Re-thinking History

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

New Era and Depression 1920s-1932

The New Era and Depression

The New Era, the decade following WWI is recalled in popular memory as the Jazz Age or the Roaring Twenties. With its flappers, speakeasies (nightclubs that sold liquor in violation of Prohibition) and the soaring stock market fueled by easy credit and a get-rich-quick outlook, this decade was a time of revolt against moral rule inherited from the 19th century. However, many Americans did not welcome the new secular, commercial culture. They resented and feared the ethnic and racial diversity of America’s cities and what they considered the lax moral standards of urban life. The 1920s was a decade of profound social tensions-between rural and urban Americans, traditional and modern Christianity, participants in a consumer culture and those who did not fully share in the new prosperity.

What were the main features of the new society of the 1920s? (6 aspects)
· The twenties was a decade of prosperity, as productivity and economic output rose dramatically as new industries-chemicals, aviation, and electronics-flourished and older ones like food processing and the manufacture of household appliances using Ford’s method of the assembly line.
· During the 1920s, as new society was created as, an increased amount of consumer goods of all kinds were marketed by salesmen and advertisers who promoted them as ways of satisfying American desires and needs. Frequently purchased on credit, with easy payment plans, consumer goods altered daily life. Telephones, the vacuum, even Coca-Cola became a symbol of American life.
· Beneath the prosperity of the 1920s, there was a limit of prosperity, as the fruits of increased production were unequally distributed, as real wages for industrial workers only slight rose, while corporate profits rose at more than twice that rate. Economic concentration created a disparity of wealth.
· Farmers did not share in the decade’s prosperity. The “golden age” of American farming had reached its peak during WWI and farms declined during the 1920s. Farm incomes had declined steadily as mechanization and increased use of fertilized, insecticides and agricultural production continued to rise even when the world no longer needed farmers’ assistance following the war. During the twenties, some 3 million persons migrated out of rural areas, and many headed to southern California, where the growing economy needed labor.
· During the twenties, the image of business was transformed by Hollywood films that spread images of the “American way of life,” across the globe. Businessmen such as Henry Ford and engineers like Herbert Hoover were cultural heroes. The image of business was changed, as Hollywood films succeeded in changing popular attitudes toward Wall Street. In addition, businesses hired public relation firms to sway the minds of while populations as these firms aimed to justify corporate practices to the public and counteract the public’s longstanding distrust of big business.
· With the defeat of the labor upsurge of 1919 and the dismantling of the wartime regulatory state, business used the rhetoric of Americanization and “industrial freedom” as weapons against labor unions. Some corporations during the 1920s implemented a new style of management as they provided their employees with private pensions, medical insurance, job security and greater workplace safety. Management insisted that prosperity depended on giving business complete freedom of action, which was reinforced in a propaganda campaign that linked unionism & socialism as examples of the sinister influence of foreigners on American life. During the 1920s, organized labor lost over 2 million members as unions agreed to numerous demands by management in an effort to prevent the complete elimination of union.

