Sunday, September 22, 2019

Constitutional and Legal Issues in the Roaring Twenties

The 1920s seemed like a carefree period in American history; flappers, speakeasies, jazz music, and lavish parties seem to flood one's thoughts when this time period is mentioned. However, many constitutional and legal issues divided Americans in the 1920s. Many of these issues reflected the struggle between modern and traditional values and highlighted how international affairs could have an affect on domestic policies and attitudes. For some Americans, these issues took the form of racism, nativism, and intolerances of differences in religion and politics. This post will examine such issues as the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, the Red Scare, the Scopes trial, and restrictions on immigration.

The Red Scare, 1918-1919

The Red Scare was the imposition of stern measures to suppress dissent after World War I in a crusade aganst internal enemies. Fueled by the November 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, an uprising of Communists in Russia who overthrew the tsarist regime of the Romanov dynasty, the Red Scare targeted communists, socialists, anarchists, and others who were viewed as having un-American sentiments.

The Red Scare was led by Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer and was sparked by several events which took place shortly after WWI. Race riots erupted in 25 cities; a series of labor strikes in Boston, Massachusetts climaxed with a walkout by police; several unexplained bombings added to the mass hysteria. All of these events, although unconnected, were seen as part of a Communist conspiracy.

The Attorney General ordered the first of the so-called Palmer Raids in late 1919. In 33 cities across the country, police without warrents raided the headquarters of Communists and other organizations. Eventually, they arrested more than 4,000 people, holding them without charges and denying them legal counsel. Some 560 aliens were deported. Palmer's harsh tactics would turn the public against him and his raids would come to an end. However, the Palmer Raids would have a lasting effect on the general public throughout the 1920s--many Americans would be discouraged from speaking their minds freely in open debate, thus hindering their constitutinal right to freedom of speech.

Sacco and Vanzetti

Closely linked to the Red Scare was the case of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. These two Italian immigrants--and admitted anarchists--were convicted of murder in 1921 in connection with a Massachusetts robbery. Many people questioned the evidence against Sacco and Vanzetti, concluding that the two men were convicted more for their beliefs and Italian origin than for a crime. In spite of mass demonstrations and appeals, the two men were executed in 1927. The governor of Massachusetts eventually cleared the two men in 1977, 50 years after the fact.

The Resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan

Antiforeign nativist and racist attitudes encouraged a revival of the Ku Klux Klan. The first organization, active during the Reconstruction era, had died out in the late 1800s. A reorganized Klan, formed in 1915, grew slowly until 1920. In that year, it added 100,000 members, The Klan of the 1920s targeted not only African Americans but also Catholics, Jews, and immigrants. To the Klan, the only true Americans were white, Protestant, and American-born. In 1925, membership in the Klan peaked at 2 millop.

Restrictions on Immigration

The nativism and racism of the 1920s that was evident in the Red Scare, the Sacco and Vanzetti case, and the resurgence of the Klan was also present in immigration legislation of the era. Immigration had resumed after World War I, but there was less of a need for workers. In the postwar recession, immigrants were seen as taking jobs from returning American GIs and somehow threatened American values. The nativist climate led to the Immigration Act of 1924. This act established a system of national quotas, which limited the number of immigrants from each country. These quotas deliberately kept the totals for eastern and southern Europe low and excluded all immigration from Asia.

The Scopes Trial

The Scopes Trial, also known as the Monkey Trial, began on July 10, 1925. The defendant, John Thomas Scopes, was a high school science teacher who taught evolution in the classroom, which was said to violate the Butler Act, which prohibited the teaching of any theory that went against biblical doctrine or denied the theory of creationism.

From the website "The trial took place in Dayton, Tennessee, and was the result of a carefully orchestrated series of events that were intended to bring publicity, and therefore money, into the town by a group of local businessmen. In reality, Scopes was unsure of whether he had ever technically taught the theory of evolution, but he had reviewed the chapter in the evolution chapter in the textbook with students, and he agreed to incriminate himself so that the Butler Act could be challenged by the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). Several students were encouraged to testify against Scopes at the trial.

The Scopes Trial brought in hundreds of reporters from all over the country, and it was the first trial to be broadcast on radio. Both the prosecuting attorney and Scopes’ defense attorney were charismatic men and drew significant attention to the case, which for the defense was more about defeating the Butler Act then about defending Scopes. Scopes was found guilty and charged a fine of $100, but the verdict was thrown out on a technicality on an appeal. For the next few years, textbooks in Tennessee had all mention of evolution removed. The Butler Act was repealed in 1967."

