Return to Normalcy



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  • “Return to Normalcy”: Republican Warren G. Harding’s winning slogan in the 1920 presidential election: it refers to the idea that the U.S. should return to the ways before the War (or even before the Progressive Era). In foreign policy: to return to the practice of neutrality. Harding argued the government should take a less active role in regulating the economy--returning to a laissez-faire approach to business.
  • Teapot Dome: Most famous scandal of a scandalous administration: it involved Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall selling drilling rights to oil deposits at Teapot Rock, Wyoming, allegedly in return for personal loans. Even if the loans were not connected with oil rights, the deal smelled bad and was a mistake politically. Conservationists who opposed exploitation of western lands for mining, etc., took advantage of the scandal to advance their political interests.
  • “Ohio Gang”: Political associates of Harding who provided refuge for the POTUS at a “Little House on H Street” where they played poker, drank, and womanized. Members of the gang used their connections to get rich. When the corruption was uncovered, several committed suicide or fled the country. Harding was not directly implicated in any of the scandals, but because of his poor judgment and general incompetence , though very popular in his day, he is considered one of the worst Presidents in U.S. history.
  • “Silent Cal”: Nickname given to Calvin Coolidge who became POTUS when Harding died in 1923. Despite sleeping upwards of 12 hours a day while president, he cleaned up the White House, ran a competent foreign policy highlighted by the Five-Powers Treaty, controlled government spending and promoted business interests that created an era of one of the largest economic expansions in U.S. history; (thanks largely to the low corporate taxes advised by Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon). Coolidge retired from the Presidency, not running in the election of 1928.
  • He didn’t talk much, but when he did he said a lot in few words. “The business of the American people” he said, “is business.” (The full quote is more telling still: “The chief business of America is business, the chief idealism of America is idealism.”) He saw it as government's responsibility to reduce corporate taxes and protect industries to promote economic development and prosperity.
  • Nativism: An anti-immigrant movement that grew out of isolationism: it led Congress to enact laws regulating immigration with the -- Emergency Quota Act of 1921 (limits number of immigrants and stops immigration from certain countries) and the National Origins Act of 1924 (effectively closes the gates to immigrants by setting quotas permanently to the 1890 census); it also led to a resurgence of white-supremacist groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, which became a major political force in the early and mid-twenties, achieving anti-Catholic legislation in Oregon, winning the Governorship of Indiana, and nearly winning local elections in Detroit, Michigan.
  • Sacco and Vanzetti: Two Italian immigrants to the Boston area involved in the robbery of a payroll and murder of the paymaster at a factory in South Braintree, Mass. The two were convicted in a trial that focused on their ethnicity and their support of Communism and anarchism rather than on the evidence of guilt or innocence. They were sentenced to death and despite pleas for mercy from around the world were executed in 1927. They were unquestionably guilty, but problems with the trial made them a cause célèbre for radicals and civil libertarians.
  • Modernism and Revivalism: Deriving from the ideas of Freud, Boaz, and, to a degree, Einstein, and as a result of WWI, a cultural movement rejecting traditional values developed. Modernism challenged everything to pursue the “new.” At its extreme, it evinced nihilistic qualities, following Nietzsche's statement: “God is Dead; it is time for ‘overman’ to live.”
  • Amid pressures of Modernism, revivalism spread through U.S. cities. Evangelists, such as Aimee Semple McPherson , brought religion to the masses via the new medium of radio.
  • McPherson
  • Scopes Monkey Trial: 1925 case that brought into focus tensions between modernism and tradition, pitting science against religious fundamentalism. It involved a question of whether a Tennessee science teacher could teach the theory of evolution in public school. The trial caused a national sensation as two of the most famous lawyers in the U.S. argued the case: Clarence Darrow for the evolutionists and former Secretary of State and perennial Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan for the creationists.
  • The fundamentalists won the case, but Darrow won public opinion. The trial was the basis for the play and film Inherit the Wind.
  • Gangsters and Bootleggers: People who made illegal liquor, called “Bathtub Gin” and sold it to the public, often in a secret bar or club called a speakeasy. The best-known gangsters and bootleggers included: Al “Scarface” Capone in Chicago; Arnold Rothstein (a.k.a. Mr. Big -- the fixer of the 1919 World Series, and controller of the narcotics trade into the 1950s) Dutch Schultz, Meyer Lansky, and Lucky Luciano (Murder, Inc.) in New York; the Purple Gang in Detroit; and, without the violence, Joseph Kennedy in Boston.
  • Flapper: “New woman” of the ‘20s who dressed in loose-fitting clothing, “bobbed” her hair, went to speakeasies, smoked cigarettes in public, danced “The Charleston,” “sparked” with a man in the rumble seat of his car, and did many things that her mother never would have done.