The Republican Era and the Corruption in Government

  • Government policies reflected the pro-business stance of the 1920s. Recalling the era’s prosperity, one stockbroker later remarked “God….J.P. Morgan and the Republican party were going to keep everything going forever.
  • Business lobbyist's dominated national conventions of the Republican Party. They called on the federal government to lower taxes on personal incomes and business profits.
  • The administrations of Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge obliged to these demands by businesses.
  • The two presidents appointed so many pro-business members on the Federal Reserve Board and the Federal Trade Commission & other Progressive era agencies, they in effect repealed the regulatory system.
  • However, the Harding administration did support Secretary of Commerce Herbert’s Hoover successful effort to persuade the steel industry to reduce the workday from 12 to eight hours.
  • Under William Howard Taft, appointed chief justice in 1921, the Supreme Court remained strongly conservative and struck down a federal law that barred goods produced by child labor. In 1923, the Court overturned Muller v. Oregon, which had set a minimum wage law for women in Washington D.C.
  • Warren G. Harding took office as president in 1921 promising a return to normalcy after an era of Progressive reform and world war. However, his administration quickly became one of the most corrupt in American history. Calling himself a “man of limited talents from a small town,” Harding seemed to have little regard for either governmental issues or the dignity of the presidency.
  • Prohibition did not cause him to curb his appetite for liquor.
  • He continued a previous affair with a young woman from Ohio, a fathered a illegitimate child. This was not discovered until 1927 when Nan Britton, his mistress published “The President’s Daughter.”
  • Although his cabinet included men of integrity and talent like Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes and Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, Harding surrounded himself with cronies who used their offices for private gain.
  • Attorney General Harry Daugherty accepted payments not to prosecute accused criminals.
  • The head of the Veterans’ Bureau, Charles Forbes, received kickbacks from the sale of government supplies.
  • The most notorious scandal involved Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall, who accepted nearly $50,000 from private businessmen to who he leased government oil reserves at Teapot Dome, Wyoming. Fall became the first cabinet member in history to be convicted of a felony.
  • Harding’s successor, Calvin Coolidge, who as governor of Massachusetts had won national fame using states troops against striking Boston policemen in 1919, was a man of few words. Coolidge was reelected in 1924, in a landslide defeat against John W Davis, a Wall Street lawyer who was chosen to run by a badly divided Democratic convention…lack of organization, direction, platform.
  • Coolidge vetoed twice the McNary-Haugen Bill, the top legislative priority of congressmen from farm states. Farm Relief was an important element of the Progressive Party platform during the 1924 that selected Robert La Follette as a presidential candidate. Remember, the farmer did not share in the decade’s prosperity. This bill sought to have the government purchase agricultural products for sale overseas in order to raise farm prices. Coolidge denounced this bill as an unwarranted interference with the free market.
  • Robert La Follette was chosen to run as the candidate of a new Progressive Party. Coolidge described their platform as a blueprint for a “communistic and socialistic America.”

Economic Diplomacy
Foreign Affairs also reflected the close working relationship between business and government.

  • In competition, capital, trade, agriculture, labor and statecraft all go hand in hand if a country is to profit.
  • The 1920s market retreated from Wilson’s goal of internationalism in favor of unilateral American actions mainly designed to increase exports and investment opportunities overseas.
    What is sometimes called the “isolationism” of the twenties is really a response to Wilson’s disappointing results of military and diplomatic pursuit of freedom and democracy in the global community.
  • Although the U.S. did play host to the Washington naval Arms Conference in 1922, America remained outside the League of Nations.
  • The tariff was raised to the highest levels of in history, again, a response to Wilson’s principle of promoting free trade.
  • Much foreign policy was conducted through private economic relationships rather than governmental action. The United States emerged from WWI as both the world’s foremost center of manufacturing and the major financial power, thanks to British and French debts for American loans that had funded their war efforts.
    During the 1920s, New York bankers, sometimes acting on their own, and sometimes with the cooperation of Harding and Coolidge administrations, solidified their international position by extending loans to European and Latin American governments. They advanced billions of dollars to Germany to enable the country to meet its WWI reparations payments.
  • American investors gained control of raw materials such as cooper in Chili and oil in Venezuela. In 1928, in the so-called Red Line Agreement, British, French and American oil companies divided oil producing regions in the Middle East and Latin America among themselves.
  • As before WWI, the U.S. government dispatched soldiers when a change in government in the Caribbean threatened economic interests.
  • Having been stationed in Nicaragua since 1912, American marines withdrew in 1925. But the troops returned in an effort to suppress a nationalist revolt headed by General Anastasio Somoza, and finally left in 1933. A year later, Somoza assassinated Sandino & seized power, and for the next 43 years, he and his family ruled and plundered Nicaragua. Somoza was eventually overthrown in 1978 by a popular movement calling itself the Sandinistas.