These dilemmas brought to light some of the underlying issues in a country that otherwise seemed prosperous. However, dark times were ahead for Americans. Next time, we're going to examine the 1929 stock market crash.

Thursday, September 19, 2019


The most iconic aspect of the era of the 1920s was prohibition. The 18th Amendment to the US Constitution was passed and would remain in effect from January 1920 to December 1933. The 18th Amendment prohibited the manufacture, distribution, sale, and transportation of alcohol and was described by President Heber Hoover as "a great social and economic experiment". This post will examine major events and figures in the prohibition movement and why the 18th Amendment would eventually be repealed.

Prohibition began as a social and religious movement in the early 19th century and gained popular support in the 1880s and 1890s from reformers who saw alcohol as the leading cause of many social ills such as poverty, crime, political corruption, the rise of urban ghettos, the breakup of families, infant and child mortality, industrial accidents, and more. Groups such as the Prohibition Party, Women's Christian Temperance Union, Anti-Saloon League, and others became powerful driving forces behind the prohibition movement and by 1916, 26 out of the existing 48 states had passed their own prohibition laws.

In a way, the prohibition movement was linked to America's entry into World War I. Prohibition was linked partly to grain conservation and as a way to place limits on German brewers. So, prior to the ratification if the 18th Amendment, limits on alcohol production were used as a war measure but would go on to have a considerable impact on American society in the early 20th century.

The 18th Amendment was adopted by both houses of Congress in December 1917 and was ratified by the necessary two-thirds of the states in January 1919. The 18th Amendment was implemented by the Volstead Act, named for Andrew Volstead who was the chair of the House Judiciary Committee and a major proponent of prohibition. Under the Volstead Act, the manufacture, sale, and distribution of "intoxicating liquor" was prohibited; the Act defined "intoxicating liquor" as anything that contained more than one half of one percent alcohol by volume, making an exception for alcohol used for sacramental, industrial, and medicinal purposes. 

As can be imagined, people found numerous ways to skirt around the laws. The same of sacramental wine increased in the early years of prohibition; and doctors were allowed to purchase alcohol for medicinal purposes and for laboratory use. Because the 18th Amendment and Volstead Act didn't outlaw the private possession and consumption of alcohol, Americans continued to demand alcoholic beverages and so gangsters and rum runners stepped up to meet the demands of the public. Speakeasies, illegal drinking dens which often required a password or phrase to get in, became popular locations for people to frequent; these speakeasies were often operated by gangsters. People also skirted the law by producing their own alcohol, often called bathtub gin or moonshine.

Sure to the ease in which people could get around the Volstead Act, enforcement of the prohibition legislations often proved to be difficult. Local law enforcement officers as well as the forces of the (federal) Bureau of Prohibition worked tirelessly to prevent the smuggling of alcohol as well as investigated the illegal production and transportation of alcohol into and around the country as a whole.

As mentioned, gangsters often profited from the running of speakeasies and through the smuggling of alcohol, known commonly as "bootlegging" or "rum running". These gangsters tended to be there children of immigrants or immigrants themselves who arrived in the US in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Often living in ghettos, these newer Americans turned to crime because it offered a quick route to success and wealth. These crimes were not small scale affairs but rather were organized crime syndicates. Particularly in New York and Chicago, these crime syndicates often competed against one another for control of territory. These rivalries between gangs led to more than 500 gangland killings across the US between 1927 and 1930 alone. 

The most famous gangster of the prohibition era was undoubtedly Al Capone. Capone was known for many tragic murders in and around Chicago, but none of the charges stuck. Instead, he was imprisoned for tax evasion and fraud in 1931. Other notable gangsters of the era included Dutch Schultz, Arthur Rothstein, Lucky Luciano, and Frank Costello. 

Prohibition had a number of effects on the country. It destroyed the brewing industry causing a massive loss in jobs and tax revenue. Prohibition cost millions of dollars to enforce but was difficult to actually enforce because police were often easy to corrupt and were in the pockets of the gangsters. As crime rates rose above where they were prior to prohibition, people began to call for its repeal.

Ratified in December 1933, the 21st Amendment repealed the 18th Amendment effectively bringing the prohibition era to an end. Today, prohibition still has a hold on our country as some towns and counties remain "dry" or may have "blue laws" in place, prohibiting the sale of alcohol in those locations on certain days (such as Sundays). 

