Oxford lecture: 18 February: U.S. in the 1920s

1. Decadism?
The Twenties or the New Era

Image: Modernity and Prosperity —

But 1919-24 really belongs to World War I period;
1925-29 to inc. unstable economy >>> depression after stock market crash of 1929

2. Impact of World War I, 1917-19 — short but sharp collision with wider world
War caused huge dislocation and anxieties – war mobilization, 4 mil. troops
a. anti-radicalism
b. anti-migrant feeling associated with this

3. Anti-radicalism and the Sacco and Vanzetti trial
War>>> Russian Rev>>> deportation of anarchists under the Palmer Raids (1919) in the midst of an anarchist bombing campaign that reached a peak in the 1920 Wall Street terrorist bombing.

April, 1920 Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti arrested for the murder of a payroll guard in Braintree, Massachusetts — executed in 1927.

The case became a cause celebre, defining foreign views of an American nation in which impartial justice gave way to economic power and anti-radical ideology.

Global agitation — reflected anti-Americanism, the activity of the Comintern; the impact of American business on Europe and Latin America

Sacco and Vanzetti affair polarised the nation into radical and anti-radical

4. The war promoted racial animosity
The Great Migration of African Americans >>> 1919 race riots, e.g., Chicago

a. Ku Klux Klan
a. D. W. Griffith’s film, Birth of A Nation (1915) >>> Ku Klux Klan reincarnated (first incarnation late 1860s-1870s)
b. used business methods to raise money and broadcast over radio to reach new audiences. Its targets had expanded too.
c. From 1923, enrolled women — made a strong appeal to preserve the purity of white womanhood, and hence the mothers of the white race.
d. Its message stretched beyond defense of the white South; equated American patriotism with the ascendancy of the white race against all external foes. Promoted hatred of Jews, Catholics, and radicals as well as African Americans.

By 1923 claimed five million members.

416 African Americans were lynched 1918 to 1927, 91 percent of all lynchings

b. Garveyism — the Pan African leaning Universal Negro Improvement Association, founded 1919 (UNIA) by Jamaican Marcus Garvey — preached African superiority and racial separatism, partly in reaction to the Klan.

Garvey arrested 1923 — 1927 deportation (Liberian business venture failed leaving ghetto blacks who subscribed to his Black Star Steamship Line disillusioned)

5. Anti-Immigration: The Immigration Restriction Act of 1924— >>> attempt to establish a racially defined nation

Quota system introduced 1921, tightened 1924 reducing the annual quotas to 2 percent of the 1890 census for national groups. That way, the American racial composition could not change further.and setting the overall quota at 150,000 a year from 1927. Asian immigration now entirely prohibited.

Native Americans given full citizenship through the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924

The 1924 Immigration Act did not affect immigration from the western hemisphere: Immigration from Mexico limited by introducing a visa system in which U.S. Consular officials vetted suitable immigrants in Mexico itself. Nevertheless, immigration from south of the border was not effectively curbed by this method before the Great Depression

6. The biggest issue of all was Alcohol Prohibition – which itself was a product of the war
Enacted 1919 though wartime prohibition dated from August 1917 Lever Act.
a. Volstead Act — Did not prohibition the use of alcohol but the selling.

b. A huge federal intervention in the lives of individuals

c. Reduced alcoholism but rise of criminal gangs and FBI — J. Edgar Hoover.

Provoked opposition from the elite who had formerly supported prohibition – -Rockefeller switched sides
More than anything else, prohibition defined the 1920s, though it came into operation during World War I in a de facto form, and lasted until 1933.

7. Cultural divisions and their impact on politics
A nation divided by culture clashes; by racial animosity, and by an increasingly xenophobic temper; all of which stemmed from the war.

1924 election – Coolidge v. Davis — issues such as the KKK, immigration, and prohibition were important, esp. in the Dem. Party national convention that left a badly split Democratic party
1928 election – wet Democratic candidate Smith defeated by the dry Hoover
1932 election – economic depression overwhelmed the cultural issues of 1920s

8. Economic conditions
a. Industrial expansion of a consumer economy – movies, motor cars, radio, electrical appliances
Second Industrial revolution, based on assembly-line production and advertising
b. Fordism (Gramsci) – dominance of mass production and mass culture – -a new modernity- the New Era (of technology)
c. Divided society- Bitter labor disputes in the southern cotton mills and the Mid-Atlantic and Ohio coal fields; and railroads
d. Agricultural depression 1922-33
e. the limits to mass consumerism and working class prosperity – Domestic economic expansion was faltering in the late 1920s, as the consumer market became saturated– Also foreign markets for these goods such as autos to which business had looked for further expansion began to falter.

The end
March 1933- end of prohibition – ‘Happy Days are here again’ –

9. Foreign policy of the 1920s. Not isolationism but “Independent Internationalism” e.g., as seen in economic foreign policy overseas to aid American business, and more broadly in the ideas behind the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928

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