1920's: Did It Truly Roar?

Did it truly roar? The roaring twenties were a period of excitement and wealth which also served as a facade that covered all the negatives which are often ignored. These negatives included a growing loss of civil liberties, massive amounts of xenophobia and racism, crime as a result of religious fundamentalism, and the abandonment of progressivism and a movement towards isolationism. The 1920’s were a period of economic boom, new culture and emerging technologies. New ideas surfaced because people who previously had limited access to money suddenly gained access.

Between 1919 and 1920 the value of the top 200 American businesses doubled from 43 billion to 81 billion. One of the major businesses that emerged was the automobile industry which became huge and spurred other industries. Automobiles resulted in the creation and expansion of the rubber, steel, oil, glass, and road building industry along with the creation of many gas stations, diners, and motels. It also affected the world socially as people began to live out in the suburbs which also resulted in more construction.

All these new industries resulted in more jobs being available to people which resulted in one of the highest average incomes for American workers-681 dollars. People started to see that paying workers more can result in higher production. New production techniques were introduced by people like Henry Ford. The assembly line allowed each person to build a certain piece of the machine at an incredible pace. Besides the emergence of the automobile industry the advertising industry grew immensely. It was focused on youth and sex and was centered in New York which was now a center of media.

From 1918 to 1920 spending on advertising grew from 1. 3 billion to about 3. 4 billion and it continued to grow from there. The automobile industry spurred on other industries and the same is true with advertising. Due to advertising Newspaper circulation grew from 27. 8 million to about 40 million between the period of 1920 and 1930. Newspapers were affordable to many because advertising revenues kept the cost down. Along with an increase in businesses new products were also emerging. Although simple these products resulted in massive culture changes due to the freedom it gave and quick access to world wide information.

One of the major inventions was the radio which by the end of the 20s was broadcasting on a major level and was able to spread international news and sports. Also tools, such as vacuum cleaners were perfected to allow women to not have to work as hard and freed them up for other activities. But people could not afford all of these new amazing products immediately so the idea of payment plans came about which allowed people to get products right away but pay back the seller over time. Besides the expansion of the economy, culturally the 1920’s were tremendous.

Because of all the free time women now had many of the younger women embraced a new image, this was the Flapper. Flappers were women who took on the identity of promiscuity and scandalous lifestyles. They smoked, wore tight skirts, had bobbed hair, drank, went out without chaperones, and would kiss and be sexual in public. Some women embraced their new freedom by being a flapper while others took on skilled jobs now that they no longer had to be stay at home mothers. Along with these new freedoms the 19th amendment passed in 1920 which gave women the right to vote.

As mentioned earlier sports began to grow, along with the sports the stars associated with them became big. People like Babe Ruth helped make baseball big again after the Black Sox scandal, Red Grange from the University of Illinois was larger than life and went on to help legitimize football as a sport, and Jack Dempsey was a monster in the boxing world. There was no bigger star than Charles Lindbergh though, he helped show that science can overcome nature. Lindbergh was a boyish Midwestern man and in the eyes of the country he represented America. After his trip he was greeted by ticker tape parades, endless awards and love by all.

Although on the surface life was good, underneath destructive influences were at work. In October of 1917 the Bolshevik revolution occurred and communism began to take a major place in the world. Marxist communism, which took place in Russia, had a number of fundamental points which threatened the American democracy. First off communism is based on no one securing any economic power for themselves but this results in a loss of political power. If there is no economic power than the best and brightest of society cannot run the government which would result in political chaos and turmoil.

The communists believed in a centrally planned economy which relies on bureaucrats finding all the answers to what to produce how much to produce and who gets what. When the means and distribution of production are put in the hands of bureaucrats and not experts inefficiency and corruption are bound to result. This then leads to economic and political crisis. Just as important as the economic and political implications of communism are its moral implications. Communists according to Marx should not believe in god as they felt capitalists made religion to keep the people down.

If people began to abandon religion they would also begin to abandon the moral standards set by religion. In a world where there is no morally right thing to do criminality and corruption arise. America by contrast is a country founded on moral principles and the ten commandments. Communism is also directly opposite to our democracy in that the government owns and distributes everything which means they are in control of many of our rights. Along with this it is anti patriotic, one Marxian quote is “Workers of the world; Unite. This means that you should be loyal to your class rather than your country. Along with this Marx had directly said not to be loyal to your country, these ideas would lead to treason and destruction of our country. Besides all of these reasons, communism was incredibly foreign. These ideas were being brought to America by immigrants mainly from eastern Europe who had had dictatorships. It was obvious because of these reasons that communism was a major threat to America, so the government began to take away civil liberties to ensure that there was no chance of communism slipping into America.

