Chapter 30

American Life in the "Roaring Twenties"

1920-1932

 

Putting America on Rubber Tires

The automobile industry started an industrial revolution in the 1920s.  It created a new industrial system based on assembly-line methods and mass-production techniques.  Detroit became the motorcar capital of the world.

Henry Ford, father of the moving assembly line (Fordism), created the Model T.  By 1930, more than 20 million Model Ts were being driven in the country.

 

The Advent of the Gasoline Age

The automobile industry exploded, creating millions of jobs and related support industries.  America's standard of living rose. The petroleum business grew, while the railroad industry was hard hit by the competition of automobiles. 

The automobile freed up women from their dependence on men, and it allowed suburbs to spread out. It was responsible for millions of deaths, but it brought more convenience, pleasure, and excitement into peoples' lives.

Gasoline engines led to the invention of the airplane. On December 17, 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright made their first flight, lasting 12 seconds and 120 feet.

After the success of airplanes in WWI, private companies began to operate passenger airlines with airmail contracts.

Charles A. Lindberg became the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927.  His flight energized the new aviation industry.

 

Radio Waves and Filmland Fantasies

Guglielmo Marconi invented wireless telegraphy (the telegraph) in the 1890s. 

In the 1920s, the first voice-carrying radio broadcasts were transmitted. Automobiles drew Americans away from the home, but the radio brought them back.  The radio made significant educational and cultural contributions.

Motion picture, which had been partially developed by Thomas A. Edison, began in the 1890s.  The true birth of motion picture came in 1903 with the release of the first story sequence:  The Great Train Robbery.  Hollywood became the movie capital of the world.

Motion picture was used extensively in WWI as anti-German propaganda. 

The spread of motion picture led to increased assimilation of immigrants.

 

The Mass-Consumption Economy

World War I and Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon's tax policies brought prosperity to the mid-1920s.

Bruce Barton founded advertising.

Sports became a big business in the consumer economy of the 1920s.

Buying on credit became popular in the postwar economy. Prosperity thus led to increased personal debt, and the economy became increasingly vulnerable to disruptions of the credit structure.

 

The Dynamic Decade

By the 1920s, most Americans had moved from rural areas to urban (city) areas. 

Margaret Sanger led a birth-control movement.  Alice Paul formed the National Women's Party in 1923 to campaign for an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution.

The Fundamentalists lost ground to the Modernists who believed that God was a "good guy" and the universe was a friendly place.

Sex appeal in America grew in the 1920s. Flappers: young women who expressed their disdain for traditional women behavior by wearing short skirts, drinking, driving cars, and smoking.

Dr. Sigmund Freud argued that sexual repression was responsible for a variety of emotional problems. 

Jazz thrived in the 1920s.

Racial pride grew in the northern black communities.  Marcus Garvey founded the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) to promote the resettlement of blacks in Africa.  In the United States, the UNIA also sponsored stores and other businesses to keep blacks' dollars in black pockets.

 

Seeing Red

Fear of Russia swept across the country in the years following the communist Bolshevik revolution of 1917.

The "red scare" of 1919-1920 resulted in a nationwide crusade against people whose Americanism was suspect.  Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer rounded up people who were in question.

In 1919-1920, some states passed criminal syndicalism laws that made it illegal to advocate the use of violence to obtain social change. Traditional American ideals of free speech were restricted.

Striking employees were viewed as Un-American. Some business supported the American plan, in which employees were not required to join unions.

Antiredism and antiforeignism were reflected in the criminal case of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti.  The two men were convicted in 1921 of the murder of a Massachusetts paymaster and his guard.  Although given a trial, the jury and judge were prejudiced against the men because they were Italians, atheists, anarchists, and draft dodgers.  Despite criticism from liberals and radicals all over the world, the men were electrocuted in 1927.

 

Hooded Hoodlums of the KKK

The Ku Klux Klan (Knights of the Invisible Empire) grew in the early 1920s out of the growing intolerance and prejudice of the American public. It was most popular in the Midwest and the South.  The Klan was antiforeign, anti-Catholic, anti-black, anti-Jewish, antipacifist, anti-Communist, anti-internationalist, antievolutionist, antibootlegger, antigambling, antiadultery, and anti-birth control.  It was pro-Anglo-Saxon, pro-"native" American, and pro-Protestant.

