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SAT II U.S. History For Dummies
By Scott Hatch
John Wiley & SonsISBN: 0-7645-7843-X
Chapter OneThrowing Caution to the Wind: The Roaring '20s
In This Chapter
* Understanding America's problems after World War I
* Brushing up on the presidencies of Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover
* Cruising through the prosperity of the decade
Brace yourself for a wild ride through the Roaring '20s. In this chapter, you find out about the birth of modern culture and all its subsequent growing pains. While you try to race through the important facts of this era, we advise you to slow down and absorb the material. The writers of the SAT II U.S. History exam seem to like something about this decade, and you'll undoubtedly find several questions pertaining to this era on the test. In this chapter, we cover America's transition back to normal life after World War I; the Republican presidents of the decade; and the events that shaped modern American culture.
Pride and Prejudice: Transitioning after World War I
Before the 1920s could get roaring, cultural forces collided during a short period of time following World War I. Postwar America was a scary place for Americans who resisted change. The mainstream availability of advanced technology, like the automobile; the spread of previously unfamiliar ideologies, like Communism; and increased access to communications, like movies, shaped a new, modernized American culture that pushedtraditional values to the background. Small-town America resisted change, but the nation was quickly becoming an urban society. Many of the changes taking place in cities across the country filtered into the surrounding communities. The turmoil sparked clashes of ideas, and violence often resulted. But out of the chaos, a new American society emerged.
Problems with demobilization
About four million Americans participated in World War I, and almost half of them served in Europe. The horror they had seen and the terror they had experienced combined with their eye-opening travels through Europe left many Americans permanently altered. Many came home confused about their place in society, no longer desiring a life on the family farm or a return to the drudgery of factory work. Women also felt the effects. Women who had filled the workplace during the war lost their jobs to returning soldiers. Men had a hard time adjusting to the idea of women working outside the home, and women were reluctant to give up some of their newfound freedom. As a result, divorce rates skyrocketed following the war. (For more about the war, see Chapter 15.)
Another unfortunate consequence of the soldiers' return was the spread of a deadly Spanish flu epidemic. American troops had suffered almost as many deaths from the flu as they did in battle, and soldiers unknowingly brought this deadly flu home with them. From 1918 to 1919, more than 668,000 Americans died from the Spanish flu.
A lot of work: Labor issues
Without the booming war industry, the American economy was in decline, which meant hard times for American laborers. The prospect of unemployment loomed like a storm cloud. In 1919, unemployment was at 2 percent, but by 1921, it had rapidly grown to 12 percent. The war and its aftermath also drove up inflation, which sent the cost of living for Joe Factory Worker through the roof. On average, inflation rose by more than 15 percent a year in 1919 and 1920 and continued to rise at high levels through 1922. During the recession of 1920 to 1921, more than five million Americans lost their jobs, nearly 500,000 farmers lost their farms, 100,000 businesses went bankrupt, and the Gross National Product (GNP) of the U.S. dropped nearly 10 percent. The country rebounded, though, and prosperity reigned for most of the 1920s. (See "Living the good life: Postwar prosperity" later in this chapter.)
American laborers began striking all over the place. In 1919 alone, four million people participated in 3,300 strikes. Strikers walked out for all the normal reasons - better pay, shorter working days, and better working conditions. But Americans grew tired of the constant disruption, and laborers lost the support of the federal government, which they once had. The government used troops and court orders to break up strikes, and corporations began to undermine the power of unions, stealing away their members by offering pensions, profit sharing, and corporate-sponsored social and sporting events in a phenomenon later called "welfare capitalism" or "corporate welfare." Automobile tycoon Henry Ford was the industrialist who pioneered a corporate welfare program. He instituted a shorter workweek, higher wages, and paid vacations for employees of his Ford Motor Company. Because of these changes, union membership declined sharply throughout the 1920s.
No beer here: Prohibition
Consuming alcohol was always an American pastime. Founding father Benjamin Franklin once said that beer was proof that God loved people and wanted them to be happy. But by 1919, pressure from reformers of the Temperance Movement, greatly aided by the growth of religious fundamentalism (which we cover in "A fear of change: Protestant fundamentalism" later in this chapter), finally tipped the balance in favor of a ban on alcohol. The 18th Amendment, which prevented the manufacture, sale, or distribution of "intoxicating liquors," took effect in 1920.