Although, America had been chipping away at civil liberties since world War 1 with the selective service act of 1917 which resulted in the registration of 24. 2 million signing up and 2. 4 million sent to combat. The first act in response to communism that took away civil liberties was the espionage act of 1917 which could result in a 20 year sentence along with a 10,000 dollar fine if you were found guilty of helping enemies. Along with this it gave the post master the ability to remove letters that had to do with anti American sentiment.

After this was the sedition act of 1918 which imposed harsh penalties if using bad language or speaking out against the government. Under this act 1500 people were arrested. One of the people arrested due to these acts was Eugene V. Debs. Debs had earlier led the Pullman strike to protest job loss and he spoke out against capitalism and the war from the beginning. He was arrested for saying that the government only went into the war to cause a deficit which would cause an influx of money into the big companies who supposedly ran the government.

He was sentenced to ten years in prison and while in prison he ran for president getting over a million votes. Another important case was Schenk vs. United States in which Charles Schenk was arrested under the espionage act for sending out 15 thousand leaflets opposing the draft to men eligible for the draft. This case was important because as Oliver Wendell Holmes, the Chief Administrator of the Supreme Court, put it, “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic. ” This meant that freedom of speech could in fact be limited, in this case during war time.

One of the grossest examples of a lack of civil liberties is in the Sacco and Vanzetti case. They were both charged with murdering a payroll person and stealing money and because they were both anarchists and draft dodgers they were given an unfair trial. Sacco’s gun was the one used in the murder but there was no evidence that they were at the scene of the crime or that they were the ones who shot the gun. Both ended up getting sentenced to death by Judge Dukakis who later referred to them as “those communist bastards. ” The major example of loss of civil liberties in the 1920’s is the Palmer raids.

Alexander Palmer was the attorney general during the red scare and when communism began to emerge he began his rounding up and deportation of subversives, communists, and atheists. The majority of the people gathered up were innocent but were deported without due process due to the massive hysteria. Along with being innocent the majority were legal citizens but they were subject to illegal searches done without search warrants and immediate conviction without a trial. These attacks done to keep American power at a premium were born of fear but for the most part resulted in nothing but harm to America’s reputation.

Although much of the 1920’s was fun and made life better for many it ignored a very large group of people, immigrantsereDuring the 1920’s the established people of America, particularly the WASPs, or white Anglo-Saxon Protestants were incredibly xenophobic. Immigrants were always seen in a negative light but with machines taking the place of unskilled workers they were seen as now being unnecessary. Unions felt that immigrants would take their jobs as most came looking for work. Along with their stealing jobs the idea in america at the time was that immigrants and foreigners are morally ad. This was a result of the lower class, which was comprised mainly of immigrants, in america being heavily involved with crime. Then, very much like today, there were many stereotypes about immigrants. The most feared element about all these immigrants was that they would come over and refuse to assimilate and quickly change the culture of america to wherever they came from, the WASPs feared this the most. To challenge the massive amount of immigrants who had been coming into the country for years the government created quotas on the number of immigrants who could come into the country.

They did this mainly to avoid eastern and southern Europeans along with Asians. The first quota created was the 1921 emergency immigration act which restricted immigration to 3% of the number of nationals living in whatever country an immigrant came from in 1910. Still many immigrants from southern and eastern Europe were getting in so it was decided another quota was necessary. This was the 1924 national origins quota which restricted annual immigration to 150,000 per year along with giving each nation a quota, no Asians were allowed.

This shows that during the 1920’s millions of people from around the world were now faced with no where to go as the land of opportunity shut its gates. The United States was now closing off doors to immigrants who as seen earlier were the targets of attacks on their civil rights. The 1920’s were filled with racism and violence all throughout the country. With this massive amount of hate for different people going around at the time it only makes sense that a group would be formed to help promote this hate. This was the KKK, or the Ku Klux Klan, who had originally formed in the 1860’s and reconstruction but had a resurgence in 1921.

Throughout the early and mid 1920s the KKK grew and became a legitimate movement with 4 to 5 million members. Also this time it was not just limited to the south as some of the top KKK memberships were in Oregon and Indiana. Due to the size of the organization it could control voting throughout certain states and many congressmen were members of the KKK. What was special about them this time compared to the reconstruction Klan was that now their hate was not just limited to blacks but to Catholics, Jews, communists, and most foreigners.

They staged marches in which they carried burning crosses all over the country. To fight the lynching and deaths that the KKK caused the NAACP, the national association for the advancement of colored people, and Thurgood Marshall in particular attempted to get federal anti lynching laws passed as many states were ignoring these cases. Although they did not get these laws made. This racism did result in something positive though and that was the great migration. The great migration occurred because of the mass lynching from the KKK, segregation, un employment and sharecropping.

In 1860 93% of African Americans lived in the south but by the end of the 1920’s only 80% lived in the south, this was because of the hundreds of thousands who left to the north in search of a better life, to escape racism. Although, like the south the north was not all that much more tolerant. Race riots emerged in the north, in Chicago a major riot resulted in the deaths of 23 African Americans and 15 whites. By the end of the 1920’s the KKK did end up dying but the number of lives they ruined cannot be measured.