It fell apart in the late 1920s after it was discovered that Klan official were embezzling money.

 

Stemming the Foreign Blood

Isolationist Americans of the 1920s felt they had no use for immigrants. The Emergency Quota Act of 1921 placed a quota on the number of European immigrants who could come to America each year; it was set at 3% of the people of their nationality who had been living in the United States in 1910.

The Immigration Act of 1924 replaced the Quota Act of 1921, cutting quotas for foreigners from 3% to 2%.  Japanese were banned from coming to America.  Canadians and Latin Americans were exempt from the act, because their close proximity made it easy to attract them when they were needed and it was easy to send them home when they were not needed.

The quota system significantly reduced immigration.

The Immigration Act of 1924 ended the era of unrestricted immigration to the United States. 

 



The Prohibition "Experiment"

The 18th Amendment, passed in 1919, banned alcohol. It was enforced by the Volstead ActProhibition was popular in the South, where white southerners wanted to keep stimulants out of the hands of blacks, and in the West, where alcohol was associated with crime and corruption.

Prohibitionists were na´ve in believing that the law could be enforced; the Federal government had a weak track record of enforcing laws that controlled personal lives. Prohibition might have started off better if there had been a larger number of enforcement officials. 

"Speakeasies" replaced saloons.  Prohibition caused bank savings to increase and absenteeism in industry to decrease.

 

The Golden Age of Gangsterism

Violent wars broke out in the big cities between rival gangs, who sought control of the illegal booze market.

In Chicago, "Scarface" Al Capone, a murderous booze distributor, began 6 years of gang warfare that generated millions of dollars.  Capone was eventually tried and convicted of income-tax evasion and sent to prison for 11 years.

Gangsters began to move into other profitable and illicit activities:  prostitution, gambling, narcotics, and kidnapping for ransom.

After the son of Charles A. Lindbergh was kidnapped for ransom and then murdered, Congress passed the Lindbergh Law in 1932, making interstate abduction in certain circumstances a death-penalty offense.

 

Monkey Business in Tennessee

In the 1920s, states started to put a larger focus on education. Professor John Dewey set forth the principles of "learning by doing" that formed the foundation of so-called progressive education.  He believed that "education for life" should be a primary goal of the teacher.

Science and healthcare also improved during the 1920s.

Fundamentalists, old-time religionists, claimed that the teaching of Darwinism evolution was destroying faith in God and the Bible, while contributing to the moral breakdown of youth.

In 1925, John T. Scopes was indicted in Tennessee for teaching evolution.  At the "Monkey Trial," Scopes was defended by Clarence Darrow, while former presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan prosecuted him.  Scopes was found guilty and fined $100.

 

Cultural Liberation

In the decade after WWI, a new generation of writers emerged.  They gave American literature new life, imaginativeness, and artistic quality.

Modernism: philosophical movement during the 1920s; a key component of this movement was the questioning of social conventions.

H.L. Mencken attacked marriage, patriotism, democracy, and prohibition in his monthly American Mercury.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote This Side of Paradise in 1920 and The Great Gatsby in 1925.

Earnest Hemingway was among the writers most affected by the war.  He responded to propaganda and the overblown appeal to patriotism.  He wrote of disillusioned, spiritually numb American expatriates in Europe in The Sun Also Rises (1926). 

Sinclair Lewis wrote Main Street (1920) and Babbitt (1922).

Sherwood Anderson wrote Winesburg, Ohio (1919).

Harlem Renaissance: a black cultural movement that grew out of Harlem

Architecture also became popular as materialism and functionalism became popular.

 

Wall Street's Big Bull Market

In the 1920s, the stock market became increasingly popular to the average citizen.

The Federal government did little to manage the national debt after WWI.

In 1921, the Republican Congress created the Bureau of the Budget to help the president submit an annual budget to Congress.  It was designed to prevent haphazardly extravagant appropriations.

Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon's belief was that taxes forced the rich to invest in tax-exempt securities rather than in factories; this hurt business. Mellon helped create a series of tax reductions from 1921-1926 to help rich people. Congress also eliminated the gift tax, reduced excise taxes, the surtax, the income tax, and estate taxes.  Mellon's policies shifted the tax burden from the wealthy to the middle-income groups.  Mellon reduced the national debt by $10 billion.

 

The Republican "Old Guard" Returns

Warren G. Harding was inaugurated in 1921.  He was unable to detect corruption in his own staff.  He was a very soft guy in that he hated to say "no," hurting peoples' feelings.

Charles Evans Hughes was the secretary of state.  Andrew W. Mellon, Pittsburgh's multimillionaire aluminium king, was the secretary of the Treasury.  Herbert Hoover was the secretary of commerce.

Harding's brightest and most capable officials (above) were offset by two of the worst:  Senator Albert B. Fall, an anti-conservationist who was the secretary of the interior, and Harry M. Daugherty, a crook who was the attorney general.

 

GOP Reaction at the Throttle

Industrialists wanted the government to stop legislating business and to actually help businesses make profits.

In the first years of the 1920s, the Supreme Court struck down progressive legislation.  The Supreme Court ruled in Adkins v. Children's Hospital (1923) that women did not deserve special protection in the workplace. They said that the 19th Amendment made women the legal equals of men.

Corporations under President Harding could expand without worries of antitrust laws.

The Interstate Commerce Commission was led by men who were sympathetic to the managers of the railroads.

 

The Aftermath of War

Industrialists convinced the government to release control that it had installed on the economy during WWI. The Esch-Cummins Transportation Act of 1920 returned the railroads to private management. It pledged the Interstate Commerce Commission to guarantee their profitability.

The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 authorized the government to sell its wartime fleet of 1500 vessels at extremely low prices.

The La Follette Seaman's Act of 1915 improved working conditions for sailors but it economically hurt the American shipping industry because they now had a hard time competing with foreigners, who did not treat their crews very well.

Labor struggled without friendly government support; there were a lot of strikes and wage cuts.

In 1921, Congress created the Veterans Bureau to operate hospitals and provide vocational rehabilitation for the disabled.  The American Legion was created in 1919 by Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.  It was a support/social group for veterans. The legion convinced Congress in 1924 to pass the Adjusted Compensation Act, which gave every former soldier a sum of money, depending on their years of service.

 

America Seeks Benefits Without Burdens

Because the Treaty of Versailles was rejected, the United States had technically been at war with Germany, Austria, and Hungary for 3 years after the armistice.  Congress passed a joint resolution in July 1921 that officially declared the war over.

Isolationism was prominent in Washington.  President Harding hated the League of Nations and at first, he refused to support the League's world health program.

Secretary Hughes secured the rights for American oil companies to share oil lands in the Middle East with Britain.

Several world powers met at the Washington "Disarmament" Conference in 1921-1922 to discuss disarmament of their respective navies. Secretary Hughes led the American delegation. The Five-Power Naval Treaty of 1922 limited the construction of certain types of large naval ships, and it applied ratio limits to the number of ships a country could build (ex: Japan could build 3/5 as many ships as America). Submarines and destroyers were not restricted. It also stated that the British and Americans would refrain from fortifying their Far Eastern possessions, including the Philippines.  The Japanese were not subjected to such restraints in their possessions.

A Four-Power Treaty between Britain, Japan, France and the United States replaced the 20-year old Anglo-Japanese Treaty and preserved the status quo in the Pacific.

In the late 1920s, Americans called for the "outlaw of war."  Calvin Coolidge's secretary of state Frank. B. Kellogg signed with the French foreign minister in 1928 the Kellogg-Briand Pact. Known as the Pact of Paris, it was ratified by 62 nations. It tried to outlaw war, but it had a big exception: defensive wars were still permitted.

 

Hiking the Tariff Higher

Because businessmen did not want Europe flooding American markets with cheap goods after the war, Congress passed the Fordney-McCumber Tariff Law in 1922, raising the tariff from 27% to 35%.

Presidents Harding and Coolidge were much more prone to increasing tariffs than decreasing them; this presented a problem: Europe needed to sell goods to the U.S. to get the money to pay back its war debts. Europeans responded by also increasing tariffs.

