Normalcy and the New Deal

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Background: When the First World War ended, Americans welcomed what they hoped would be a “return to normalcy.” The decades that followed, however, are ones which would rarely be described as normal in comparison to what came before or after. During these decades, a struggle ensued within the American nation regarding how best to define the nation’s essential character, as groups like the revived Ku Klux Klan fought a rearguard action to define nationhood solely in terms of white skin and Protestant religion against secularists, Catholics, flappers, “New Negroes,” and others who challenged the traditional order. Immediately thereafter, the New Deal implemented in response to the Great Depression revolutionized the role of the federal government in lives of the American people, in ways that many Americans believed violated the basic tenets of the Constitution—and others believed were not radical enough. Taken together, the decades from 1920 to 1940 may have transformed the American nation more than any other comparable time period.

Resources: When responding to these questions, draw material from ONE of the following videos:

  1. Hogan, H. (Writer). (2003). The great depression. [Television series episode]. In R. Hawksworth (Executive producer), America in the 20th Century. New York, NY: Films for the Humanities & Sciences. Retrieved from
  2. Hogan, H. (Writer). (2003). The roaring twenties [Television series episode]. In R. Hawksworth (Executive producer), America in the 20th Century. New York, NY: Films for the Humanities & Sciences. Retrieved from
  3. Stone, R. (Writer & Director). (2009). The civilian conservation corps [Television series episode]. In M. Samels (Executive producer), The 1930s. Boston, MA: WGBH Educational Foundation. Retrieved from
Also, draw from the material in AT LEAST TWO of the following primary sources:
  1. Bliven, B. (1925, Sept. 9). Flapper Jane. Retrieved from
  2. Forquignon. (1932).Bonus army marches on Washington, DC 1932 [Video]. Retrieved from
  3. Hartt, R. L. (1921, Jan. 15). “The new Negro”: “When he’s hit, he hits back!”. Independent. Retrieved from 
  4. Long, H. (1934, Feb. 23).Share our wealth speech. Retrieved from
  5. Marshall, C. C. (1927, April). An open letter to the honorable Alfred E. SmithAtlantic Monthly, 139, 540-544, 548-549. Retrieved from 
  6. Martin, T. T. (1923).Hell and high schoolsAtlantic Monthly, 139, 540-544, 548-549. Retrieved from 
  7. McDougald, E. J. (1925). The double task of Negro womanhood.In A. Locke (Ed.), The New Negro: An Interpretation. Retrieved from 
  8. Roosevelt, F. D. (1933, May 7).Address of the President delivered by radio from the White House. Retrieved from 
  9. Shafter, L. H. (1938).I’d rather not be on relief. Retrieved from 
  10. The New Deal Network. (2003). TVA: Electricity for all. [Interactive Exhibit]. Retrieved from
Instructions: Review the major social and economic developments in American society during the 1920s and 1930s. After reviewing your Instructor’s Guidance and completing the weekly reading assignments (Chapter_03.pdf )(including those in the resource section below), please post a substantive discussion post of at least 200 words that compares and contrasts the decades of the 1920’s with the 1930s using the following questions as the basis of your analysis: 
  • How did American society change in the two decades after the First World War? 
  • How did the federal government change in response to those changes? 
  • How did the American people respond to the changing role of the federal government? 
  • How did the New Deal change over time and what alternatives were offered to it? 
  • Which groups benefited or suffered most from these changes? 
  • Should this period be regarded as having represented a revolutionary moment in American history?
Along with the general discussion, address developments across these two decades related to AT LEAST ONE of the following groups: 
  • Evangelical Protestants 
  • Farmers 
  • African Americans 
  • Women 
  • Business owners 
  • The middle class
Your initial post should be at least 200 words in length. Support your claims with examples from the required material(s) and properly cite any references. You may use additional scholarly sources to support your points if you choose.

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3 Freedom from Fear, 1920–1945 . . . The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. —Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 123 6/10/11 12:13 PM Chapter Outline 3.1 3.2 3.3 A Return to Normalcy 125 Harding’s Normalcy 126 Harding’s Progressive Measures 127 Teapot Dome and Untimely Death 127 Harding’s Legacy and Posthumous Scandal 128 Calvin Coolidge 129 Babbitt and the Economics of the 1920s 131 Therapeutic Ethos 131 Purchasing on Credit 132 Conclusion 132 The New Society in the 1920s 132 The New Morality of the 1920s 133 Why Change Your Wife? 134 The Jazz Age 134 Pushing the Boundaries at Coney Island 135 The Rise of Relativism 135 A Conservative Reaction 137 Fundamentalism 138 The Great Migration 139 Garveyism and Africa for the Africans 139 The Harlem Renaissance 140 Conclusion 140 The Crash (1929–1933) 141 A Quiet Storm 142 October 1929 142 Causes of the Great Depression 143 Hoover and the Depression 144 The Response to Hoover 145 Conclusion 147 3.4 Roosevelt and the New Deal (1933–1939) 147 The Rendezvous with Destiny 148 The Inauguration 149 The First 100 Days—Banks and Beer 150 The Agricultural Adjustment Act 151 The National Industrial Recovery Act 151 Tennessee Valley Authority 152 Welfare Reforms 152 Relationship with Congress 153 Timeline of the 100 Days 153 Conclusion 154 3.5 Depression Era Culture (1930s) 154 Technology as Freedom 155 More Work for Mother 155 The Electronic Hearth 156 War of the Worlds 157 Car Culture 157 Tourism—Food, Fuel, and Motels 158 Movie Palaces 159 Conclusion 160 3.6 The Second New Deal (1935–1941) 161 New Deal Critics 161 The Second New Deal—Wagner Act 162 The Second New Deal—Social Security 163 The Supreme Court Battle 164 Roosevelt Recession 165 The Good Neighbor Policy 166 The Rise of Dictators 167 Conclusion 167 3.7 The World at War (1941–1945) 168 Fascism 168 New World Leaders 169 The Road to War 169 The Arsenal of Democracy 170 December 7, 1941 171 Mobilization at Home 171 The American Family on the Home Front 172 Wartime Injustice 173 African Americans at War 174 The War in Europe 174 D-Day 175 The Battle of the Bulge 176 Strategic Bombing at Dresden 176 The Holocaust 177 The War in the Pacific 178 Iwo Jima and Okinawa 179 The Manhattan Project 180 Truman’s Decision 180 The Costs of War 181 Shaping the Postwar World at Yalta 182 Conclusion 184 124 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 124 6/10/11 12:13 PM CHAPTER 3 Section 3.1 A Return to Normalcy I t was a time in flux between optimism in the 1920s, depression in the 1930s, and fear and heroism in the 1940s. The years from 1920 to 1945 represented a quarter-century like none other in American history, with a pace of change, what some have called the “violence of contrasts,” requiring a need for strong national leadership and resilient citizens (Kennedy, 1999, p. xiii). These years began with the economic prosperity of the 1920s, a decade often called “roaring” because a sense of optimism pervaded the country. It came to a sudden end in October 1929 as the nation experienced an unparalleled stock market crash. As the riches and wealth of many evaporated, and when jobs of many more Americans disappeared, the United States entered the Great Depression of the 1930s. Under the leadership of the only person ever to be elected as president four times, Franklin D. Roosevelt attempted to chart a return course to prosperity with his New Deal. However, the focus of the nation changed once again in December 1941, when Japanese aircraft attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Thrust inexorably into World War II, the United States emerged from its Depression to coordinate closely with its allies in a fight to preserve democracy against the forces of fascism. Eminent historian C. Vann Woodward, writing the preface to a Pulitzer Prize–winning book on these years called Freedom from Fear, remarked on the uniqueness of this era. He called the changes and challenges that all Americans faced “bewildering.” From unparalleled prosperity to wretched poverty during the 1920s and 1930s, the war years of the 1940s witnessed perhaps the most complex change of all. According to Woodward this was the “repudiation of a century-and-a-half of isolation as America entered World War II” (Kennedy, 1999, p. xiii). In these years from 1920 to 1945, America experienced the permanent end of international isolation. No longer could the nation temporarily select when and where to engage the world because her oceanic protection had ceased to serve as an effective shield from global threats and challenges. 