Unit 4 political and social tensions 1919-29

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Unit 4: Political and social tensions, 191929
Religion and belief
The impact of Prohibition
Tensions over race and immigration: why did the KKK enjoy a revival and
with what impact? Why did immigration become such a contentious
issue? Why was there a red scare?
Women's suffrage and its impact.
Key Events
1919 Red Scare
1920 Prohibition comes into force under 18th Amendment
1921 Emergency Quota Act cuts back on immigration
1923 Calvin Coolidge restores respectability to Presidency
1924 Quota Act severely restricts immigration
1925 KKK membership reaches peak
`Monkey Trial' in Tennessee
1927 Sacco and Vanzetti executed
1928 Al Smith, the Democratic Presidential Candidate, campaigns
against Prohibition
1929 St. Valentine's day Massacre in Chicago
What tensions could be seen in American society after the WWI?
o The war triggered a rabid nationalisation and real struggle as to what the
national identity really was.
o Oldtime America, largely white and protestant and connected with
farming found itself at loggerheads in many different ways with a vibrant
new urban and industrial USA, which added to existing tensions within US
o Growing cities teemed with immigrants and blacks escaping from poverty
in the south increasing numbers. Clash in values= inevitable.
o `Monkey Trial'= embodied the clash between cities and old fashioned
settler America with its religious uncertainties and belief in that `oldtime
religion' The trial concerned the right to teach Darwinian natural selection
in biology lessons as opposed to creationism and the literal truth of the
o John Scopes= prosecuted for teaching Darwin's theory of evolution. New
state law made this a criminal offence with a fine of $500.
The drive to Prohibition
o Conflicts with Alcohol had been a contentious issue in the US since before
the 19th century.
o Saloon and its hard liquor had been seen as antichambers of hell by the
protestant churches and chapels of the south and west.
o Powerful antialcohol lobby groups developed in many states to close
saloons and limit traffic in liquor.
o Protestant clergymen and women tended to be typical activists in the
cause they argued that liquor produced misery in the home through
drunken violence and poverty.

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A man's wages, it was said, would be better spent on his family than
selfish and selfdestructive inebriation.
o Drink became associated with the waves of poorer immigrants that
flooded the US, especially the Irish.
o Many saw booze as a root cause of feckless behaviour as the enemy of
business efficiency, Henry Ford was a strong opponent of it for this reason
as sobriety was required in order to have the discipline and efficiency in
industry.…read more

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The law triggered a significant rise in organised crime with Chicago alone
experiencing at least 227 gangland murders.
o It can be argued that prohibition provided a major stimulus to gang
o The diversity of American society is reflected in the impact of prohibition.
o Rural areas often supported the ban on alcohol and certainly smalltown
American witnesses a marked decline in consumption, which was
sustained after 1933 when prohibition was ended.…read more

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However, many of the immigrants served in the US forces during the war
and absorbed the prevailing patriotism.
o ^this could be seen as the Postwar Red Scare, triggered by the Russian
o Racial Prejudices became linked for some Americans to the fear that
immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe brought Bolshevik ideas
with them that would lead to the spread of communism and undermine
traditional American values.…read more

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The evidence presented at the trial was dubious and the conduct of the
judge was criticised, by many even outside of the US.
o Evidence included: 14 year old boy as key witness said he did not see the
face of the fleeing figure but `could tell he was a foreigner by how he ran',
22/35 eyewitnesses said S&V was not there and 7 were unable to identify
o S&V= sentenced to death in July 1921, in 1927 they were both executed.…read more

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Heightened nationalism caused by the war also fed the growth of support
for the Klan.
o By 1921, 100,000 members and it had developed a structure which was
funded by subscription.
o The klan themselves forward as the defenders of the American way and
Simmons spoke of defending `Morality, Americanism, Protestantism and
White Supremacy'
o They felt challenged by AfricanAmericans, Jews and Catholics.
o Its reemergence reflected the fear of the more radical, especially
socialist, political ideas that came from East European Immigrants.…read more

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Women's Suffrage and the role of women in this period
o Women's suffrage= largely achieved as a result of WWI.
o 19th Amendment to the constitution was proposed in 1919 and ratified in
o Southern concerns that this might be a first step to greater rights for
blacks contributed to the delay in ratification.
o The enfranchisement of women produced few obvious results in the
following ten years:
o No gender revolution in the period that could be linked to the 19th
Amendment.…read more

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