Why did the protection of civil liberties gain importance in the 1920s?
· Among the casualties of WWI and the 1920s was the belief that an active federal government embodied the national purpose and enhanced the enjoyment of freedom. Wartime and postwar repression, Prohibition and the pro-business policies of the 1920s all illustrated how public power could go grievously wrong.
· This lesson opened the door to a new appreciation of civil liberties-rights an individual may assert even against democratic majorities-as essential elements of American freedom. The American public remembered the Palmer raids and the censure of freedom of speech, the rhetoric of war and now developed a greater appreciation of the necessity of vibrant, unrestricted political debate.
· The 1920s saw the birth of a coherent concept of civil liberties and the beginnings of significant legal protection for freedom of speech against the government.
· As wartime repression continued into the 1920s, college students and union leaders were beaten, Black Americans were lynched in Alabama, Arkansas and Florida, socialists were not allowed to speak in Pennsylvania. The postmaster continued to remove magazines and papers that criticized the government. Hollywood producers feared recent publicity of a drug overdose and a murder trial would reinforce the belief that movies promoted immorality. In fear of government sanctions, Hollywood enforced its own code to define immoral acts in 1923. (Hays code)
· The arrest of antiwar dissenters under the Espionage Act and Sedition Act of 1917 inspired the formation in 1917 of the American Civil Liberties Union. For the rest of the century, the ACLU would take part in most of the landmark cases that helped to bring about a rights revolution. Its efforts helped to give meaning to traditional civil liberties like freedom of speech and created new ones, such as right to privacy.
· Following WWI, the Supreme Court was forced to address the questions of the permissible limits on political and economic dissent. In 1919, the Court upheld the Espionage Act and Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes declared that the 1st Amendment did not prevent Congress from prohibiting speech that presented a “clear and present danger” Free speech did not protect a person who shouted Fire in a crowded room.
· However, the dissent by two Supreme Court justices concerning the conviction of Jacob Adams and five others for distributing pamphlets critical of American intervention in the Russian Revolution, marked a change in how the Court viewed free speech. By the end of the 1920s, the Court began to recognize a broader arrange of civil liberties, such as book censorship and the ban on James Joyce’s novel Ulysses.

The Culture Wars: The Fundamentalist Revolt
· Although many Americans enjoyed the fruits of prosperity of the twenties and embraced modern urban culture with liberated sexual rules, others found it alarming. Many Evangelical Protestants felt threatened by the decline of traditional values and the increased visibility of Catholicism and Judaism because of immigration. Despite the portrayal by the press that fundamentalism was a backwoods movement, it was a national phenomenon and remained a important element of 1920s culture and politics.
· Many Americans deemed Prohibition as a violation of individual freedom. However, to fundamentalists Prohibition contributed to widespread corruption and owners of illegal speakeasies and bootleggers who reaped large profits from their operation, bribed the police and public officials to turn a blind eye to the violation of the law. In addition, violence increased during the Prohibition era, as theft and murders threatened communities.
· Some of the main expression of fundamentalisms included the debate between traditional values and modern secular culture, as seen with the 1925 trial in Tennessee of John Scopes, who was arrested for violating the state law that prohibited the teaching of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. The jury found Scopes guilty, although the Tennessee supreme court later overturned the decision on a technicality. The Scopes trial reflected the enduring tension between two American definitions of freedom: fundamentalists beliefs in moral liberty and time honored religious belief & those who upheld the Tennessee law that questioned these same values.
· A second expression of fundamentalism was the creation of the Second Ku Klux Klan, in 1915 following the lynching of Leo Frank, a Jewish factory workers accused of killing a teenage girl. The Second Klan claimed over 3 million members, native born Protestants, and for a time controlled the state Republican Party in Indiana and politics in Los Angeles. The Second Klan continued their attacks on Black Americans and now included Jews and Catholics, feminism, unions and immorality.
· A third expression of fundamentalism was the sweeping fundamental change in immigration policy. During the 1920s, pressure for whole scale immigration restriction became irresistible as the fear of immigrant radicalism now outweighed the desire for cheap unskilled labor. In 1921, a temporary measure restricted immigration from Europe to 357,000.Three years later, Congress limited immigration to 150,000 per year. A law in 1924 established no limits on immigration from the Western Hemisphere, in an effort to satisfy the demands of large farmers in CA who relied heavily on seasonal labor from Mexico. However this same law denied entry of immigrants from Asian countries. The 1924 included a new category-illegal alien, which created a new enforcement mechanism, the Border Patrol, charged with patrolling the land boundaries of the U.S. This term at first referred to European immigrants who snuck into America from Mexico or Canada.