Next time here on the blog, we're going to be examining questions in constitutionalism and society such as the resurgence of the KKK, the Red Scare, and the Scope's Trial. 

Monday, September 16, 2019

The Emergence of the New Woman

The 1920s was a period marked by great societal changes as America moved toward a more homogenized culture thanks to the emergence of popular culture such as television, radio and motion pictures, magazines, and mass advertising and consumerism. Along with the emergence of popular culture, or maybe because of it, emerged the New Woman, a cultural icon that many continue to associate with the era. During this time period, there existed a conflict between modern and traditional values, and this conflict led to the expression of contradictory roles for women. To the chagrin of many, women were shedding the Victorian ties that bound them to the domestic roles of wife and mother and were becoming more prominent in the public arena; they worked outside the home, smoke and drank alcohol in public, became increasingly involved in politics, and were unafraid to flaunt their femininity and sexuality.

What was new about the "new woman"? The most important change that women underwent during this era was that they had an increased presence in the public sphere. Because women were no longer relegated to the domestic sphere, they were able to venture into jobs, became more involved with politics, and became involved with the new consumer culture of the time.

Women in the Workforce

Throughout the 1920s, the number of women in the workforce increased steadily.  By 1930, 10.7 million women were working outside the home, making up 22% of the workforce.  Most working women were single, widowed, or divorced; by 1930, 1 in 6 married women worked outside of the home. 

By 1930, women earned 40% of the bachelor's degrees awarded. Most of those women became teachers, nurses, and social workers which were already traditional female occupations. Fewer than 20% of educated women worked in the better paying skilled factory jobs. Changes in technology and scientific management created opportunities for women in white collar service industry jobs. These low paying, low status, and low mobility occupations included work as secretaries, salespeople, telephone operators, and beauticians. Because these jobs were labeled "female only", even in hard economic times women were able to be hired for these and other new occupations.

One important gain for working women was the creation of the Women's Bureau in 1920. The Women's Bureau was part of the federal Department of Labor and it tried to improve working conditions for women from inside the government and provided data about working women.
These working women were empowered by earning an income and a small percentage of women even joined labor unions. This earning of an income allowed young women to become consumers in this newer economy through the purchase of makeup, ready to wear clothing, and household appliances as well as through commercialized forms of entertainment such as going to dance halls, movie theaters, and amusement parks. 

Involvement in Politics

In 1920, women had won the right to vote. However, voter turnout for women was relatively low in the national election and their vote didn't have a distinct effect on the outcome. Women did not vote in large numbers, nor did they vote as a bloc. To try to encourage women to play a greater part in politics the nonpartisan League of Women Voters was formed, as a reorganized version of the National American Women's Suffrage Association. 

Health, Rights, and Working Conditions
The divisions of the 1920s were reflected in the fate of two pieces of legislation. 

In 1921, Congress passed the Sheppard-Towner Act which had the aim of reducing the infant mortality rate; the law provided for public health centers where women could learn about nutrition and health care. According to an article written by Katherine Madgett for The Embryo Project Encyclopedia, "The Act provided federal funds to states to establish programs to educate people about prenatal health and infant welfare. Advocates argued that it would curb the high infant mortality rate in the US. Many states accepted funding through the Sheppard-Towner Act, leading to the establishment of nearly 3,000 prenatal care clinics, 180,000 infant care seminars, over three million home visits by traveling nurses, and a national distribution of educational literature between 1921 and 1928. The Act provided funding for five years, but was repealed in 1929 after Congress did not renew it. Historians note that infant mortality did decrease during the years the Act was in effect. The Act also influenced provisions aimed at infant and maternity welfare in later legislation, such as the Social Security Act of 1935" (source: 

The second piece of notable legislation from this era that would have an affect on women was an equal rights amendment, proposed by Alice Paul in 1923. The proposed equal rights amendment, which never passed, led to bitter disagreements among women. Many feminists supported it, but other feminists opposed it because they believed it would do away with special laws that protected female workers.


The image of the flapper is iconic to the 1920s era. The flapper represented more than just a style of dress, the flapper represented this new woman. Flappers represented modernism and the clash of values in the changing status of women in this era. The flappers were free-spirited and flouted convention; they cut their hair in short styles, wore short skirts and dresses and shirked the corsets worn by their mothers, they listened to jazz and blues music, they danced the new dance crazes of the time, they smoke and drank in public, and they became sexually liberated in the 1920s.

