Term Paper: Historical Forces

Pages: 10 (3122 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 10  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: American History  ·  Buy for $19.77

Roaring Twenties

The 1920s was a decade marked by dynamic change and upheaval in nearly every facet of American life. The catalyst for many of these changes was the effects of World War I and sharp and steady rise in technological mastery. A particularly fascinating aspect of the decade is the fact that just as nearly facet of life was significantly impacted, the impact of the change on American society ran the spectrum from extremely negative for many to extremely positive for some. As a result, the decade really did roar for all, just in drastically different ways.

The moniker "The Roaring Twenties" is commonly misunderstood. Most conjure images of men and women drinking alcohol at speakeasies, dancing the Charleston while wearing fancy new clothes or following the exploits of Charles Lindberg on their new radios. While, these images do, in fact, accurately reflect life in 1920s America, the real lasting legacy of the decade, and its historical significance to today's America, is that the dramatic levels of change in the American lifestyle, and the fierce resistance to much of that change by many, marked the end of the traditional way of life and ushered in the modern world that American's recognize today.

To best understand the causes, nature, scope and impact of the changing forces of the decade, it is helpful to examine the many facets of society that experienced major upheaval. A close examination of the facets reveals many paradoxical movements and many dichotomies. Often the meanings and significance of one movement stood in direct contrast with the meaning and significance of another movement. World and national politics, gender roles, social mores, business and the workplace, transportation and communication, and entertainment all transformed significantly during the decade, and in turn significantly transformed life in America.

World and National Politics

World Politics and the Post-War Effect

After World War I ended, society at large felt a huge weight lifted off its collective shoulders. The United States invested heavily in the victory of the allies, sending more than a million troops to turn the tide on the battlefield, as well as producing arms and other war material at a tremendously high clip. Further, prevailing sentiment in this country was that the United States was essentially drawn into the war that resulted from European nations' entering into alliances and competing for imperial dominance. Thus, the American role in the world during the 1920s was foreshadowed by Congress' refusal to ratify the Treaty of Versailles or to enter into the League of Nations, and the imposition of high tariffs (Schultz, Prosperity 1). The tariffs and isolationism was all part of the Harding administration's 'Return to Normalcy' platform.

The United States entered into a period of political isolation which reverted its foreign policy to the days of the 19th century. The policy would not change until the German advances on weaker European countries in the mid-1930s signaled the imminence of World War II (and even then, president Roosevelt tried to avoid any official involvement in European affairs into the 1940s). This isolationism mirrors a degree of provincialism that was felt throughout the rest of society during the decades.

National and Domestic Politics

Harding and his Return to Normalcy also saw the government take steps backward as far as many were concerned. His rejection of the government involvement and activism that marked the pre-War progressive era returned the government to a laissez faire style of national economics for the first time in years (Ibid 2). Further, his administration was rocked by significant scandals while he was in office (most notably, the teapot dome scandal which involved illegal kickbacks paid to one of Harding's cabinet members).

Presidents Coolidge and Hoover continued the trends started by Harding. Progressive candidate Robert La Follette was soundly defeated in 1924 in Coolidge, signaling the end of the Progressive era as it had existed before the War (Ibid 3). Coolidge imposed additional tariffs and federal tax cuts and Hoover vetoed a veterans bonus and signed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff which created a record high U.S. tariff. It is clear that nation's foreign and domestic policy was one grounded in isolationism and fiscal conservatism.

The impact of the Roaring Twenties politics is not that felt directly by its policies, but rather from the policies put in place as result of the backlash of the Twenties, the Great Depression (Shultz, Frustration 6). Roosevelt's antidote for the Depression was to increase government spending and activism exponentially, as well as return the United States to free trade practices. The onset of World War II has forever since eliminated isolation as a viable policy option as the United States has taken a lead role in the post-War march to globalization and interdependence.

Gender Roles

The fundamental change of women's role society in the Twenties was that the 19th Amendment had been ratifies by all of the states as of 1920. Thus, women enjoyed universal suffrage (subject to the same Jim Crow legislation as the men) for the first time. Suffrage was a major catalyst in a decade of change for women. This change was not only marked by stark contrast, it also laid the foundations of modern feminism.

According to the prevailing research in this area, women underwent a sexual liberation in the 1920s that was sparked by the work of Sigmund Freud and others, which made it acceptable for women to embrace their sexuality (Best 4). As a result, the 1920s saw women wearing more risque clothing (by the standards of that day), sporting sexier haircuts and engaging in frequenting the dance halls until the early morning hours (these women were termed 'flappers'). This, in a sense, was an extension of the female embrace of the capitalism of the era, where women for the first time had the opportunity to live life on their terms (Simmons 17).

Many women began attending colleges and universities for the first time. This was changed was considered paradoxical as it is believed that many women went to college with the intention of finding of husband. Whether or not this is true, women now faced the choice of forging their own career or fitting into society's model of a good housewife as a stay at home mom and serving as the CEO of the nuclear family (Simmons 20). This choice brought out conflicting emotions among many young women, as it has continued to do ever since.

Social Mores and Values

Tolerance and Diversity

Social values played a prominent role shaping the culture of the 1920s. This aspect of American life saw perhaps more contradiction and paradox than any other. On certain fronts, there was a tremendous increase in tolerance and diversity within American society. Yet, on other fronts, the levels of intolerance and provincialism seemed to hit new heights. This paradox reflects the growing level of change in American life and American demographics. The change was accepted and rejected at the same time. This inner struggle continues to this day.

Aside from an acceptance of an increased social and professional for women, as already discussed above, the 1920s saw a greater acceptance of independence and liberty for African-Americans, especially men and especially in the north. The 1920s saw a great migration of African-Americans away from southern subsistence farming and share-cropping and towards the northern industrial and manufacturing centers (Gibson and Jung). Cities like New York, Chicago and Detroit saw an especially large influx (Ibid.). African-American contributions during World War I, both as abroad as soldiers and on the home front, helped to entrench their demands for a fair opportunity to achieve the American Dream.

In the south, however, the attitude towards African-Americans was decidedly different. Advances by African Americas during and after the War created a strong sense of intolerance among conservative white southerners, which in turn led to a revival of the Ku Klux Klan (Zinn Chapter 15). The revival of the Klan took an even broader appeal nationally in the 1920s than during its earlier apogee. While the Klan of the 1920s is known to have committed acts of violence and terror on blacks and other minority groups, its wide spread appeal of three to five million members and ability to gain considerable political clout (including several U.S. Congressmen and state governors) in only a few years, reflect the like-mindedness that many whites across the county shared at the time that black Americans could never be equal to white Americans (Ibid).

Still, several minority groups are believed to have gained increased acceptance and tolerance. These groups include Native Americans, homosexuals and Asian-Americans. While the acceptance and tolerance might not have been truly widespread, there was a significant increase, especially in the cities. Further, the 1920s saw the seeds planted for cultural diversity and tolerance that would flourish decades later into civil rights movement.

Perhaps the greatest indication of American provincialism was the anti-immigration legislation passed in the 1920s (Zinn Chapter 15). Immigration was prohibited from Asia practically in its entirety and it was decreased drastically from southern and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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