3.1 A Return to Normalcy A t the start of the 1920s, most everyone in America wanted to take a collective breath and pause from the tumultuous era it had just endured. The world war, flu pandemic, labor unrest, and racial violence of the previous decade, weighed greatly on the psyche of many Americans. Many yearned for peace and strove to attain some level of calm and prosperity. The nation was becoming a different place, as the 1920 census told. Most significantly, city populations were increasing, and for the first time, more than half of the population (54 million) lived in places identified as urban. This did not mean that all of these people were living in large cities. Instead urban, according to the 1920 census, simply meant any community of more than 2,500 people. Nevertheless, times were changing, and the 1920s represented a transitioning point between traditional and modern America. As the number of people living in agricultural regions that centered on farming diminished, those drawn to the big cities increased. More than 16 million Americans now lived in the 12 cities that had populations of more than 500,000 people (Kyvig, 2002, p. 8). Despite these transitions from a traditional to modern America, there was one word that captured the spirit of this entire era. It was a word popularized by Republican Warren 125 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 125 6/10/11 12:13 PM Section 3.1 A Return to Normalcy CHAPTER 3 A large crowd gathers at the 1920 Republican Convention, where Ohio Senator Warren G. Harding was nominated for President. G. Harding as he ran for president of the United States. His word that captured the attention of the nation was normalcy. Harding explained it like this in May 1920: “America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality” (Cashman, 1989, p. 84). In this chapter, we will explore how the United States attempted to attain its new goal of normalcy in both the political and economic realms during the 1920s. The result was a reshaping of America that in many ways reflects the political and economic world that surrounds us today. Harding’s Normalcy The 1920 election was one in which Woodrow Wilson, then President of the United States, did not participate. With his health failing at the end of his term and his struggles over the League of Nations continuing, another four years as president was something he neither desired nor could endure. In his place, the Democrats selected Ohio’s Governor James M. Cox as their candidate, with Franklin D. Roosevelt as the vice president. Regardless of the outcome of the election, everyone knew that someone from Ohio was going to win the White House because the Republicans ran a conservative senator from Ohio, Warren Harding. The election was a landslide with Harding, and his vice president Calvin Coolidge, earning 16 million votes to Cox’s 9 million. Harding’s presidential approach was, in many ways, the opposite of his Progressive predecessor. The Progressive movement quickly declined after World War I as a conservatism that supported more individual freedom and a limitation of governmental activism arose (McGerr, 2005). Indeed, Harding was far more favorable to and tolerant of big business and demonstrated his convictions by changing the policies of the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Federal Reserve Board to make them much more pro-business than they were in the past. He also strove to enact legislation that gave corporations more power. For example, business owners approved Harding’s more hands-on approach to breaking strikes of organized workers and often made workers sign agreements not to join unions. Labor leaders derisively called these yellow dog contracts. However, to their credit, business leaders devised a social policy called welfare capitalism. This was a series of programs that attempted to take care of the needs of the workers through safe conditions, clean places to eat in Republican running mates in 1920: Warren G. Harding with Calvin Coolidge, in June 1920. 126 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 126 6/10/11 12:13 PM CHAPTER 3 Section 3.1 A Return to Normalcy new cafeterias, and even social events like baseball leagues. More importantly, many businesses offered health insurance that became vital to the employees. As a result, union membership declined dramatically. Harding’s appointment of four Supreme Court justices also pushed the country into a much more conservative direction. Harding’s Progressive Measures Harding was not completely opposed to all progressive ideas and demonstrated this during his second State of the Union address in 1922. He called for federal partnerships for internal improvements projects such as irrigation and conservation, he wanted more electrical plants throughout the country, and he believed that child labor should end even if that meant a new constitutional amendment (Dean, 2004). The Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Protection Act of 1921 was one of the most remarkable progressive successes on Harding’s watch. Introduced in 1918 by Jeannette Rankin, the Republican congresswoman from Montana, it became the first social welfare legislation sponsored by the federal government (Lemons, 1990). Rankin was the first woman to serve in Congress, and her bill was significant because it called for states to provide pre- and postnatal care, infant hygiene, and a place where mothers could go to learn about child care. The main incentive for the bill was the alarmingly high infant mortality rate in the United States at the time. In 1920, the infant mortality rate for live births was 95 out of 1,000 male babies and 76 out of 1,000 for female babies (Rothstein, 2003, p. 93). Between 1925 and 1929, this improved to 69 babies (male and female combined) who died out of every 1,000 live births (Eberstadt, 1995). The situation was worse among African Americans, where poverty contributed to poor health, especially in large cities. For example, in Harlem, the infant mortality rate was 70 percent higher than the rest of New York City (LaFeber, 2008, p. 136). The fact that women could now vote due to the suffrage amendment lent great support to this cause; it is likely that without women, the bill would not have passed (Tobias, 1997). Harding signed it into law in 1921. Teapot Dome and Untimely Death Though things seemed to be running smoothly for Har­ ding’s presidency, scandal was brewing underneath. The most infamous was the Teapot Dome scandal. Teapot Rock overlooks a 9,000-acre oil deposit, 50 miles north of Casper, Wyoming. In 1915, the United States established a naval oil reserve there; however, Harding’s secretary of the interior, Albert Fall, leased out these protected oil reserves to developers without competitive bidding. Fall received money under the table from the developers, calling it a “loan” of $700,000. Fall resigned on March 4, 1923, and federal authorities subsequently sent him to prison in 1931 (Noggle, 1965). This scandal demonstrated the corruption that lay within the Har­ ding administration, and much of the blame fell on Harding’s associates from Ohio whom he had appointed to President Harding’s train in Alaska with some of the entourage of 75 on the caboose. 