The flappers, of course, were not the norm although popular culture would one believe as such. Flappers tended to be middle-class and upper-class urban women. Women in the mid-west and in many other rural settings still clung to the Victorian model of marrying young and managing a family and household rather than having the time or the disposable income the flappers had for leisure activities.

The 1920s brought about an era where women were more free than they had been in the past, but women would still have a long way to go to be seen as equal to their male counterparts.

Next time here on the blog, we're going to examine prohibition, one of the most aspects of the 1920s. 

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Stock Market Speculation and Mass Conspicious Consumption of the 1920s

The period of the 1920s is known as a time of illegal gin, speakeasies, flappers, and mass conspicuous consumption as purchasing power had increased and people were investing in the stock market. Like every time period, there were pros and cons to the 1920s, and this post will examine stock market speculation and the rise of mass consumerist culture in the United States in the 1920s.

Stock Market Speculation

The postwar period of economic recovery and its return to normalcy helped to produce a surge of investment in the stock market. Optimistic business leaders and government leaders alike saw no end to this new economic boom and encouraged everyone to buy into the bull market of the time; some families invested their life savings into the stock market, and while the profits rolled in, these families experienced an increase in wealth for a while.

The new wealth that flowed from the stock market was built on a deeply flawed structure. Many of these stocks were bought on margin, which meant that buyers could purchase stocks by making only small down payments in cash, sometimes as low as 5% of the value of the stocks. The rest of the money used to purchase the stock(s) was/were borrowed from brokers and those who borrowed the money counted on their profits to repay their loans. This systemof purchasing on margin worked as long as the profits continued to flow.

Mass Consumption

The 1920s were a time of mass consumption--huge quantities of manufactured goods were available and many people had more money to spend on those goods. The mass production and consumption of these new goods and services, particularly in the automobile industry, electrical industry, and the radio and motion picture industry had effects on the American way of life.

The automotive industry stimulated the steel, rubber, paint, glass, and oil industries. The industry accelerated a middle class move to the suburbs that fueled a real estate boom and would expand cities into urban centers as more people would have the ability to commute to the cities from the suburbs and urban locales. This expansion of cities and suburban areas stimulated the development of services such as gas stations, motels, supermarkets, and shopping centers. At the same time, the automobile industry would lead to the need for highways and would negatively impact railroad construction and use. The automobile industry would have an interesting effect on social equality; women would gain more independence with the ability to purchase and drive automobiles, changing family life as it meant more women could work outside of the house and could even travel larger distances for work; and the low prices of automobiles meant that Americans of varying income levels had the accessability to purchase them.

The electrical industry changed homes, businesses, and cities through the introduction of the electric light, this helped double business productivity through electric power as well as transform life and leisure through the introduction of home goods such as electric washing machines, stoves, vacuum cleaners, refigerators, and irons. The electric industry connected people and eased rural isolation through the use of the telephone.

The radio and motion picture industry helped to ease regional differences and homogenzie American culture, helped to end rural isolation, helped popularize ragtime and jazz music, it provided an outlet for advertising, increased interest in politics and spectator sports, and created nationally known and recognized celebrities.

Role of Technology

Technology, combined with new marketing strategies, transformed American society in the 1920s. Led by Henry Ford and the automobile industry, mass production and the moving assembly line resulted in uniform products produced at lower costs.

These new technologies made possible a consumer-oriented economy, one in which more goods, costing less, were available to more Americans. Encouraged by a boom in advertising, families spent a smaller portion of their income on necessities and a larger portion on new comsumer goods such as appliances, radios, and reay-to-wear clothing. Often these goods were purchased over time through installment payments.

Growing Cultural Homogenization

The new technology introduced during this era also made American cultre more homogenous. Americns from one coast to the other tended to use the same products, wear the same clothing styles, see the same movies, and listen to the same music, just as they do today. Regional and class differences were blurred and individualism became less important than conformity.

This growth in cultural homogenization led to a shift in cultural values. As America became an urban, industrialized nation, changes in lifestyle, values, morals, and manners increased tension and conflict. Wealth, possessions, having fun, and sexual freedom were the new values which led to Americans having more leisure time and the rise of cultural movements such as the Harlem Renaissance.

Lerisure: With a shorter work week and with more paid vacation time, Americans had more leisure time. Americans consumed popular culture such as movies, spectator sports, listened to music on the radio and records, and played games.