 

The Stench of Scandal

In 1923, Colonel Charles R. Forbes, head of the Veterans Bureau, was caught stealing $200 million from the government, chiefly in connection with the building of veterans' hospitals.

In the Teapot Dome scandal (1921), the secretary of the interior, Albert B. Fall, convinced the secretary of the navy to transfer valuable oil-laden land to the Interior Department (the land was owned by the navy). Fall was then bribed with $100,000 to leased the lands to oilmen Harry F. Sinclair and Edward L. Doheny.

Attorney General Daugherty was accused of illegal selling pardons and liquor permits. 

President Harding died in San Francisco on August 2, 1923 of pneumonia and thrombosis.

 

"Silent Cal" Coolidge

Vice President Calvin Coolidge took over the presidency following Harding's death.  He was extremely shy and delivered very boring speeches.

Coolidge did not change the business-friendly policies that Harding had created.

 

Frustrated Farmers

After the end of WWI, farms struggled because the Federal government stopped guaranteeing high prices and other nations started to grow more crops.  Machines also enabled farmers to grow more crops, but this created crop surpluses, which decreased prices.

The Capper-Volstead Act exempted farmers' marketing cooperatives from anti-trust prosecution. 

The McNary-Haugen Bill sought to keep agricultural prices high by authorizing the government to buy crop surpluses and sell them abroad.  President Coolidge vetoed the bill because the bill would've cost the government money.

 

A Three-Way Race for the White House in 1924

Preceding the election of 1924, the Democratic party was split into many different factions. They eventually chose John W. Davis to compete against Calvin Coolidge (Republican) and La Follette (Progressive) for the presidency.

Senator La Follette from Wisconsin led the new liberal Progressive party.  He was endorsed by the American Federation of Labor and by farmers.  The Progressives called for government ownership of railroads and relief for farmers, opposed monopolies and antilabor injunctions, and supported a constitutional amendment to limit the Supreme Court's power to invalidate laws passed by Congress.

Calvin Coolidge won the election of 1924.

 

Foreign-Policy Flounderings

Isolationism continued in Coolidge's second term. Exception to this were in the Caribbean and Central America, where Americans participated in a few armed conflicts in Haiti and Nicaragua.

In 1926, the Mexican government declared control over its oil resources.  Despite American oil companies support for war, Coolidge resolved the situation diplomatically.

After WWI, America became a creditor to the world, loaning money to various countries.

The United States demanded to be repaid for the $10 billion that it had loaned to the Allies in WWI.  The Allies protested the debt, pointing out that they had lost many troops and that America should just write off the loans as war costs. America's postwar tariffs also made it difficult for the European Allies to make money to pay their debts.

America's demand for repayment from France and Britain caused these countries to demand war reparations from Germany. The Allies hoped to pay their American debts with the money received from Germany.

Negotiated by Charles Dawes, the Dawes Plan of 1924 addressed the debt repayment issue.  It set up German reparations and allowed for Americans to make private loans to Germany. The Germans used these loans to pay the reparations, which the Allies used to pay the war debts to the Americans.

A downturn in the global economy disrupted the flow of money, and because of this, the United States never fully received its war repayments from Europe.

 

The Triumph of Herbert Hoover, 1928

When Calvin Coolidge decided not to run for re-election in 1928, the Republicans chose Herbert Hoover. Hoover supported isolationism, individualism, free enterprise, and small government.  He was a good leader. Other strengths were his integrity, humanitarianism, passion for assembling the facts, efficiency, talents for administration, and ability to inspire loyalty in close associates.

The Democrats nominated Alfred E. Smith.  He was a Roman Catholic in an overwhelmingly Protestant country.

For the first time, the radio was widely used in election campaigns.  It mostly helped Hoover's campaign.

Smith was unable to win the South due to a combination of his Catholicism, opposition to prohibition, and liberal ideals.  Herbert Hoover won the election of 1928 in a landslide, becoming the first Republican candidate in 52 years (except for Harding's Tennessee victory), to win a state that had seceded. 

 

President Hoover's First Moves

The disorganized wage earners and the disorganized farmers were not getting rich in the growing economy.