127 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 127 6/10/11 12:13 PM CHAPTER 3 Section 3.1 A Return to Normalcy political positions. The press and others derogatorily called them the Ohio Gang. Though Harding had not personally accepted money during the Teapot Dome scandal, his close relationship to those that did cast doubt on his judgment. In June 1923, Harding planned a trip to Alaska and began campaigning for reelection along the way. To increase the range and effectiveness of his speeches, he equipped his presidential train with an innovation: a set of amplifiers mounted on the roof of the train so that thousands could hear his words. He gave more than 85 speeches and countless interviews before his train pulled into his last stop in San Francisco. However, on August 2, 1923, while his wife was reading him the Saturday Evening Post, he died. The official death certificate indicated that he died from apoplexy, which is a loss of consciousness due to a blocked blood vessel in the brain. He was just 58 years old. More than 3 million people mourned the passing of his train as it traveled from the West Coast to Washington, DC, and then back to his home in Ohio. Harding’s Legacy and Posthumous Scandal The cause of his death soon brought great speculation. The first scandal came to light when Nan Britton published her “tell-all” book, The President’s Daughter, in 1927. According to Britton, she had had a six-year affair with Harding that began when he was an Ohio senator. The Brittons and Hardings became friends in Marion, Ohio, so when Nan’s mother needed a job after her husband’s death, Nan consulted with Harding. Harding said that he was concerned for Nan and that perhaps he could “do something for her” (Britton, 1927). By late February 1919, she realized that she was to become the mother of Warren Harding’s child. According to her, Harding looked forward with anticipation to the event; on October 22, 1919, Elizabeth Ann was born. That was Britton’s side of the story, and her book became a best seller. Nan Britton (1896–1991) and her daughter, Elizabeth Ann (1919– 2005), who she claimed was fathered by then Senator Warren G. Harding. Perhaps inspired by Nan Britton, Gaston B. Means published theories regarding another scandalous Harding story in 1930 in a book called The Strange Death of President Harding. Means wrote that he met with Mrs. Har­ ding upon her return to Washington. He described her as “alert, cold, hard . . . [with] no touch of sympathy or hysteria, or feeling” (Means and Thacker, 1930, p. 258– 259). He said at that moment he knew the truth; Means surmised that she poisoned him by drugging his water glass. He believed that Mrs. Harding reveled in having the world focus on her and compliment her on how well she was handling the situation. He postulated that Mrs. Harding’s motive was the discovery of Harding’s infidelity with Nan Britton and that she also wanted to save her husband from the nepotism scandals that involved his friends. 128 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 128 6/10/11 12:13 PM CHAPTER 3 Section 3.1 A Return to Normalcy More recent analysis of Harding’s private letters have cast doubt on Britton’s story and focused more attention on the complex extramarital affair between Harding and Mrs. Carrie Phillips. However, the fact that Phillips was likely a German spy further casts doubt on Harding’s judgment (Robenalt, 2009). Nevertheless, these posthumous scandals were important for several reasons. The first was because, in Nan Britton’s case, it represented a new type of tabloid “tell-all” journalism in America that continues to this day. Second, it was politically important to the Harding legacy because it helped to unmake his reputation. On his death, the country mourned his passing more than any president since Lincoln; today, his legacy is that he is best remembered for being America’s worst president because of the scandals associated with his presidency both before and after his death (Dean, 2004). Calvin Coolidge Calvin Coolidge, Harding’s vice president, took over as chief executive upon confirmation of Harding’s death on August 3, 1923. As a Republican senator from Massachusetts, Coolidge entered the national political spotlight during his handling of the 1919 Boston Police Strike (see Section 2.7). Like Harding, Coolidge was also pro-business and believed that it was the president’s job to listen and defer to Congress. He became well known for slogans that encapsulated the Republican political philosophy, such as “The chief business of the American people is business,” which he first stated in 1925 (Kennedy, 1999). Another of his famous sayings was that “the man who builds a factory builds a temple. The man that works there worships there” (Phillips, 2003). With sayings like these, Coolidge set the tone of his presidency—which was strong on business and weak on government. Various political commentators and satirists of the day, such as H. L. Mencken, claimed in 1927 that “Silent Cal” Coolidge’s ideal day was “one on which nothing whatever happens” (Mencken, 2006). Mencken further criticized the president for evading the most important problems that confronted the nation. Coolidge did have a great task ahead of him when he took office. Few presidents in American history have assumed office with such tremendous scandals still hovering over the previous administration. Harding was responsible for establishing the important Veterans’ Bureau in 1921 (which is now called the Veterans Administration), which worked to give war veterans and their families a variety of social benefits such as health care, education, loans, insurance, and job training, but it was mired in scandal (Pencak, 2009, p. 389). The Veterans’ Bureau became a “hotbed of fraud and kickbacks” to one of Harding’s chief supporters (Brinkley and Dyer, 2004, p. 327). Further Harding problems arose during the Coolidge presidency when investigators revealed that the former president’s attorney general had allowed the Justice Department to engage in a variety of illegal activities. Despite Coolidge’s struggles to overcome the scandals of his predecessor and the general loss of confidence in government, his economic policies did result in five-and-a-half years of prosperity. Much of this was due to Andrew W. Mellon, his secretary of the treasury. The American public gave Coolidge a vote of confidence for his economic policies in 1924, when they elected him to serve another four years of office because they liked what they saw in the year-and-a-half that he served after Harding’s death. In part, he won acclaim for lowering taxes four times, and he was careful with governmental spending. He became a favorite of wealthy Americans by lowering estate taxes, and this fueled massive investment in the stock market (Greenberg, 2006). 