Flappers: With the dichotomy of growing cultural homogenization and a shift in American cultural values, women gained notoriety during this era for embracing the change in culture towards a more sexually free society. The popular image of young women in the 1920s was that of the flapper, a young, pretty woman with bobbed hair who wore shortened dresses. The flapper drank alcohol, smoked, and she thought for herself. She was featured in movies, magazines, advertising, and novels. She was an expression of women's new sense of independence, a statement of change in American culture, and even rebellion. The image of the flapper often represented an example in the debate over traditional values versus modern values that was dividing the nation.

Literature: The conflict and concern created by the debate over traditional values versus modern values in America also saw expression in literature. American writers of the 1920s protested the effects of technology and mass consumption. They criticized the business mentality, the confority of the times, and the preoccupation with material things. Some writers, such as Ernest Hemingway (A Farewell to Arms, The Old Man and the Sea, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Sun Also Rises, and more) became expatriates. Often referred to as the Lost Generation, these writers of the 1920s produced some of the most enduring works of American literature. Other great American writers of this era include F. Scott Fitzgerald, Langston Hughes, and Edith Wharton.

Harlem Renaissance: One of the most influential cultural movements of the 1920s was the Harlem Renaissance, led by a group of African American writers in the New York City neighborhood of Harlem. These creative intellectuals--mainly well-educated members of the middle class--felt alienated from the society of the 1920s. In their works they called for action against bogotry and expressed pride in African American culture and identity. Outstanding literary figures of the Harlem Renaissance include W.E.B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Alain Locke.

The Great Depression of the 1930s ended the Harlem Renaissance, cutting the sales of books and literary magazines. However, during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the writers of the Harlem Renaissance and their works would attract renewed interest and popularity.

African American artists, musicians, and dancers also participated in the Harlem Renaissance. Black musicians in the South blended elements of African, European, and American music to create the distinctive sounds of jazz and blues. This music was carried all over the country and even abroad.

The 1920s was a period of mass consumerism and played a major role in the creation of a uniform American culture. As the general public experienced an increase in their wealth, they experienced an increase in leisure and pleasure. However, this was also an era in which marginalized groups such as women faced changing roles in society. Next time on the blog, we will examine women's changing roles in society in the 1920s.

The 1920s: Business Boom or False Prosperity?

President Calvin Coolidge. Source: Wikipedia. 

For many Americans, the "return to normalcy" promised by Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge in the postwar years was a welcomed change. However, bubbling beneath the surface were a series of political and economic problems.

Greed and Scandal Under Harding

Prior to entering politics, President Warren G. Harding was an Ohio newspaper publisher with little political experience. Historians have credited Harding with pardoning socialist Eugene V. Debs (who had been jailed for opposing the Great War), as well as for supporting anti lynching legislation. President Harding also appointed dedicated people to office, including Charles Evans Hughes as Secretary of State.

However, no presidency is without faults, and Harding also gave political jobs to members of the so-called Ohio Gang, corrupt associates who took advantage of him. After Harding's death in 1923, the public became aware of several scandals during his administration, including:

1. Theft--The head of the Veterans Bureau was convicted of selling hospital supplies for his own profit. He was imprisoned and fined for his crime.
2. Fraud--The Alien Property Custodian was imprisoned for selling former German property for private profit.
3. The Teapot Dome Scandal--Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall was convicted of accepting bribes from two oil executives in exchange for allowing them to lease government owned petroleum reserves. One of the oil fields was at Teapot Dome, Wyoming.

Enter Coolidge, Prosperity for Some

Calvin Coolidge became president after Harding's death in office in 1923. In the 1924 election, Coolidge was returned to office. President Coolidge is best known for his laissez-faire approach to the ecnomy as well as for his strong commitment to business interests. Due to this strong commitment to business interests, Coolidge retained financier Andrew Mellon as Secretary of the Treasury; Mellon acted on the philosophy that the government's role was to serve businesses.

Recession and Recovery

The end of World War I was followed by a recession caused by the shift from a wartime economy to a peacetime economy. During this recession, production, farm income, and exports fell while unemployment rose to 11.7% in 1921.

In other sectors of the economy, however, a period of economic recovery had begun around 1923, when Coolidge became president. The years between 1923 and 1929 were seen as a time of booming business. The Gross National Product (GNP) rose to 40%; per capita income increased by 30%; and with little inflation, actual purchasing power and thus the standard of living increased as well.

Pro-Business Policies

During the period of the 1920s, some groups, especially big businesses/corporations and the wealthy, greatly benefitted from Coolidge's pro-business policies.