The Agricultural Marketing Act, passed in 1929, was designed to help the farmers by setting up the Federal Farm Board. The Board purchased agricultural surpluses, hoping to stabilize agriculture prices. The Board created the Grain Stabilization Corporation and the Cotton Stabilization Corporation, which also purchased surpluses. The corporations failed after farmers produced too much surplus, exceeding the budget of the Board.

The Hawley-Smoot Tariff of 1930 was intended to be a mild tariff, but Congress tacked on several amendments, turning it into a bill that raised the tariff to 60%. This was the nation's highest protective tariff during peacetime.  The tariff deepened the depression that had already begun in America and other nations, and it increased international financial chaos.

 

The Great Crash Ends the Golden Twenties

The stock market crashed in October 1929.  It was partially triggered by the British, who raised their interest rates in an effort to bring back capital lured abroad by American investments.  The British needed money, and they were unable to trade with the United States due the high tariffs.

On "Black Tuesday" of October 29, 1929, millions of stocks were sold in a panic.  By the end of 1929, two months after the initial crash, stockholders had lost $40 billion.

As a result of the crash, millions lost their jobs and thousands of banks closed. The United States was the hardest industrialized nation to be hit.

This crash led to the Great Depression.

 

Hooked on the Horn of Plenty

One of the main causes of the Great Depression was overproduction by farms and factories.  The nation's ability to produce goods had outrun its capacity to consume or pay for them.  All of the money was being invested in factories and other agencies of production; not enough money was going into salaries and wages. Over-expansion of credit also contributed to the depression.

The Great Depression worsened the economic state in Europe, which had not yet fully recovered from WWI.

In the 1930s, a drought scorched the Mississippi Valley, causing thousands of farms to be sold.

Hoovervilles: a nickname for tin-and-paper shantytowns.

 

Rugged Times for Rugged Individuals

In the beginning of the Great Depression, President Hoover believed that industry and self-reliance had made America great and that the government should play no role in the welfare of the people.  He soon realized, however, that the welfare of the people in a nationwide catastrophe was a direct concern of the government.

Hoover developed a plan in which the government would help the railroads, banks, and rural credit corporations in the hope that if financial health was restored at the top of the economic pyramid, then unemployment would be relieved as the prosperity trickled down.  Hoover's efforts were criticized because he gave government money to the big bankers who had allegedly started the depression.

 

Hoover Battles the Great Depression

President Hoover convinced Congress to allocate $2.25 billion for useful public works.  (ex: the Hoover Dam)

Hoover opposed any projects that he viewed as "socialistic."  Ex: He vetoed the Muscle Shoals Bill, which was designed to dam the Tennessee River and sell government-produced electricity in competition with citizens in private companies.

In 1932, Congress created the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), which lent money to insurance companies, banks, agricultural organizations, railroads, and state and local governments.

Congress passed the Norris-La Guardia Anti-Injunction Act in 1932, which outlawed antiunion contracts and barred federal courts from stopping strikes, boycotts, and peaceful picketing.

 

Routing the Bonus Army in Washington

Veterans of WWI were hit hard by the Great Depression. The "Bonus Expeditionary Force" (BEF) converged on the Capitol in the summer of 1932. They demanded that Congress fully pay the deferred bonus that Congress had passed in 1924 (the payment was supposed to be paid in 1945).

After the BEF refused to leave the Capitol, President Hoover sent in the army to evacuate the group.  The ensuing riots and incidents brought additional public disdain for Hoover.

 

Japanese Militarists Attack China

In September 1931, Japanese imperialists, seeing that the West was bogged down in the Great Depression, invaded the Chinese province of Manchuria.  Although a direct violation of the League of Nations, the League was unable to do anything because it lacked America's support.

In 1932, Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson decided to only diplomatically attack the Japanese. He issued the Stimson doctrine, which declared that the United States would not recognize any territory acquired by force.  Japan ignored the doctrine and moved onto Shanghai in 1932.  The violence continued without the League of Nation's intervention.

 

Hoover Pioneers the Good Neighbor Policy

President Hoover sought to improve relations with Latin America. He withdrew American troops from Haiti and Nicaragua.

Hoover's actions laid the groundwork for future President Roosevelt's "Good Neighbor" policy.



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