129 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 129 6/10/11 12:13 PM CHAPTER 3 Section 3.1 A Return to Normalcy Technology in America Television At the same time people were exploring the wonders of film at movie theaters, a new technology quietly emerged in the 1920s that promised to bring moving pictures to the home. It transformed the market for the home radio by adding a visual component. Though television technology existed prior to World War II, it was not commercially viable until the Dumont Television Network began broadcasting in the 1940s. Dumont called it the “biggest window in the world” and the “answer to man’s ageless yearning for eyes and ears to pierce the barrier of distance.” Initially, static and flickering black-and white-images shadowed across the television window. By the 1960s, new advancements in color improved the picture quality, remote controls began an era of interactivity, and stereo sound vastly improved the listening experience. By the 1970s, viewers began to “time shift” by recording programs and watching them on a video cassette recorder (VCR). In the 1980s, cable networks vastly increased the number of viewing channels beyond the standard NBC, ABC, and CBS offerings. New networks like MTV (for music) and ESPN (for sports) tailored messages and programs to specific audiences. By the turn of the 21st century, digital video recorders (DVRs) enabled greater flexibility in recording programs, and the future promises increased convergence possibilities between the television and the Internet. The history of television in the United States is far more than a story of technological innovation. Even more important is the resulting cultural change—with the remarkable ability to open a window in one’s living room to instantaneously view images and sounds taking place throughout the world. Cecilia Tichi called this the “electronic hearth,” meaning that television replaced and transformed the previously communal family fire. While the radio also played a role in this transition, television’s ability to communicate in moving images gave it a much greater capability to convey messages like the devastation of war or the ecstasy of victory in an athletic competition. These shared global events watched by the world (from the Super Bowl to the Gulf War) had the power to unite the world in a common and immediate experience. For further reading see: Tichi, C. (1991). Electronic hearth: Creating an American television culture. New York: Oxford University Press. Coolidge believed that hard-working people who worshipped God were the backbone of society. Under his policies, the standard of living in the United States improved for all— but most dramatically for the wealthiest Americans. With the increased wealth, the country became infatuated with consumerism. While many took advantage of more money in their pockets to purchase radios, refrigerators, or Model-T automobiles, others were not impressed with the nation’s materialistic direction. Novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald called it the “greatest, gaudiest spree in history” (Johnson, 2001). Another aspect of Coolidge’s popularity was how often he talked to the people themselves. Taking advantage of the increasing prevalence of the radio, he began broadcasting his addresses nationwide, and families anxiously listened in their living rooms. This brought an unprecedented sense of familiarity with him, and it became a model for all future presidential administrations. He took that same approach with journalists, holding 520 press conferences, more than any president in history at that time. He also welcomed the latest newsreel technology into his private life as film crews captured him doing mundane tasks in his Vermont home (Greenberg, 2008, p. 7). 130 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 130 6/10/11 12:13 PM CHAPTER 3 Section 3.1 A Return to Normalcy Babbitt and the Economics of the 1920s One of the best ways to understand the consumer environment of the 1920s is by reading Sinclair Lewis’s novel Babbitt. The main character was George Babbitt, whose character resonated with such deep archetypal significance that the term Babbitt entered the English language. Babbitt refers to any middle-class American who is so attached to business that he or she becomes a model of narrow-mindedness, self-satisfaction, and conformity. The novel was an example of literary real- Sinclair Lewis became the first ism, meaning that it used fictional characters to try to American to win a Nobel Prize in paint an accurate portrait of the society of the time. It literature for his book Babbitt. Four is a very modern story, in that the first seven chapters year later, in 1934 it became a Hollyexplore just one day in George Babbitt’s life, foreshad- wood movie with Guy Kibbee and owing reality TV or the show 24. The central message Aline MacMahon. was clear. Modern life revolved to a fault around business and consumerism and rendered it meaningless because consumers placed too much emphasis on new technologies such as automobiles, car cigarette lighters, and alarm clocks. The high point of Babbitt’s day was driving to work and filling up his car with gas. This became something of a religious rite for him. At the gas station, he admired all the gadgets and auto accessories on sale, such as sparkplugs with “immaculate porcelain jackets.” The gas pump itself was a technological marvel, with red iron accents and an ingenuous automatic dial whose clicking gave Babbitt a sense of power. The gas station was also where Babbitt found wisdom, such as in the sign that said, “A fill in time saves getting stuck—gas to-day 31 cents” (Lewis, 1922). Sinclair Lewis concluded that this mundane activity was a rite that “fortified” Babbitt, which was, in fact, exactly what consumerism was all about in the 1920s. Therapeutic Ethos An examination of advertisements in the 1920s also reveals the economic mindset of the American people during this decade, and one of the main themes was the idea that active consumerism brought therapy to the purchaser. Known as the therapeutic ethos, this was a central way advertisers began marketing their products. One example was Listerine. Prior to the 1920s, its manufacturers sold the liquid as a dressing for wounds. However, it was not very popular, and few people saw a reason to purchase it. Then the company popularized an obscure medical term called “halitosis,” or bad breath, and suggested that its product could cure this affliction. Though this was a term that few people had ever heard of before, the advertising executives were creating a new social anxiety, claiming that halitosis could slow someone’s advancement at work or even cause a wife to reject her husband’s advances (Fox, 1997). The message for Listerine was simple—buy this product and your life will be better—thus establishing a new goal for consumerism. A remarkable number of advertisers began using this technique, perhaps the most unusual being the game of billiards or pool. It was, according to the manufacturers of pool tables, more than a game. Instead it was a sport that could be played year-round, improve mental capabilities, aid digestion, and help circulation (Lears, 2001). These techniques became 131 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 131 6/10/11 12:13 PM CHAPTER 3 Section 3.2 The New Society in the 1920s more sophisticated with the application of psychology to advertising and consumption. For example, in 1924, H. K. Nixon conducted experiments in which he tracked the eye movements of consumers as they read advertisements. He attempted to perfect the ways that images could draw consumers’ attention to read important text about a product (Jansson-Boyd, 2010, p. 10). Purchasing on Credit With all of these important reasons to buy material goods, businesses soon realized that consumers simply did not have enough money in their pockets to afford everything that they wanted. Therefore, they devised a way for them to enjoy the products immediately, but pay for them later. This technique for immediate gratification became known as buying on credit, and it was very much opposite the Victorian ethos of the 19th cenA 1920s advertisement for Listertury, which held that no upstanding citizen incurred ine stating, “Halitosis makes you any debt to society. Turning this idea on its head, in unpopular.” the 1920s debt meant that you were a strong consumer. While the trend began with more expensive