During this time:

1. Businesses and the wealthiest citizens were helped by tax laws that reduced personal income tax rates, particularly for upper income groups, removed most excise taxes, and lowered corporate income taxes.
2. The government reduced the national debt and balanced the budget by raising tariffs and demanding repayment of war debts.
3. Tariff rates were raised in a return to protectionism. Republicans argued that higher tariffs would limit foreign imports, thus protecting American industry and agriculture from foreign competitin, but the actul effect was to weaken the global economy.
4. Regulatory agencies such as the Federal Reserve Board, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Interstate Commerce Commission were staffed with people who saw their role with assisting business rather regulating it.
5. A relaxed attitude towards corporte mergers was supported by the Executive Branch and by the Supreme Court. By 1929, about 1300 corporations produced three-fourths of all American manufactured goods, and 200 companies owned half of the nation's wealth.

Economic Boom Bypasses Others

Not everyone felt the economic prosperity under the Coolidge administration that the 1920s was known for. Key segments of the population failed to share in the general rise in the standards of living.

1. Labor--Strikes had dropped sharply during World War I, mainly due to the Wilson administration supporting collective bargaining in return for a no-strike pledge. Membership in the American Federation of Labor grew, and wages for war industry employees rose sharply. However, inflation wiped out any real gains in buying power. 

The 1920s saw a reversal of many union gains. Strikes in the steel, mining, and railroad industries failed, in part, due to government using military force to break up the strikes as well as the use of injunctions (court orders that prohibit specific actions). During this time, the Supreme Court also ruled against child labor laws and against the establishment of a minimum wage for female and child laborers. In addition, some companies began to offer health and life insurance as a way to lessening the desire for their workers to join unions, which was a strategy that was successful for many of these companies as membership in labor unions fell from 5 million in 1921 to under 3.5 million in 1929.

2. Farmers--The only farmers to benefit from the prosperity of the Coolidge administration were those involved in large commercial operations. Small farmers were hurt by a variety of factors, including:

* Farmers expanded production during World War I in response to rising prices and the increased need for food for the troops. They added to their acreage and purchased new machinery.
* The new machinery and increase in acreage coupled with new farming techniques increased farmers' crop yield per acre.
* After the war, when European farms began to produce again, American farmers were growing too much. With this overproduction of agricultural goods, the prices of both farm products and farmland decreased dramatically.
* Net farm income fell 50% during the 1920s. As farm income fell, many farmers lost their land when they could not make their mortgage payments. As a result, the number of farmers decreased as well; by 1930, only about 20% of the labor force made a living by farming.

3. Native Americans--During the 1920s, Native Americans had the highest unemployment rate of any group as well as the shortest average life span. At the time, most Native Americans lived on reservations without basic living needs such as running water and heat.

4. African Americans--African Americans who migrated from the South to the North in the Great Migration enjoyed on average a higher standard of living. However, they still earned significantly less than their white counterparts in the same employment fields and experienced a higher unemployment rate than their white counterparts.

For some, the 1920s was seen as a positive era, but it is important to note that this era of prosperity was not felt by everyone. Next time here on the blog, we're going to examine the stock market speculation and mass conspicuous consumption that is typically thought of when this time period is mentioned.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

War and Prosperity

After the conclusion of the Great War, the world moved into the 1920s. The 1920s were a time of many changes in the economic and social aspects of life in the United States. Following World War I, the United States struggled to return to what President Warren G. Harding called "normalcy". However, the impact of the war, the new age of consumerism, the automobile, and the growth of the suburbs contributed to the creation of a different and new national lifestyle.

While transportation and communications technology served to unite the nation, a clash of values between the new urban-centered life and the legacy of the traditional rural life caused uneasiness and conflict. In addition, all Americans did not share in the good times. Beneath the surface was an economy with structural flaws that brought the Roaring Twenties to an abrupt end with the stock market crash in October 1929.

The Impact and Aftermath of War

World War I triggered a number of important changes in American society, most notably for some women and for many immigrants and African-Americans. Some changes were subtle and gradual while others were immediate and dramatic.

As many men went off to fight in Europe, the roles and responsibilities of women were affected. Their family responsibility increased. They contributed to the war effort as volunteers. Some women went to work in male-dominated fields, such as workers in weapons and munitions factories. Many women served overseas with the Red Cross and Salvation Army. Most, however, worked in traditionally female jobs, for which there was an increased demand. Contrary to popular belief, only about five percent of the women who entered the wartime workforce were new to working outside of the home. At war's end, with the return of male workers, women were expected to quit their jobs or to return to more traditional female work. Between 1910 and 1920, only 500,000 more women were added to the workforce.

