USA 1920-1929


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US attitudes after WW1

  • USA greatly changed by WW1
  • Impact of the war on the economy, disruption of when the war ended and attempt to adjust to peacetime conditions - created problems for American society.
  • economic problems - setting for a period of violence and political upheavel in 1919-1920.
  • Attitudes changed - towards immigration, towards social issues like prohibition and towards America's place in the world.
  • Not all of these changes were new or directly caused by the war.
  • They were longer-term trends that were intensified by the experiences of the war and by the sense of anxiety and uncertainty that followed it.
  • Wartime attitudes & propaganda stereotypes led to more intense suspicion of foreigners and 'aliens' - shown by the Espionage Act, 1917 and the Sedition Act, 1918. These acts provided heavy fines and prison sentences and the sedition act allowed the government to open and inspect items sent by mail.
  • Anti-immigration movement - grew stronger and laws were passed restricting immigration especially from central, eastern and southern Europe.
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US attitudes after WW1 (continued)

  • anti-foreigner attitudes - shown by surge of support for nativism and racial exclusion - a boom in support for the KKK in the early 1920s.
  • changed national mood worked against WW's ideals of American prestige and influence in post-war world.
  • this explains why the USA turned its back on LON and retreated back into isolationism and 'normalcy' in the 1920s.
  • politics changed too - the democratic party was badly weakened by the unpopularity of Wilson & the election of Harding as president in 1920 - marked a long period of republican dominance.
  • attitudes changed within the republican party - progressive ideas that influenced TR and split the party in 1912, lost their force. currently was strongly conservative and pro-business
  • politics in USA - became more conservative and more inward, less dominated by big political personalities and with less enthusiasm for government intervention. Harding fitted in well with this.
  • Harding - amiable, political 'fixer', his administration was plagued by accusations of corruption against his political cronies, but Harding's approach was what most people wanted at the time.
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US attitudes after WW1 (continued)

  • Harding died in 1923 - his vice-president Coolidge succeeded him.
  • Coolidge - not linked to corruption but was another cautious conservative. had little desire to push through reforms at gome or to follow an adventurous policy. he was happy to do what big business wanted.
  • his presidency - same time as economic boom & a rising stock market.
  • democratic party - little succes in 1920s. divisions in the party as delegates from the west and south (who were supporters of prohibition) had little sympathy with people from big cities who were Catholic, immigrant and hostile to prohibition.
  • the republicans held the presidency and controlled both the house and the senate. their domincance continued until the financial crash of 1929 and the onset of the great depression undermined Hoover from 1930.
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end of mass immigration

  • between 1900 and 1914 - more than 10 million immigrants arrived. almost 2/3 of them from eastern, central and southern europe.
  • usa has always been a 'nation of immigrants' but there had been a negative reaction against newcoumners from those who has established themselves earlier.
  • 1907 - dillingham commission - set up by congress, investigated immigration & reported that many immigrants from newer parts of europe were not finding it easy to assimilate and that this was causing economic and social problems.
  • 1907 - pressure from trade unions - especially the American Federation of Labor (AFL) to restrict the inflow of cheap immigrant labour. there were increasing calls to stop/reduce immigration by establishing a literacy test for immigrants but this had little effect on gov policy to begin with because of all the main political parties were opposed to it.
  • attitudes changed during WW1. the flow of immigration halted during conflict. the war intesified fear & hostility towards 'aliens' whos loyalty was seen as unreliable.
  • support for the restrictionists (those who wanted to cut down/stop flow of immigration) increased.
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end of mass immigration (continued)

  • 1917 - congress adopted the literacy test which required immigrants to be able to speak english to qualify entry to the usa.
  • this law also contained clauses deliberately designed to reduce immigration from Asia.
  • anti-foreigner feeling was also reflected in the espionage act 1917 and the sedition act 1918, legislation that was strongly influenced by the idea that recently arrived immigrants were a danger to national security.
  • the 'red scare' made such views even more popular in 1919-1920.
  • restrictionists were unhappy when immigration picked up again after the war, with new arrivals totalling more than 400,000 each year.
  • strong pressure was placed on congress.
  • 1921 - emergency quota act was passed - first time a numerical limit was placed on inward immigration - the act aimed at restricting immigration to below 350,000 people per year.
  • the emergency quota act was not enough to satisfy the restrictionists.
  • 1924 - national orgins (quota) act - changed the rules so that numbers would be calculated at 2 % of the 1890 census. this deliberately discriminated against ethnic groups who had had high levels of immigration since 1890 and favoured people from northern and western europe.
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end of mass immigration (continued)