  • “Burma-Shave”: The 1920s are known as the era when national advertising campaigns became widespread, adding to a consumer culture and suggesting prosperity. Many of the ads focused on personal hygiene: tooth paste, deodorant, shampoo, and soap.
  • One of the most noted and inventive advertising campaigns combined consumerism, hygiene, art, humor, and America’s new love affair with automobiles. The product was a shaving cream, called “Burma-Shave.” The campaign consisted of a series of road signs posted in a sequence to offer a humorous little poem. Representative “poems” are:
  • “Pity all / the mighty Caesars / they pulled / each whisker out / with tweezers”
  • “The Whale / put Jonah / down the hatch / but coughed him up / because he scratched”
  • ”Within this vale / of toil / and sin / your head grows bald / but not your chin ”
  • “Proper / Distance / to Him Was Bunk / Pulled Him Out /of Some Guy’s Trunk
  • “Don’t Pass Cars / On Curve or Hill / If the Cops / Don’t Get You / Morticians Will
  • George Gershwin: A composer of “serious American music” during the 1920s. He combined European musical structures with American rhythms and jazz in such pieces as Rhapsody in Blue. He also wrote numerous songs for Broadway musical, with his brother, Ira Gershwin, writing the lyrics to his music.
  • Charles Chaplin: A leading filmmaker of the silent era. His character, the little tramp, won worldwide fame and popularity in films, such as The Gold Rush and City Lights
  • The Jazz Singer: The first “talkie” (i.e. first movie with synchronized sound). It starred Al Jolson. Made by Warner Brothers, it opened on October 6th, 1927. It was an immediate hit, ushering in “the sound era.”
  • George Herman “Babe” Ruth: The leading sports figure in an era that embraced spectator sports of all kinds. He began his career as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, but became world-famous as a fielder and home-run hitter for the New York Yankees.
  • Jack Dempsey: Born in Manassa, Colorado, he was known as the Manassa Mauler, heavy-weight champion of the world from 1919 to 1926
  • Jim Thorpe: A Sauk and Fox Indian from Oklahoma, he was raised and educated at the Carlisle Indian School. In the 1910s, he became athlete of the decade in the Olympics and professional baseball. In the 1920s, he played professional football and is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame
  • Charles A. Lindbergh: Greatest hero of the 1920s. He was the first to fly across the Atlantic solo, flying his plane The Spirit of St. Louis from New York to Paris in 1927.
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald: From Minnesota, Fitzgerald was the leading novelist of the “Jazz Age.” He wrote numerous novels that reflected the new lifestyles of the 1920s. In 1925, he published The Great Gatsby, often referred to as the great American novel of the twentieth century.
  • Sinclair Lewis: From Minnesota, Lewis was the leading novelist of “Middle America” during the 1920s. He published four major novels in the 1920s, including Main Street, Babbitt, and Elmer Gantry. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature for Arrowsmith in 1927, but refused the award. He was the first American to win a Nobel Prize for Literature (1930).
  • Ernest Hemingway: Novelist whose early work drew on what Gertrude Stein called the “Lost Generation” – those who were so disillusioned by WWI’s destructiveness that they embraced danger and a life-style of “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.” His great novel of the 1920s is The Sun Also Rises. It was his first novel, published in 1926
  • Harlem Renaissance: Artistic movement among blacks in New York City. It included: jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington – piano; writers, Zora Neale Hurston – Their Eyes were Watching God; Langston Hughes – poetry; Alain Locke – essays, such as “The New Negro”; and political leaders, such as Marcus Garvey – the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA): seen as a radical, he called for pan-Africanism, unity among all black people of the world

Industry Changes America

  • Car Effects
  • Demand for steel, rubber, glass, and other car materials soared.
  • Auto repair shops and filling stations sprang up.
  • Landowners who found petroleum on their property became rich.
  • Cities and Suburbs
  • Detroit, Michigan, grew when Ford based his plants there, and other automakers followed.
  • Other midwestern cities, like Akron, OH, boomed by making car necessities like rubber and tires.
  • Suburbs, which started thanks to trolley lines, grew with car travel.
  • Tourism
  • Freedom to travel by car produced a new tourism industry.
  • Motels and restaurants arose to meet travelers’ needs.
  • Urbanization: The U.S. Census of 1920 showed for the first time in U.S. history that more Americans lived in cities that in rural areas.

Weaknesses in the Farm Economy

  • American farmers who had good times during World War I found demand slowed, and competition from Europe reemerged.