The war had harsh consequences for immigrant families. Further immigration to the United States came to a screeching halt. About 18 percent of the American troops were foreign-born. However, many immigrant families already in the country faced fierce social and job discrimination in an antiforeign climate whipped up by the war.

Most African-American civil rights leaders supported World War I, and some 400,000 African-Americans served in the war. African-American soldiers were assigned to segregated units and often worked as laborers. Discrimination in the military was common during this time. Where African-Americans saw combat, they served with distinction. Several African-American regiments who fought alongside French troops were honored by the nation. Upon returning home, many African-American soldiers questioned why the liberties and freedoms they had fought to preserve in Europe were denied to them in their own country.

The Great Migration

After the Civil War, African-Americans began to migrate to the North, attempting to flee the racism and discrimination they faced in the agricultural South for what they imagined would be a better life in the industrial North. In the South, jobs were lost due to floods and crop damage, and in the North, workers were needed to meet war production goals beginning around 1910. The flow of immigrant labor was stopped due to the fighting in WWI, which created a need for workers to replace those in uniform.

After the war, this Great Migration continued. From 1910 through 1930, and even going into the 1940s, almost 2 million African-Americans had left the South. Although in the North they were usually able to improve their well being, they were still subject to racism and discrimination and it was fairly common for race riots to break out.

A Return to Normalcy

After WWI, disillusioned Americans wanted to return to the traditional foreign policy of isolationism. The 1920 landslide election of Republicans Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge represented the desire of many Americans to remove themselves from the pressures of world politics and the idealistic goals of the Progressives. While Progressivism continued, it was a slower pace largely at the state and local levels.

Next time here on The Half-Pint Historian Blog, we're going to examine the period of the Roaring 1920s. 

Monday, July 8, 2019

The Search for Peace

Hello readers! It's been quite a while since I last wrote here on the blog. I've been busy putting together my manuscript for The History Press, and I am happy to announce that my manuscript has been submitted for publication. It still amazes me that I was given this great opportunity to make my dream of becoming a historian come true. I will continue to keep you all updated as to the status of my book as it moves through the channels and will let you all know when it becomes available.

In the meantime, let's pick up where we left off...

World War I ended with an Allied victory in November 1918. The United States, particularly President Woodrow Wilson, played a role in the peacemaking process. Wilson had first suggested his own peacemaking proposals in January 1918, known as the Fourteen Points. To summarize, Wilson's Fourteen Points included: open, not secret, diplomacy; freedom of the seas; removal of trade barriers; arms reduction; self-determination of peoples (letting various national groups make their own political decisions); and the creation of an "association of nations" to guarantee political independence and territorial integrity.

Wilson's Fourteen Points became the basis for the peace negotiations that would be held in Versailles, France beginning in January 1919. Wilson led the American delegation, being the first president of the United States to leave American soil while in office.

Many of the Eurolean nations, who had suffered far greater than the United States, were not fully on board with Wilson's Fourteen Points. They wanted to be repaid for some of their losses they had suffered during the war, and some had even made secret wartime deals involving territorial changes and money settlements that contradicted provisions of the Fourteen Points.

The most important agreement reached at Versailles was the treaty with Germany, the Treaty of Versailles. According to its provisions, Germany had to do the following: accept complete responsibility for causing the Great War; pay huge reparations to the Allies; give up its military forces; cede lands to the new nations of Poland and Czechoslovakia; and give up its overseas colonies.

Wilson opposed many of the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles and treaties with the other Central Powers; however, he was willing to compromise because the treaties provided for a new world organization, the League of Nations, a predecessor to the United Nations. Wilson believed that the League of Nations would correct any problems caused by the peace treaties.

The League of Nations

The United States Senate had to approve the Treaty of Versailles that included the League of Nations, and it was there that Wilson was truly met with opposition. Wilson had angered Republicans by excluding them from the American delegation to the Versailles Conference yet Republicans held a majority of seats in the Senate. Wilson and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Henry Cabot Lodge distrusted a d disliked one another. It was this hostility that was a major factor in the failure to compromise.

Isolationists in the Senate worried that joining the League of Nations would involve the United States in future foreign wars. They feared, for example, that the United States might be obligated to furnish troops to defend member nations.

Wilson stubbornly refused to allow any but the most minor of changes to the Treaty of Versailles, becoming increasingly moralistic and uncompromising.