items like General Motors automobiles (Henry Ford was against the use of credit), it soon extended to smaller items like refrigerators. Soon more and more people began filling their home with the latest devices, but consumers owned fewer and fewer of them outright. Conclusion When looking at the politics and economics of the 1920s, we find issues surprisingly similar to today’s headlines. Bookstores were and still are filled with tell-all books, revealing scandals and marital infidelities about contemporary figures and politicians. Furthermore, we still see the therapeutic ethos as a significant reason to make purchases, many of which are on credit today. The conclusion made by some observers is that the 1920s was when America became modern. As Nathan Miller wrote, “To an astonishing extent the 1920s resemble our own era, at the turn of the twenty-first century; in many ways that decade was a precursor of modern excesses” (Miller, 2004, p. 1). If the political and economic world helped to shape and enable the excesses of the 1920s, what did the society of this decade resemble? By looking at aspects of the “Roaring Twenties”—like sex, amusement, science, religion, and art—we will see another mirror to our own day. 3.2 The New Society in the 1920s W hen you think of the 1920s, what comes to mind? It might be jazz music, films portraying girls in flapper dresses dancing the Charleston, or pictures of Charles 132 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 132 6/10/11 12:13 PM CHAPTER 3 Section 3.2 The New Society in the 1920s Lindbergh flying and breaking distance records in his airplane. Other images might come from reading books about a time when alcohol was illegal and bootleggers and mobsters skirted the law to keep the drinks flowing. There are other prevalent symbols too, such as a rotund man, Babe Ruth, waddling around the baseball diamond as the greatest player in his era. Men in suits and hats sat in the stands cheering him on, or they read of his exploits in the newspapers, right after checking how much money the stock market made them that day. It was an economic boom time. The decade became known as the Roaring Twenties, and the celebration continued until the stock market crashed in 1929. But in this section, we are going to forget that an economic collapse, a Great Depression, and another world war were on the horizon for America. Instead, we are going to explore the new society of America in the 1920s. Society is, of course, an immensely broad topic, but we will examine the following as representative cultural themes of the decade: sex, morality, leisure, science, religion, and art. These reveal a society that surprisingly resembles our own in many ways, as well as a tension between conservative and liberal values (Drowne and Huber, 2004). The New Morality of the 1920s The 1920s was an era in which a new morality swept across the country fueled by modern expressions of sexuality and the emergence of redefined gender roles for what came to be called the New Woman. Women during this decade were much more empowered to express themselves than their foremothers. For one thing, women could now voice their opinions at the ballot box, and they strove to incorporate unprecedented freedoms of expression into their personal lives. These women were popularly known as flappers, which was a term originally describing lanky young women whose thin frames needed clothing, according to a 1920s fashion writer, with “long straight lines to cover her awkwardness.” Department stores soon began advertizing these gowns as “flapper-dresses” (Zeitz, 2006). Soon, the term moved from describing a fashion to the characteristics of the New Woman herself. Daring in her social actions and anxious to overturn staid, Victorian morals, the flapper was easily identifiable with her skirts, heavy makeup, and cigarette in hand, often taping her breasts flat to appear more physically fit and slender. They enjoyed watching the latest hero and heroine at the local movie house. The heroines included Clara Bow, Greta Garbo, and Gloria Swanson, and their films often addressed previously taboo subjects such as sex, marriage, and divorce. The new morality represented a period of liberation for women. Women were also more apt to engage in premarital sex because of the prevalence of contraceptive devices (see Section 2.3). Leading men also graced the silver screen with romantic heroes such as Douglas Fairbanks playing Zorro and Robin Hood Color illustration by Bert Wilson and Rudolph Valentino representing “a symbol of mys- showing a 1920s flapper girl applyterious, forbidden eroticism, a vicarious fulfillment of ing makeup. 133 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 133 6/10/11 12:13 PM CHAPTER 3 Section 3.2 The New Society in the 1920s dreams of illicit love and uninhibited passions” (Black, 2001, p. 27). Why Change Your Wife? Pioneering director Cecil B. DeMille’s 1920 film called Why Change Your Wife? touched upon many of these themes. The central tension in the film was between a wife, who represented the Victorian morality of the 19th century, and a husband, who wanted to break free of this and explore all the pleasures of the new relaxed morality of the 1920s. Consumer culture loomed large in this film and exemplified the therapeutic ethos, with the consumption of material goods serving as a way to achieve personal fulfillment and happiness. Audiences saw this playing out in the film as the couple had an argument over lingerie. When the wife refused to wear Why Change Your Wife? Film poster, risqué clothing (along with smoking, the Fox Trot, and 1920. other elements of flapper culture), the husband decided that he needed to change his wife, much like he might return a defective product. He returned to the department store, kissed the woman who originally modeled the lingerie for him, and began exploring other temptations of the times. When his wife found out, she separated from him, but instead of finding happiness with her traditional values, she was miserable. Soon she realized the “error” of her ways, and DeMille completed her transformation by putting her in a scandalous bathing suit at a resort, where she caught the attention of her former husband. She abandoned her Victorian ideals, adopted the erotic image of the New Woman, and accepted the new flirtatious morality of the times. It was the classic “makeover” in the 1920s, and it enabled her and her husband to reunite in a household in which they enjoyed drinking, dancing, and smoking cigars. In the final scene, she dressed in the same lingerie that they originally fought over. The message was that consumer culture was good and progressive and that if the audience failed to experience the latest commodities, they would become stuck in the rut of Victorian morality (MacDonald, 2010, pp. 61–62). The Jazz Age Music was also a central part of the 1920s, and jazz was the soundtrack of the decade. It combined African American traditional styles such as the deep soulful feeling of blues with the rhythmic beats of ragtime and, in the process, became a unique American musical form (Burns and Ward, 2000). The improvisational aspect of jazz let the musicians spontaneously explore new sonic boundaries and let audiences listening on the radio or dancing in front of big bands experience the newness and sexual openness of the “jazz age.” It started in New Orleans but soon spread to Chicago and New York (Martin and Waters, 2006, p. 89). However, it did not go mainstream until the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, which was an all-white group that was clearly not the “original” jazz band, became popular. This was one of the many examples in the 20th century where white Americans 134 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 134 6/10/11 12:13 PM CHAPTER 3 Section 3.2 The New Society in the 1920s capitalized upon and mass