  • Over-production as a result of new technologies, such as farm tractors and improved irrigation
  • Congress tried to assist farmers by buying up surpluses through the McNary-Haugen bills, but President Coolidge repeatedly vetoed the bills
  • Natural Disasters, such as boll weevil infestations, ruined cotton crops in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi; and the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 that killed thousands and left many more homeless.
  • Although the “Roaring Twenties” brought prosperity to many, farmers suffered deeply in the postwar period.
  • Easy Credit: One of the three things that helped to make the 1920s economy boom; the others are new technologies, such as the expanded use of the assembly line to significantly increase productivity, and supply-side tax policies of the Coolidge administration that cut taxes on corporations and the “investor class.”
  • The most common form of consumer credit came in the installment plan, whereby one could purchase an item and pay it off over time, a little each month.
  • The result of easy credit was “easy debt,” which in good times could be paid off, but if the economy turned sour, then spending would stop and the economy could crash.
  • Margin: Method of buying stocks when you do not have the money – person borrows money from a stockbroker and pays him off with interest when his stock makes a profit. Of course, if the stock goes down the person still has to pay off the loan. Margin is an example of easy credit.
  • Herbert Hoover, “The Engineer”:
  • Republican elected in 1928. He had one of the best resumes of any POTUS: a civil engineer, heading the Food Administration during WWI and the American Relief Administration that provided food aid to Europe in the 1920s, and Secretary of Commerce under Harding and Coolidge.
  • In his 1929 Inauguration Address, he said, “I have no fears for the future of our country.” Within months, however, we were in a depression that he seemed incapable of fixing. He believed the crisis was caused by worldwide problems and he believed it would run its course like any business cycle.
  • His inability to sensitively deal with the hardships of the Depression, as well as some critical policy errors, made the people reject him in the 1932 election.
  • “Black Tuesday”: October 29, 1929, the day of the great stock market crash that signaled the beginning of the Depression. The crash was caused by a series of “margin calls” demands by stockbrokers that borrowers repay their loans , causing a rampant sell-off. The crash did not cause the Depression—a combination of over-production, high consumer debt, and foreign debt caused it—but it sped it up and made bad problems worse.
  • Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act (1930): During the Great Depression, Congress passed this law to protect American labor and business but it made the Depression worse. It set even higher tariffs than Fordney-McCumber and all but ended the import trade. It led to high tariffs on American trade goods. It raised prices at a time when people were losing their jobs and after they had lost their savings in the stock market crash.
  • Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC): Key element of President Hoover’s plan to fix the economy. Hoover saw the Depression as a severe example of a natural business cycle of boom and bust. He also saw it a crisis of banking and credit. So he called on Congress to create the RFC with $2.5 billion in funding for emergency loans to banks, life insurance companies, farm mortgage associations, and railroads. The money would help individuals and corporations avoid bankruptcy.
  • Federal Home Loan Bank: Created by an act of Congress in 1932, it was designed to enable banks to provide discount home mortgages. This and the RFC represent a type of trickle-down economics that did not provide immediate relief to unemployed workers or farmers who were losing their homes and facing poverty.
  • Bonus Army: The Bonus Expeditionary Force, a group of WWI veterans who marched on Washington in 1932 demanding early payment of their bonuses. When Congress rejected their request, they set up a tent city in Anacostia Flats. President Hoover ordered U.S. troops, commanded by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, to clear them out. Over the next four years, they repeatedly demanded early payment and were refused.
  • Hobos: Unemployed men who rode in boxcars on freight trains, traveling from place to place picking up work when they could find it. They represent the unemployment and suffering during the Depression.
  • “Hoovervilles”: Makeshift towns created by homeless people–named for President Herbert Hoover, showing that people blamed him for the suffering. Other examples are ”Hoover blankets” (newspapers used by homeless while sleeping); “Hoover flags” (empty pockets turned out)
  • Bread Lines: A symbol of urban poverty, long queues grew outside soup kitchens as the poor and unemployed in the largest cities lined up and waited for a meal.
  • Dust Bowl: Amid the economic crisis that hit farmers particularly hard, the weather added insult to injury: a drought and over-tilling caused a loss of topsoil which when pushed by winds caused blinding dust storms that overtook the Midwest and plains; to escape the dust bowl many farmers, called Okies, moved to find work and opportunity in California.
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt, FDR: Democratic President of the U.S. 1933-1945. He was disabled by polio—generally confined to a wheelchair, although the public did not know it. Former Governor of New York, he won the nomination for the Presidency by promising to give Americans a “New Deal”. The plan provided relief for those hurt by the Depression; and recovery for the economy through labor reform and increased government spending. In his inaugural address, he set out to restore the public's faith in the government and the economy and to relieve people's fears about the future.