Prohibition was dubbed "the noble experiment" - but many Americans, especially those who lived in cities and urban areas - refused to take part in it. The ban on alcohol had an unintentional and unfortunate effect: It spawned a vast underground market for alcohol, which mobsters with funny names like Al "Scarface" Capone, "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn, and George "Bugs" Moran exploited. These wise guys built criminal empires on selling bootleg liquor, that is, alcohol they illegally imported from foreign countries or made in bathtub distilleries. Homemade liquor was often dangerous to drink and sometimes even poisonous. Prohibition also made lawbreakers out of millions of Americans, including politicians and police officers, who frequented thousands of illegal saloons called speakeasies across the country.
Ultimately, the noble experiment was a big fat flop. Gangsters became celebrities for their flagrant disregard for the law, and the average citizen was more tempted to drink simply because alcohol was forbidden. Congress repealed the 18th Amendment in December 1933.
Dealing with racial and ethnic unrest
The Ku Klux Klan, a racist group dominant in the South, reorganized in 1915 after the release of the motion picture The Birth of a Nation, which celebrated the early Klan in the days of Reconstruction (see Chapter 10). The Klan made a big comeback in the years following World War I. The group, which had discriminated mostly against African Americans in its previous incarnation, was concerned about Jews, Catholics, and immigrants in the 1920s. Klan members felt these groups' languages, customs, religions, habits, and values threatened their way of life.
Another reason the Klan reappeared was due to the increase in racial tensions throughout America between whites and African Americans. The Great Migration that began in the years before World War I and continued throughout the 1950s caused dramatic shifts in racial demographics. During the Great Migration, many African Americans left the South and settled in northern cities like Chicago and New York (see Chapter 14 for more about the Great Migration) where the standard of living was higher, wages were better, good jobs were more plentiful, and racism was less prevalent than it was in the South. But resentment arose in these cities when whites had to compete with African Americans, who were often willing to work for less pay, for factory jobs. Also, a growing movement among African Americans, especially returning war veterans, called for civil rights and respect that whites weren't willing to give them.
In what became known as the Red Summer in 1919 (not to be confused with the Red Scare - see the next section), race riots rocked 24 cities and towns across America. In the worst example, 38 people (both black and white) died, and more than 500 were injured when fighting between blacks and whites erupted in the streets of Chicago after a group of whites stoned a black man to death who they felt had crossed into their swimming area.
By 1924, the Ku Klux Klan had four million members, and its influence had spread well beyond the South. In 1926, the Klan published "The Klan's Fight for Americanism," a booklet that outlined the organization's credo. The new Klan was an equal-opportunity hate-monger. Gone were the days of hating blacks alone; the new Klan targeted Jews, Asians, Mexicans, Catholics, and anyone they considered "foreign."
Handling the Red Scare
When the Russian government fell to the Bolsheviks during the revolution in 1917, an irrational fear of Communism spread across America. This fear, tangled with American patriotism, created an atmosphere of conformity. Anyone who marched to the beat of a different drummer, such as anarchists, Socialists, pacifists, Communists, and union leaders, were suspected to be members of the Communist Party. The term "red," meaning "Communist," generally applied to all these groups, although, in truth, very few Communists were in America.
The Red Scare (the worry that many Americans had about a Communist plot to take over the U.S. government) started after the Russian Revolution in 1917 and reached full strength between 1919 and 1920. All told, the two Communist parties that existed in America in 1920 had a combined membership of 70,000 - not exactly revolution material.
Nevertheless, the continuous strikes and a series of attempted bombings at the homes of prominent Americans added to the general paranoia brought on by the Communist revolution. Congress passed the Espionage Act of 1917, which declared that making false statements that would interfere with wartime operations was illegal. The Sedition Act of 1918 made expressing an opinion that went against the U.S. government a crime. Under the Espionage Act, the government arrested Eugene Debs, a labor leader and five-time presidential candidate for the Socialist Party, for an anti-war speech he made in 1918 and sentenced him to ten years in prison. After the war, more than 30 states enacted peacetime sedition (or treason) laws, and radicals became targets across the nation.