marketed black culture. It did pave the way for legitimate black jazz musicians like Joe “King” Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band and many others to tour the United States (Davidson, 2008, p. 703). Pushing the Boundaries at Coney Island If the new morality was prevalent on the movie screen and the dance floors of the jazz age, where else was it found in the 1920s? One unusual place was at the amusement park, best exemplified by Coney Island. Located in New York, Coney Island was a picnic destination in the late 19th century, but by the early 20th century these excur- A human roulette wheel with a sions became more frequent, with public transportation crowd of children and young adults making the journey from the city much easier. When pic- riding at New Steeplechase Park, nics failed to draw enough people, entrepreneurs began Coney Island, New York. Photobuilding “popular amusements” such as mechanical graph, 1908. rides, penny arcades, and concert halls. Soon, it became a place where men and women found themselves in close quarters, unsupervised, and anxious to test the boundaries of new social mores. The amusement rides helped them do this. There was a machine at the Luna and Dreamland parks at Coney Island that could supposedly “measure” the passion of a couple’s kiss. These parks also featured rides called the Tunnel of Love, with long dark passageways where men and women could suddenly find themselves alone. At another Coney Island destination called Steeplechase, rides like the Wedding Ring twirled around and caused strangers to fall into each others’ embraces. The Barrel of Love resulted in a similar experience for its riders. Finally, there was the Dew Drop ride, which was designed to raise women skirts to the delight of onlookers. Historian Kathy Peiss, who has extensively studied the history of leisure and working-class women, commented that Steeplechase was deliberately constructed with sexuality in mind in terms of “titillation, voyeurism, exhibitionism, and a stress on couples and romance” (Peiss, 1986, p. 136). These parks provided a “minivacation” for the urban working classes, and their numbers grew dramatically in the 1920s. The Rise of Relativism Society and culture in the 1920s represented a vibrant era for intellectuals who had remarkably reconfigured their visions of the world over the previous half-century. For example, Albert Einstein made dramatic discoveries about the universe that ironically had an influence on the new morality. As a physicist in Germany and then in the United States, Einstein proposed his special and general theories of relativity in 1905 and 1915, which consisted of complex mathematics that some skeptics suggested only he and God understood. His claims seemed bizarre, such as when he theorized that if someone approached the speed of light (186,000 miles per second), time literally slowed down, but only for them. Einstein liked to communicate his theories with “thought experiments” (because traveling near the speed of light is impossible), and one of the most famous was his “twins paradox” that demonstrated how time itself was relative to speed. He imagined one 20-year-old twin getting on a spaceship that traveled near the speed of light. According 135 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 135 6/10/11 12:14 PM CHAPTER 3 Section 3.2 The New Society in the 1920s Technology in America The Birth of the Rocket While Einstein was envisioning thought experiments with imaginary spacecraft, there was one person who made impressive real gains in rocketry. In 1926, Robert Goddard launched a liquid-fueled rocket, the first small step in the coming of the space age, which would eventually pave the way for humans to end their isolation on Earth and take their first steps on the moon. Goddard’s early motivation was reading the science fiction stories of Jules Verne. Goddard carried this passion into graduate school, where he theorized a rudimentary multistage rocket for escaping the Earth’s atmosphere. After World War I, he became a physics professor at Clark University in Massachusetts, and in 1919 published an essential book called A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes. However, few considered his work important, and the popular press often ridiculed his experiments. While this made Goddard secretive and reclusive, it did not discourage his passion for his work. His brilliance attracted Charles Lindbergh, who was his polar opposite in terms of personality as he achieved international fame with his piloting exploits. Lindbergh used this popularity to help Goddard receive grants from the Guggenheim Fund to purchase a desolate and isolated parcel of land in Roswell, New Mexico, to continue his investigations. Goddard eventually registered for 214 patents, and on March 16, 1926, he was ready for his first test, launching a liquid oxygen and gasoline–powered rocket 184 feet into the air. NASA historian Roger Launius wrote, “It heralded the modern age of rocketry and set the stage for all later space travel.” In honor of Goddard’s work, in May 1959 NASA named its third center (after Langley Research Center in Virginia and Lewis Research Center in Ohio), the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. For further reading see: Launius, R. D. (1994). NASA: A history of the U.S. civil space program. Malabar, FL: Krieger Publishing. McDougall, W. A. (1997). The heavens and the earth: A political history of the space age. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. to his theory, as the twin traveled faster and faster, time actually slowed down for her in relationship to the earthbound twin. While only a few hours elapsed on the spaceship, decades would have elapsed for the twin on Earth. In this way, Einstein said that it was possible for a 20-year-old twin to meet her 90-year-old twin sister. Scientists called this phenomena time dilation, and it has actually been experimentally proven today at very low speeds using highly accurate clocks on airplanes. In reality, this has no effect on our lives because we cannot yet travel near the speed of light. For example, if someone spent his or her entire life on an airplane, time would have only slowed down 0.00005 second for him or her (Isaacson, 2007, p. 130). (See The Birth of the Rocket.) Despite not having practical significance in the lives of Americas, Einstein’s theories were incredibly important in the 1920s. This idea that time was “relative” moved from the realm of science to culture. If time itself was relative, what else might also be placed into this category? Artists, psychologists, and anthropologists all began making suggestions. Pablo Picasso’s Cubism was a movement in art that had an incredibly abstract notion of beauty. His work was notable for its fragmented vision of the human body and also Picasso’s freedom to escape the conventional perspective of life. Art through Picasso’s vision was not about capturing or depicting the world as it was, but instead about how he saw it (Karmel, 2003). 