  • the hope was that annual immigration would settle at about 165,000. despite the legal restrictions, immigration continued at fairly high levels. the overall total for the 1920s was more than 4 million.
  • it was the impact of the great depression that finally slowed immigration from Europe.
  • although the total of new immigrants was below 5 million, birth rates in the 1920s meant that the total population increase between 1920 and 1929 was more than 16 million.
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the introduction of prohibition

  • the changed social and political situation after WW1 enabled supporters of prohibition to achieve their goal.
  • the temperence movement - a prominent feature of local and national politics for more than a generation before the war.
  • 1919 - a congressional majority in favour of prohibition.
  • between the passing of the volstead act in 1919 and the repeal of prohibition in 1933 a great social experiment began with profound and unexpected circumstances for USA.
  • prohibition had deep roots. numerous organisations had campaigned against the evils of alcohol during the 19th century. the pressure for reform increased in reaction to urbanisation and mass immigration after 1890.
  • the prohibition movement received strong support from protestant religious groups and women activists. onve of the most vocal organisations was the woman's christian temperance union (WCTU) but the most effective in terms of political action was the anti-saloon league.
  • anti-saloon league - founded in ohio, 1893. became a national organisation in 1895. the league's most influential leader - wayne wheeler, led an aggressive campaign of grass-roots pressure politics, directed at gaining support from progressives in the 2 main political parties.
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the introduction of prohibition (continued)

  • evils of drink - social disorder, moral problems, non-christian practices, alcoholism.
  • evils of prohibition - increased criminal activity, glamorization of criminals, infringement of basic rights, lost alcohol tax revenues.
  • between 1917 and 1919, Wheeler (leader of anti-saloon league) personally drafted the legislation that introduced prohibition.
  • wartime conditions aided the campaign for prohibition because restrictions on drinking seemed important to safeguard war production.
  • changing social attitudes were also pushing politicians towards prohibition.
  • both parties were divided on the issue.
  • when congress debated the 18th amendment in 1917, one of the democrats who opposed the amendment was president wilson.
  • wilson tried to block the volstead act using his presidential veto, but there was a big enough majority in congress for him to be overruled.
  • passing of 18th amendment - rare case of a constitutional amendment taking away rights and freedoms rather than protecting them.
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the introduction of prohibition (continued)

  • 1933 - only constitutional amendment ever to be repealed but in 1917 there was strong national support behind it.
  • 1919 - congress passed the volstead act - enabling the enforcement of prohibition. beginning of a huge social experiment, using the power of the law to improve the behaviour of all citizens.
  • throughout the 1920s - the volstead act - was widely ignored and illegal drinking continued at a high level. producing, importing and distributing alcohol was quickly taken over by private individuals and criminal gangs.
  • enforcement proved to be difficult. far too few law enforcement officers came up against sophisticated and well -financed networkers run by bootleggers (someone who made or sold illegal alcohol).
  • for all the political support there had been for prohibition, millions of ordinary americans had no intention of obeying this law, and there was massive corruption among public officials and the police.
  • prohibition did more for the rise of organised crime than any other factor.
  • opinion continued to be divided throughout the 1920s as to whether prohibition was a valuable defence against social breakdown or an inneficient and costly failure.
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the introduction of prohibition (continued)

  • prohibition also widened the divisions between the rich and the poor.
  • poorer people relied on self-help, brewing their own beer or distilling moonshine (homemade alcohol) secretly at home.
  • those with money could easily require alcohol through speakeasies (illicit drinking clubs during prohibition) or private clubs.
  • the law was widely disrespected and criminals became glamorized.
  • political and religious divisions over prohibition remained deep and did not weaken the passage of time.
  • the demand to repeal the 18th amendment became a live political question in the early 1930s.
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the 'red scare'