President Woodrow Wilson gave Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer the task of rooting out the pesky Communists in America. Palmer was convinced that the flame of revolt was burning its way into the homes of American workers. To combat the blaze, Palmer set up the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), headed by J. Edgar Hoover, to keep an eye on radicals. The FBI arrested suspected Communists and sometimes even deported them. One of the most famous incidents that occurred during the Red Scare was the case of Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian immigrants who were charged with the murder of a paymaster in Massachusetts. Even though there was little evidence against them, they were convicted and sentenced to death because they were confessed anarchists. They maintained their innocence, and public support continued to grow in their favor over the years, but both were executed in 1927.
The Red Scare reached its peak in 1920 when federal agents in 33 cities arrested more than 4,000 people in what became known as the Palmer Raids. The FBI threw the suspected "Reds" in jail and denied their rights to representation. Most of them weren't convicted, but the government deported about 600 foreign immigrants. After the Palmer Raids, the anti-Communist madness began to die down. In 1921, President Warren Harding revoked the Espionage Act and Sedition Act and released Debs from prison. The Red Scare emerged again in full force, though, after World War II (see Chapter 19).
Locking the doors: Anti-immigration measures
The fear of foreign ideologies (like Communism) infiltrating the U.S. caused many Americans to be none too fond of foreign immigrants in the post-World War I period. Prior to 1890, most immigrants were from northern Europe, but during the early 1900s (largely to escape the ravages of World War I), a large number of immigrants came from southern Europe, which were Slavic and Asian nations. In 1924, to curtail the entry of these immigrants who seemed so different from the rest of Americans in appearance, religious beliefs, ideologies, and customs, the federal government strengthened a 1921 act of Congress that had established an immigration quota system in the U.S. (see "The policies of Harding's administration" later in this chapter). This act, known as the National Origins Act of 1924, banned immigration from east Asia and cut the quota on European immigrants. In 1929, Congress revised the act and allowed a maximum of 150,000 immigrants per year into the U.S.
Whenever you hear the word Bolshevik, equate it with Communist; the SAT II History exam may use these terms interchangeably.
A fear of change: Protestant fundamentalism
Many Americans didn't feel comfortable with the fast-paced, consumer-driven, morally loosened American culture that emerged in the postwar era. Modernist Protestants, who lived mostly in urban areas and were largely part of the middle class, adapted readily to the wonders of modern science and technological and social advances in the modern, secular society.
On the other hand, millions of provincial, mostly rural-dwelling Americans fought against the changing tides by embracing Protestant fundamentalism, which endorsed a rigid interpretation of the Bible, encouraged the continuation of traditional beliefs, and sought to preserve traditional faith in religion in America.
For the SAT II History exam, think of the rise of fundamentalism as a battle against modernization - the old versus the new, the secular versus the religious, the rural versus the urban. America was truly having a culture war. Case in point: the Scopes Monkey trial.
In the summer of 1925, a teacher by the name of John Thomas Scopes was arrested for teaching evolution in the classroom, which violated a Tennessee law. (The law said that the Bible's explanation of creation was what children should learn.) The trial attracted national attention and was the first trial ever broadcasted over the radio. Clarence Darrow, who represented Scopes, faced off against prosecutor William Jennings Bryan, the three-time presidential candidate and former secretary of state (see Chapter 12 for more about him). The jury convicted Scopes, but by all accounts, secularism won. Bryan expressed his heartfelt belief in the Bible throughout the trial and used it to back his case. Although this strategy may have convinced the jury in Dayton, Tennessee, newspapers throughout the country publicly ridiculed Bryan, making the views of fundamentalists seem outdated and foolish. Scopes was eventually fined $100, and the case was later dismissed in a higher court due to a technicality. The trial did little to resolve the conflict between fundamentalists and modernists.
The Ku Klux Klan also supported fundamentalist beliefs with their anti-immigrant and anti-urban feelings. The Klan carried out vigilante justice to anyone who didn't conform to traditional views. Klan members served as the moral police in small towns across America, using their old standby combination of intimidation and violence. But ultimately, the Klan couldn't stop the changes that were sweeping through America.
Tying it all together: A sample question looks at America after World War I
Before you move on to the next section, try the following question, which asks you to sum up what was happening in America after the end of World War I. The SAT II often asks you to draw general conclusions about a specific period in U.S. history.
All the following describe America in the aftermath of World War I EXCEPT:
(A) Increased racial tensions
(B) Government restrictions of civil liberties
(C) Inflation and unemployment
(D) Growth of religious fundamentalism
(E) Migration of people away from cities
Excerpted from SAT II U.S. History For Dummies by Scott Hatch Excerpted by permission.
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