136 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 136 6/10/11 12:14 PM CHAPTER 3 Section 3.2 The New Society in the 1920s Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis located unconscious sexual desires within the mind’s Id, suggesting that morality was no longer absolute, but was relative to time, place, and cultural attitude. Freud directly contributed to the growth of “relativism” by decentering each individual person and, in the process, delivered what he called the third of the “blows to man’s narcissism” (Holt and Freud, 1989, p. 354). Narcissism is a strong self-love or feeling of importance that extends to the realm of conceit, egotism, and vanity. Freud asserted the first blow to this belief came when Copernicus proved that the Earth was not at the center of the universe. The second blow was when Charles Darwin, the British naturalist, proposed in 1859 that all species, including humans, evolved through a slow process of natural selection. At the conceptual level, natural selection is fairly simple: (1) organisms vary, and variations can be inherited; (2) organisms produce more offspring than survive; (3) offspring that inherit variations that are favorable toward environmental conditions will survive and propagate. This is basically what natural selection is all about, and this simple theory elegantly explains the biological diversity around us today. What makes it unsettling to some is the idea that even humans have evolved through this process, making us no different than animals. Freud attempted a third blow to narcissism in which he suggested that humans were no longer the masters of themselves and that subconscious and repressed memories from childhood conditioned our responses to life far more than we realized. Also contributing to the rise of relativism were anthropologists who promoted the principle of cultural relativism. This is usually taken to mean that cultures should be understood on their own terms in a framework where all cultures are more or less equal and there is no absolute definition of morality. This reinforced the new morality of the 1920s, with the belief that there was not only one way to live a moral life (A. J. Miller, 2002). A Conservative Reaction There were many who were uncomfortable with the new morality and intellectual movements of the 1920s. Many traditional Americans resisted Freud’s psychoanalysis, Picasso’s art, Darwin’s science, and cultural relativism in general. Much like a Picasso painting, they felt that American society and culture were becoming too fractured, and they often blamed the influx of immigrants for this. One solution was the proposal of restrictive immigration laws. “Nativists,” who opposed immigration, no longer saw value in the United States as a great melting pot of cultures from around the world and sought drastic measures for excluding all new arrivals. In 1918, the American Federation of Labor and its leader Samuel Gompers proposed complete exclusion for a period of at least two years because they feared the threat of immigrant labor for existing workers. A second argument was that immigration threatened the unity of Americans and that without a strong homogenous core of people who supported traditional values, the country’s strength would soon erode (Higham, 2002, p. 305). Another conservative reaction came in 1915, when Colonel William Joseph Simmons revived the secret society known as the Ku Klux Klan, which, as discussed earlier, was a politically and racially motivated group that opposed racial equality (Nelson, 1999). This extremist organization began in the 1860s but had been mostly dormant for 40 years. Simmons, a former farmer, circuit preacher, and university lecturer, tapped into the growing opposition by many to the directions America was taking. By the 1920s, the new Klan had 137 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 137 6/10/11 12:14 PM CHAPTER 3 Section 3.2 The New Society in the 1920s millions of dues-paying members, with local chapters in all 48 states. It was a national movement that advanced far more than the notion of white supremacy. It also argued that Catholics and immigrants were dangerous for the United States, and the Klan attracted massive public crowds to celebrate its cause. For example, on July 4, 1923, tens of thousands gathered in Indiana to recognize the Klan gaining official status in the state. The Klan was once known as the Invisible Empire, but in the 1920s, there was little about it that was invisible. Newspaper writer Robert Coughlan described the event like this: There were thirty bands; but as usual in Klan parades there was no music, only the sound of drums. They rolled the slow, heavy tempo of the march from the far north end of town to Foster Park, a low meadow bordering Wildcat Creek where the Klan had put up a twenty-five-foot “fiery cross.” There were three hundred mounted Klansmen interspersed in companies among the fifty thousand hooded men, women, and children on foot. The marchers moved in good order, and the measured tread of their feet, timed to the rumbling of the drums and accented by the off-beat clatter of the horses’ hoofs, filled the night with an overpowering sound. Many of the marchers carried flaming torches, whose light threw grotesque shadows up and down Main Street. (McVeigh, 2009, pp. 2–3) Though the Klan diminished in importance by the 1930s, it proved a strong voice of discontent in the 1920s. Fundamentalism The strongest reaction against the new morality and relativism of the 1920s came from conservative religious populations. While some religions like Catholicism supported the ideas of Darwin and said that it was not in a disagreement with their reading of the Bible, many Fundamentalist Christian denominations thought otherwise. The term fundamentalism was actually coined in 1920 as a movement to restore traditional values in the face of modern indulgences and relaxed sexual morals. In California, Aimee Semple McPherson combined these fundamentalist ideas with charismatic radio broadcasts, becoming a model for later televised evangelists (Ayers, 2009, p. 685). McPherson and others, like former professional baseball player and Christian evangelist Billy Sunday, spread their conservative Christian message to millions. With their literal reading of the Bible—especially Genesis, which said that God created the heavens and the earth in six “literal” days— they began arguing that evolution (which required billions of years for creation) should not be taught in the Scopes Trial, July 10–21, 1925, in public schools. Dayton, Tennessee, where schoolteacher John Scopes was on trial for teaching the theory of evolution. His lawyer, Clarence Darrow, sits on the right. This came to a head in 1925 at the Scopes Monkey Trial, which pitted John T. Scopes, a Tennessee high school science teacher, against orator and politician William Jennings Bryan. Scopes had taught theories of evolution to 138 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 138 6/10/11 12:14 PM CHAPTER 3 Section 3.2 The New Society in the 1920s his students despite the fact that the Tennessee legislature had passed a law forbidding it. The trial was a national spectacle with heated debate about science, religion, and the place of humans in the world. Renowned lawyer Clarence Darrow handled the Scopes defense. The end result was more anticlimactic than the media-frenzied buildup. The jury found Scopes guilty of teaching evolution, and he had to pay a $100 fine. But the significance was the start of the ever-growing rift between religious fundamentalists and Darwinian evolutionists that continues to this day (Larson, 2006). Hollywood captured this story in the 1960 film called Inherit the Wind. The Great Migration Fundamentalists were clearly disenchanted with modern America in the 1920s, but they were not the only ones. Southern African Americans, tired of racial segregation, left the South to find work and a better life, primarily in industrial cities in the North. Known as the great migration, it was a dramatic relocation of the African American population. Between 1910 and 1920, the population of African Americans in New York City swelled from 91,709 to 152,467, from 44,103 to 109,458 in Chicago, and from 84,459 to 134,229 in Philadelphia. In total, more than 600,000 African Americans left the South between 1914 and 1920. The migration reshaped the American city, but as they left behind problems in the segregated South, they encountered new ones in the North, such as housing and public services discrimination, unsanitary living conditions, and a lack of health care (Ayers, 2009, p. 642). Garveyism and Africa for the Africans There were several responses to this new set of problems. One was Marcus