When Wikson went on a speaking tour to gain popular support for the treaty, he collapsed and suffered a stroke. His illness thereafter prevented him from playing an active role in the treaty debate. The Senate voted several times on the Treaty of Versailles but always defeated it. The United States made a separate peace with Germany, and never did jojn the League of Nations. Fundamentally, the nation had voted to retain its traditional foreign policy of preferring non intervention and of acting alone when it did choose to play a role.

The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom

Although the United States failed to join the League of Nations, there was still great concern in the United States about keeping the peace. During the Paris Peace Conference, for example, many American women met with others from around the world to form the Women's International League for Peace and Feeedom. The WILPF opposed peace terms that would create additional, hostility among nations. The organization opposed the Treaty of Versailles for that reason, suggesting that its legacy would only be more war. The WILPF and other peace organizations wanted disarmament, arms control, and neutrality.

Reparations and War Debts

In 1914, the US had been a debtor nation, meaning that it owed more money to foreign nations than those nations owed to the US. After WWI, however, the US became the world's leading creditor nation, meaning that other countries owed more to the US than the US owed to them. The US was also the world's leading industrial producer, exporter, and financier. These changes were due in large part to money from the payment of war debts owed to this nation from the other Allied powers.

During WWI, the European Allies borrowed a great deal of money from the US in order to buy war supplies from American manufacturers. After the war, these debts became a source of conflict; European nations argued that their debts should be forgiven because while the US had contributed money, Europe had paid a heavy price in lives lost. Despite these arguments, the US demanded repayment anyway.

A factor that made repayment difficult was the US protectionist policy. High American tariffs limited European trade with the US and thus reduced earnings that might have been used to pay off war debts. These same tariffs also led to retaliation by 26 nations, most of which would raise their own tariff rates.

One step aimed at making repayment easier was the Dawes Plan, adopted in 1924. Under this plan, the US lent funds to Germany so that it could make war reparations--money it owed to European Allies as payment for economic losses during the war; the Allies would, in turn, use the funds to make payments on the war debts they owed the US.

Steps Towards Peace and Arms Control

In 1921, President Warren G. Harding hosted the Washington Naval Conference. The US, Great Britain, France, Italy, and Japan agreed to set limits on the number of warships each nation could build. They also pledged to keep the peace in Asia and to protect the independence of China. The conference, however, failed to establish any means of enforcement.

In 1928, 15 nations meet in Paris to sign the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which outlawed war except in self-defense. Enforcement provisions were missing from the Pact, which 60 nations eventually signed.

Although these moves towards peace would not last, the US would see an era of prosperity, and that's what we'll cover in the next post here on The Half-Pint Historian Blog.

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Effects of the Great War

Hello readers! This post is an important one because we'll be wrapping up the series of WWI posts by examining the effects the war had on the world. So, without further ado, let's get started.

World War I was a devastating war, the effects of which are still being felt 100 years after its conclusion. The Great War was the deadliest war involving multiple countries, with over 9 million military personnel deaths and over 7 million men left permanently disabled. The Great War was the most expensive war up until that point. The Great War also boasted the most advanced weaponry than any war that came before it, with war goods such as tanks, submarines, air planes, poison gas, machine and gatling guns, and various other artillery forms being the norm on the battlefields. Given this information, it's no surprise that the effects of the war are still being felt a century later; however, what were done specific effects of the war?

- The conclusion of the war saw the downfall of four longstanding monarchies: Austria-Hungary, Germany, Turkey, and Russia.
- The war made people more open and accepting of other ideologies such as the Bolsheviks, communism, socialism, and fascism.
- The conclusion of WWI effectively marked an end to colonialism, with revolts to end colonialism in Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East as people became more nationalistic.
- The Great War was the most costly war of the time, leaving European countries deep in debt and making the United States the leading creditor in the world; thus, the war shifted the economic balance of power.
- As a leading aggressor in the war, Germany's economy suffered greatly after the war and Germany had to pay reparations, which led the economy to suffer further.
- With soldiers traveling from country to country, influenza spread, killing 25 million people worldwide.
- Due to the methods of war that were used in WWI, countries became embittered and it became evident that a governing body was necessary to promote security and peace worldwide, so the League of Nations was formed.
- The war promoted research in the fields of technology, transportation, and communication.
- The war promoted social changes, such as women's suffrage and labor laws, to improve living standards and quality of life.

There are many other effects that can be attributed to the Great War, but regardless of how long or short that list is, what is certain is that the world was never the same again.

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