  • “Let me first assert my firm belief,” he declared, “that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself--nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” He asked Congress for “broad executive power to wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were invaded by a foreign foe.”
  • Congress called a special session; in FDR’s “First Hundred Days,” it enacted dozens of major pieces of legislation, creating new government agencies in the “alphabetocracy.” FDR’s determination rubbed off on the people and they came to view him as a caring parent, personalizing the presidency.
  • Roosevelt’s Brain Trust: A group of university professors who acted as an informal advisory council to FDR early in his presidency and were elemental in creating the New Deal.
  • It included Raymond Moley (credited with coining the term “New Deal” and later an opponent of FDR’s intrusive economic system), Rexford Tugwell (an economist in the U.S.D.A.), Adolf Berle (who advised FDR in foreign policy, creating the “Good Neighbor Policy”), and Felix Frankfurter (whom FDR named to the SCOTUS).
  • Others who had been with FDR when he was Governor of New York also joined him in Washington: Frances Perkins as Secretary of Labor was the first woman to hold a cabinet position; and Harry Hopkins headed the Works Progress Administration, one of the three more successful New Deal agencies.
  • The First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, also played a significant role as an adviser to the President.
  • Keynesian Economics: (Demand-Side Economics)
  • Along with taking the country off of the gold standard, this theory of British economist John Maynard Keynes called for deficit spending. Keynes argued that the best way to end a depression was for the government to spend more and put more money into consumers’ hands through make-work projects or even welfare.
  • Since tax revenues were low because of the Depression, government had to borrow the money—to go into debt. But FDR feared too much debt and budget hawks reduced deficit spending in FDR’s Second Term, causing the economy to go into recession in 1938.
  • “Bank Holiday”: Established by the Federal Emergency Banking Relief Act of 1933, the holiday was the first plank in the New Deal because in large part the Depression was a banking/credit crisis. It involved closing banks for a period of no less than a week so that they could review their books and reopen for business. It restored people’s trust in banks and ended panic.
  • “Fireside Chat”: Approach used by President Roosevelt to speak directly to the American people via radio. They informed the people of the New Deal policies and won tremendous personal support for FDR. In another example of this personal attachment that people felt, FDR's portrait commonly hung in people's foyers in the place where Catholics would often hang a picture of Jesus Christ.
  • Civilian Conservation Corps: New Deal program designed to keep young men (18-25) busy and out of trouble by sending them to camps in the woods. Men whose families were on relief were enrolled and paid thirty dollars per month to build roads through forests, plant trees, build erosion walls along rivers, etc. Because room and board was paid for in the camps, twenty-five dollars of the pay had to be sent home to their families.
  • Tennessee Valley Authority: A New Deal program designed to provide jobs in some of the hardest hit parts of the South along the Tennessee River. The government built hydroelectric dams along the river to control flooding and harness the river’s power to make electricity. It helped foster the Rural Electrification Program and had an indirect role as the power source for the building of the A-Bomb.
  • Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation: Part of the Glass-Steagall Banking Act of 1933, the FDIC is a government insurance company that guarantees the security of bank deposits: people will get their money even if the bank goes out of business. It restores trust in the banking system.
  • Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC): Created in June 1934, the SEC will regulate the stock and bond markets; among other things it tightens rules for buying stocks on margin, raising minimum down payments to reduce speculation.
  • Agricultural Adjustment Act: New Deal program designed to raise farm and crop prices by reducing supply – farmers were paid to take their land out of production. It was found unconstitutional in the case of United States v. Butler, but did give some relief to farmers while it lasted. FDR’s other farm programs in the First Hundred Days were the Emergency Farm Mortgage Act and the Farm Credit Act, which enabled farmers to refinance their property and extended new low-interest loans to farmers.
  • National Recovery Administration: Created by the National Industrial Recovery Act, the NRA was designed to provide work relief for the unemployed. Under the "Blue Eagle" campaign, it set wage and price controls on industries, regulates competition, and moves to protect Labor's right to collective bargaining. It was found unconstitutional in Schechter Brothers Poultry Co. v. U.S. (1935)—the “sick chicken case”.
  • Opponents of the New Deal:
  • (1) Senator Huey P. Long of Louisiana, “The Kingfish,” attacked Roosevelt from the Left in his book, Every Man a King (1933); he argued that the federal government should raise income taxes on the wealthy and “Share Our Wealth” by guaranteeing every family an annual allowance of $5,000 and every worker annual income of $2,500.
  • Dr. Francis E. Townsend attacked FDR from the Left, insisting that government create “old age pensions,” paying $200 per month to every person over sixty years old who retired (opening up a job for someone else) and who promised to spend the money within the month.