  • the second red scare - McCarthyism - dominated politics and public life in the early 1950s and was closely linked with american fears about the communist revolution in china.
  • the first red scare - in 1919-1920 coincided with the end of WW1 and was linked to other anti-foreigner attitudes and the capaign to limit immigration.
  • the anti-communist hysteria of the red scare grew out of genuine american fears about communist revolution spreading from russia and post-war europe.
  • when the bolshevik revolutionaries seized control of russia late in 1917, it seemed like they were about to spread marxist revolution all around the world.
  • 1918-1919 - communist revolutions in berlin, munich and hungary. many americans saw immigrants from southern and eastern europe as potential spies and subversives.
  • american congress passed 2 acts based on fears of radicals and revolutionaries as an 'enemy within'. the sedition act, 1918 was an attempt to clamp down on the experession of any anti-government or anti-american ideas.
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the 'red scare' (continued)

  • the alien act, passed by congress in 1918 - followed on from the sedition act by giving the US government the power to deport anyone who has been 'a member of any anarchist organisation'.
  • the two acts allowed US government to clamp down hard on left-wing politcal thinkers.
  • migration of african-americans from the south to northern cities - resulted in - racial tensions - riots - resulted in deaths in washington and chicago and massive damage to property - there was a wave of lynchings.
  • red scare also fuelled by - intense social and industrial problems in the USA after WW1.
  • there was high inflation, rising prices making life hard for ordinary people whose wages and salaries went up more slowly.
  • rapid demobilisation of armed forces caused serious problems in the job market.
  • 1919 - record number of strikes - involving more than 4 million workers.
  • most controversial strike - boston police strike - police force striked in a dispute over pay and the right to join a trades union - the american federation of labor (AFL).
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rise of the kkk

  • the organisation was not new
  • formation - 1865
  • idea - white supremacy, most of the violence was directed against freed slaves but members also hated republican politicians and the policies of reconstruction.
  • the klan was suppressed after the kkk act 1871, and the use of federal troops but it left behind a legacy.
  • southern politicians continued to sympathise with the kkk's racist ideas.
  • intimidation and murders of african-americans were widespread and rarely punished.
  • klan's objectives - depriving african-americans of their voting rights - achieved.
  • klan reborn in 1915 - rely on traditional support from white supremacists in the south. attracted many thousands of new supporters outside the south, espeically in the mid-west states of indiana, ohio and illinois and in south-west states like arizona.
  • new klan founded in atlanta by a methodist preacher, Simmons, who gave the klan its organisation, insignia and rituals.
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rise of the kkk (continued)

  • simmons - set up the organisational structure of the kkk, meetings of local groups, the knights of the kkk were called a klavern, presided over by a kleagle.
  • simmons gave himself the title of imperial wizard.
  • 1920 - 4 million members.
  • second kkk was more widely based than the first.
  • it was also anti-catholic, anti-semitic and anti-communist. it claimed to represent the crusade to protect christian values against immorality and 'alien' influences.
  • the new klan fitted closely with other groups opposed to immigrants and radicals, especialy those in favour of prohibition.
  • strong links between the kkk and the anti-saloon league.
  • 1917 and 1920 - the kkk kept its attacks on 'enemies' - german-americans, communists, jewish radicals and african-american soldiers demobilised by the war.
  • from 1920 - the klan increased its membership rapidly through the aggressive marketing methods.
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return to 'normalcy' in foreign policy

  • at home - nation was concerned with issues like prohibition, immigration and hunting down radicals and communists.
  • a wide gulf opened up between wilson and congress in their view of america's relationship with the outside world.
  • the LON became a symbolic issue.
  • wilson's stubborn refusal to compromise over the LON strenghtned his opponents - republicans and democrats.
  • it also strengthened isolationism by dividing the internationalists.
  • TR and Lodge were against wilson over LON, but agreed on the importance of the usa having an outward-looking foreign policy.
  • 1920 - wilson was steadily losing his political authority.
  • difficult for the democratic party to find a new presidential candidate while Wilson was ill but would not let anyone else take over.
  • republican candidate emerged - Harding - politician from ohio with little interest in foreign affaits.
  • Harding invented the term 'normalcy' as his motto for american foreign policy. the idea of 'normalcy' was popular with many americans and helped him to win the presidential election. many people felt the war had been a european affair and the usa should not make the same mistake.
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return to 'normalcy' in foreign policy (continued)

  • post-war treaties had been a failure because of devious and selfish europeans. problems at home were more important. the usa should get on with its own, superior way of life.
  • american foreign policies under Harding and Coolidge in 1920s - were not completely isolationist.
  • usa was the world's greatest economic power and overseas trade was expanding.
  • this necessitated numerous agreements with other nations.
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