoting agriculture and industry, protecting health and the environment, and seeking ways to solve social and economic problems. These documents reflect Congressional actions to ensure "the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity."

Knowledge

Knowing that democracy flourishes best in an open environment with an educated citizenry, Congress has promoted public education, supported the arts and sciences, and funded extensive research, as illustrated in these documents. In that same spirit, it established the Library of Congress, now the world's largest library, with unparalleled collections in every field of human endeavor.
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