  • 3. Father Charles E. Coughlin, the “radio priest,” his National Union for Social Justice called for free coinage of silver (a la the Populists) and attacked bankers and other economic leaders; his radio “sermons” included a heavy dose of anti-Semitism.
  • 4. From the right, the American Liberty League, led by past Democratic presidential candidates Al Smith and John W. Davis, criticized the New Deal for not respecting “the rights of person and property.”
  • Opponents of the New Deal:
  • Second New Deal: To answer critics and to overcome the Supreme Court’s declaring many First New Deal laws unconstitutional FDR pursued a new round of legislation called the Second New Deal.
  • It focused not just on relief and recovery, but now also sought to reform the country’s economic and social problems. Unlike the more radical reforms in the Communist Soviet Union or Nazi Germany, however, FDR sought to do this reform while keeping the basic structure of American capitalism. The Second New Deal included the Works Progress Administration and other programs, such as Social Security and the Rural Electrification Administration.
  • The Second New Deal provided emergency relief of suffering and established several important reform programs, but it did not end the Depression. Only America’s involvement in World War II ended the Depression.
  • Wealth Tax Act of 1935: a.k.a. the Revenue Act, it raised the surtax rates on incomes of over $50,000 and graduated the rates quickly, maxing out at 75% on incomes of over $5 million. Because of its effect on the wealthy, it came to be known as the “Soak the Rich Tax”.
  • “Mommy, Jack wrote a dirty word.”
  • Social Security: Pension program for seniors, created to reduce the economic pressure on families caring for elderly parents who do not work; it is designed to supplement income and personal savings. It is an example of the social/economic safety net. It also represents the federal government's taking more responsibility to care for the needy.
  • Works Progress Administration: One of the most successful programs of the 1930s, it exemplifies Keynesian economics—using deficit spending to provide relief. It created make-work projects, building public buildings (like post offices) and roads. And its Federal Arts Program made work for artists, performers, writers, and historians.
  • Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO): As skilled workers had done in the depressions of the late 1800s, unskilled workers organized unions during the Great Depression, under the authority of the National Industrial Recovery Act. John L. Lewis and the United Mine Workers led the way, quickly followed by the United Steel Workers, United Auto Workers, and International Ladies’ Garment Workers. In 1938, the industrial unions organized into a mass, integrated union, the Congress of Industrial Organizations.
  • National Labor Relations Act of 1935: Known as the Wagner Act, it guaranteed the right of workers to unionize and bargain collectively. It created the National Labor Relations Board to mediate disputes between business and labor, but unlike earlier times the board often sided with the unions. The Wagner Act put the power of the federal government, especially the courts, behind the union movement.
  • New Deal Coalition: Bloc of voters for the Democratic Party created in the landslide 1936 election that led U.S. politics into the 1960s. It included labor, farmers, progressive elites in the Northeast, conservatives in the South, Jews, and blacks. Southerners started leaving the coalition in 1948, but did not vote Republican until the 1972 election. As southern whites left, African Americans joined in greater numbers. Turmoil and violence of the late 1960s killed it as a political force, paving the way for a Conservative resurgence (small government and states’ rights) that led to Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980.
  • “Court-Packing Plan”: FDR’s response to the SCOTUS ruling New Deal programs unconstitutional. He planned to add six new justices to the Court to create a majority that would favor of his policies. The people supported it during the 1936 campaign, but opposition from politicians killed the plan. It cost FDR significant political capital and represents the lengths to which he would go to solve the crisis. It never came to pass because the Court backed off its opposition, reversed course and found programs constitutional starting with National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp.—”the switch in time that saved nine.”
  • Roosevelt “Black Cabinet”: Created by Mary McLeod Bethune and Robert C. Weaver, it worked as a shadow-cabinet and adviser to the Roosevelt administration (through Bethune’s friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt with respect to African-American issues. It succeeded in getting blacks placed in increasingly important positions of the federal government and helped to end discrimination against blacks in employment in federal projects, most notably housing projects.
  • Marian Anderson: World-famous opera singer who became the center of a controversy in 1939. She was to do a special Easter concert at the Daughters of the American (DAR) Revolution Constitution Hall. But the hall was segregated and the DAR decided she could not sing. Showing her support for civil rights, Eleanor Roosevelt intervened and arranged for her to sing at the Lincoln Memorial. On Easter, Anderson sang to more than 200,000 people from the steps of the monument.
  • Movies and radio provided the only escape from the Great Depression for many. Many consider 1939 to be the strongest year in Hollywood history – noted films: Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stagecoach (John Wayne)


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