During the 1920’s the rise of the religious right fundamentalists took place to help fight all of the lack of morals taking place with the new culture movement with people like the flappers. This rural counter attack took place primarily in the South and Midwest. They fought this disgusting lack of morals by getting the 18th amendment and the Volstead act signed which passed in the early 20’s and outlawed the production, distribution, and consumption of alcohol. Their reasoning was that alcohol can destroy family life, make you lazy, and not work. Although on the outside this seemed to be positive the results were definitely negative.

As a result of making alcohol illegal the underground sale of alcohol at speakeasies grew tremendously. Gangs took over the trade of alcohol and people would kill each other to gain a stronger grasp on the market. Gang leader such as Al Capone controlled the market and were for the most part untouchable by law because of all of the protection he had through partnerships and the enormity of his market. Along with this it is speculate that during prohibition times people actually drank more than they did before hand. Besides the crime that was around after prohibition there was also a question if people should be allowed to legislate morality.

Our country was founded on not having ties between church and state but this made it seem like a big brother was telling us what is right and wrong. Progressivism was the leading political philosophy from 1900 to 1917 and was based on the idea that our government has a moral responsibility to help our country whenever necessary but by the 1920’s these ideas were gone. One of the major reasons for the loss of progressivism is that corruption was rampant throughout the country and eventually made its way to government.

In New York Tammany hall, led by Boss Tweed would sponser politicians with major amounts of money and then he would be able to control the spread of jobs once these politicians took power. After he would give out jobs he would take kick backs from the workers and would often take money straight form the city that was supposed to be used for public works projects. The progressives hoped to be able to get rid of all of these corrupt establishments throughout cities in America. They did have trouble though and finally in the early 20’s the teapot dome scandal surfaced and proved that progressives were unable to get rid of scandal.

The teapot dome scandal resulted because Albert Fall gave government oil reserves to oil companies for 400,000 dollars as a bribe when it is supposed to be auctioned off and the money is supposed to go to the government. After president Harding dies the scandal gets out and Fall gets a year in jail. The public was now aware of the failure of the progressive party in getting rid of scandal because it had reached the executive branch. After president Harding came president Coolidge who abandons any ounce of progressivism still around when he switches to the exact opposite in a Laissez-Faire economy.

Coolidge even says at one point “four fifths of our troubles in our life would disappear if we all sat down and be still. ” He wanted to return to normalcy and one of his Laissez-Faire policies was the Fordney McCumber Tariff Act of 1922. This was a move away from progressivism because it protected the big businesses by keeping Europeans from invading our markets with cheap goods. This also was a move towards isolationism because by putting a protecting tariff we are cutting ourselves off from trade with Europe and anyone else who would want to trade because in response they will put a retaliatory tariff making any trade impossible.

Another move away from progressivism is that Andrew Mellon, the secretary of the treasury, reduced spending from the world war one peak of 18 billion to 3 billion and reduced income taxes to 20%. This was a move away from progressivism because we no longer had the money to spend on social welfare programs to help the poor which progressives thought was a necessary government task. In the 1928 election the democratic candidate was the 4 time governor of New York Al Smith. Al Smith was half Irish catholic and half German, he grew up on the streets of the lower east side, and grew politically through Tammany hall.

He had a heavy Brooklyn accent, was very urban, and was wet. He felt that race and nationality was not important and that the country would accept him but during the campaign he was the target of viscous racist and anti immigrant attacks. He was hated by the south and lost the race in a land slide. Al Smith’s defeat shows that America is still intolerant that there is ethnic conflict which supports isolationism and hurts progressivism. Progressives supported tolerance and this showed whatever work they had done now had disappeared.

Along with a political movement away from progressivism and towards isolationism there was growing anti world war one sentiment. People felt that the Europeans dragged us into the war to protect their balance of power and to allow them to expand but then later they would not follow the 14 points. This made Americans feel stabbed in the back by Europeans and the hate that resonated from this helped push us towards isolationism. Along with this there was tons of “emotional fatigue” because people were tired of being world policemen.

After the experiment with progressivism and Americans putting themselves out into the world they now had a desire to avoid complicated entanglements and moral dilemmas, America had become a nation of cynics and in turn isolationists. Finally in 1928 the Kellogg-Brian pact was signed by 60 representatives and war was now outlawed. Although this does seem positive in actuality it is a movement towards isolationism because it made America not have to join in any European war and also because of the language of the pact wars were actually not outlawed.

All these things resulted in a Laissez-faire government taking over that was also isolationist. This can be said to be one of the largest reasons that Hitler was able to gain so much power, because no one was there to stop him from growing. America did have a large amount of economic growth, cultural growth, and a number of important technologies discovered but the negatives of the 1920’s far out weigh the positives because of the implications these negatives had on the entire world over the next years.

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