The Emergence of Harlem and the Harlem Renaissance
· The 1920s witnessed an upsurge of self-consciousness among Black Americans as a vibrant black community emerged to challenge the past perceptions and stereotypes of white Americans and the writing of history.
· Alain Locke in his 1925 publication “The New Negro” associated the condition of Black Americans with the Pan-African movement, of which W.E.B. Dubois was a part of. Writers during the Harlem Renaissance were led to the roots of the black experience- Africa, the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, the Peculiar Institution, the Nadir, the Southern folk traditions and life in 20th century America.
· The Harlem Renaissance challenged the erroneous identity and history of Africa created by European and white Americans. The Trans-Atlantic Slave trade created the image or the identity of the “Negro”, a peculiar entity with no history, no past, no knowledge and no contribution to civilization. The Harlem Renaissance objected to this racist image and redefined the emotions. the history, identity and experiences of Africans in the Diaspora.
· The Harlem Renaissance created a Black critique of white America, addressing topics of the notion of two-ness (wearing one face in public and then changing the face in the privacy of his/her own community), racism in the North and South, violence, Jim Crow segregation and disenfranchisement. Writers wrote of hope and despair, recalling past aspects of history, such as the Haitian Revolution and the future of race relations in America.

The Depression Era Read this Information to answer the written portion of the exam!
Prior to the 1929 crash of the stock market, there were signs of economic trouble in America. Southern California and Florida experienced a frenzied real-estate and land speculation period which led to banks failing, land remaining underdeveloped and mortgages foreclosing. The highly unequal distribution of income and the prolonged depression in farm regions reduced American purchasing power. Sales of new autos and household consumer goods had declined rapidly since 1926. The corruption in the administrations of Harding and Coolidge contributed to the stock market crash of 1929. The stock market crash came with such a severity that it destroyed many of the investment companies that had been created to buy and sell stock. By 1930, around 26,000 American business failed and the global community was ill equipped to deal with the downturn. Germany defaulted on reparations payments to France and Britain, which led to these governments to stop repaying debts to American banks.

  • Eric Foner argued that the Depression transformed American life as hundreds of American people took to the road in search of work. Hungry men, women and children lined the streets of major cities looking for their next meal. Thousands of families evicted from their homes, moved into ramshackle shanty towns that sprang up in parks and abandoned towns.
  • The Depression forced families to move from cities to rural areas in an effort to grow food and by 1935, 33 million lived on farms. In rural areas, however, families reduced their number of meals per day and children were often barefoot.
  • The American suicide rate increased during the Depression as this decade was shrouded in uncertainity.
  • The onset in 1930 of a period of unusually dry weather in the nation’s heartland worsened the Depression’s impact on rural America. By mid-decade into the Depression Era, the region suffered from the century’s most severe drought and as winds now blew much of the soil away, creating the Dust Bowl affected areas of Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and Colorado.
  • The image of big business collapsed as congressional investigations revealed massive irregularities committed by bankers and tock brokers. Banks had knowlingly sold worthless bonds and prominent Wall Street Bankers had unloaded their own portfolios while instructing their clients to maintain their holdings.
  • When the Soviet Union advertised its need for skilled workers, it received over 100,000 applications from the United States.