Garvey’s “Africa for the Africans” movement in the 1920s (Garvey and Hill, 2006, p. liii). Born in Jamaica in 1887, Garvey searched for gainful employment and wound up in the United States in 1916. The troubles that he encountered in his travels made him realize that there were far larger concerns for the race itself. He believed that the way to solve the problem was through a reunification of blacks in the United States with their homeland in Africa. He established the Universal Negro Improvement Association and even built a steamship line to take blacks back to Liberia. Between 1919 and 1923, he sponsored international conventions, endorsed politicians, encouraged African American businesses, and sparked an interest in black history and culture. However, his period of influence was short-lived; he committed mail fraud (some called them trumped-up charges) and was sentenced to prison in 1925. President Coolidge commuted his sentence in 1927 and sent him back to Jamaica (Stein, 1991, p. 1). Though scholars disagree today on his overall influence, there is little doubt that he left a strong legacy in the African American community. Garveyism, according to one reporter after his death, “set in motion what was to become the most compelling force in Negro life—race and color consciousness” (Gordon, 2006, p. 165). When it died with Garvey’s arrest, it marked the end of a significant moment of black nationalism that would not be revived until Malcolm X in the 1960s (see Section 4.6). 139 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 139 6/10/11 12:14 PM CHAPTER 3 Section 3.2 The New Society in the 1920s The Harlem Renaissance Langston Hughes (1902–1967) famously said “Harlem is in vogue.” Another response to racial discrimination was by whites who became intensely interested in American black communities in the 1920s. Anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston called them Negrotarians, and they sought to bring attention to the plight of African Americans in the inner cities. One was Robert Kerlin, who scoured and excerpted poignant stories from African American newspapers and published them in 1920 in Voice of the Negro. This gave white society a firsthand perspective of what it was like to live as an African American in the United States. He wanted his book to become a “primary document in promoting knowledge of the Negro, his point of view, his way of thinking upon race relations, his grievances, his aspirations, his demands.” Kerlin was also a poet, and his eloquence was evident in his introduction to his collection. He wrote, “Here is the voice of the Negro, and his heart and mind. Here the Negro race speaks as it thinks on the question of questions for America—the race question (Kerlin, 1968, p. v). One other important role of the Negrotarian was philanthropic support of African American artists. This patronage system enabled a great expansion of black culture, especially in places like New York’s Harlem (Wintz and Finkelman, 2004, p. 881). These black intellectuals took inspiration from their African heritage and, through their works of creativity, provided racial uplift for their own communities. Eventually called the New Negro, which described African Americans with racial pride and an intense desire for equality, in Harlem the artists who demanded respect from those that continued to harbor racist ideas resulted in the Harlem Renaissance. There are numerous examples during this period, including novelists Arna Bontemps, Countee Cullen, and Jean Toomer; poets Bessie Mayle, Anne Spencer, and James Weldon Johnson; intellectuals W.E.B. Du Bois, Alain Locke, and Walter White; and artists Archibald Motley, Jacob Lawrence, and Henry Bannarn. Musicians including Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, and Duke Ellington played at popular locations like the Cotton Club, Apollo Theater, and Speakeasies. Conclusion Frederick Lewis Allen wrote one of the classic books on the 1920s called Only Yesterday. Published in 1931, it remained a best seller for years, with a half-million copies in print by 1932. He wrote it as a way to cope with the tragic deaths of his wife and daughter. In it he said that “This book is an attempt to tell, and in some measure interpret, the story of what in the future may be considered a distinct era in American history.” Allen called the 1920s a “time of revolution,” and the nation that emerged on the other side of the decade was very different that the one going in (Allen, 2000, p. ix). 140 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 140 6/10/11 12:14 PM CHAPTER 3 Section 3.3 The Crash (1929–1933) Looking back, we can see that the 1920s was “revolutionary” and “roaring” in many ways. The new morality brought a more relaxed stance on sexuality. Men and women tested these boundaries in experiential ways at amusement parks like Coney Island and at the movie theaters. It was also a complex time because of new intellectual ideas that changed the perceptions of reality. Einstein’s theories of relativity transformed a static universe into one in which the observer determined reality. Picasso reconfigured art, and Freud revised the understanding of the mind itself. These had important cultural ramifications. If culture was relative, then art was not simply a white, upper-class pursuit. It also could be found on the streets of Harlem, where many talented African American intellectuals thrived. The Harlem Renaissance demonstrated that beauty and poetry existed in many diverse areas, and this became one of the important cultural legacies of the 1920s. Conservative detractors scorned cultural relativism as destructive of shared American values. This took a variety of forms, from religious fundamentalism to the racial prejudices of the Ku Klux Klan. It is a debate that continues to this day and generates tremendous controversy by those who believe that neither morality nor culture is relative. We will see its reemergence especially in the 1990s and the “culture wars.” Other rifts in our culture today also have their genesis in the 1920s, most notably in the divide between religious fundamentalists and Darwinian evolutionists. Taken together, it is clear why many referred to the 1920s as the “new society.” But the enthusiasm and excitement would not last. Change was coming. October 1929 was approaching with an economic crash heard around the world that plunged the United States into more than 15 years of depression. 3.3 The Crash (1929–1933) I t turned out to be one of the most unexpected presidential announcements in United States history. In 1927, President Calvin Coolidge was vacationing in South Dakota when he suddenly sent slips of notepaper to a group of reporters who were following him. The notes contained a 10-word message from Coolidge himself that changed the course of U.S. history. It simply said, “I do not choose to run for President in 1928” (Ayers, 2009, p. 695). After the astonishment subsided, the Republican Party began looking for candidates to take the mantle of leadership. Herbert Hoover, the secretary of commerce, emerged as the frontrunner, and he eventually became the next President of the United States, defeating New York’s democratic governor, Alfred E. Smith, in a landslide election. A mining engineer and a Quaker from Iowa, Hoover gained fame as the U.S. food administrator during World War I, and the success in this position propelled him into his political career. He took the office of president during a time of great optimism. With the stock market on a perpetual rise, credit easy to come by, and jobs for those who wanted to work, it seemed that many of society’s ills were on the road to elimination. Hoover himself shared this optimism and announced in 1928 that we are “nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land. The poorhouse is vanishing among us” (Brands, 2009, p. 221). This soon became one of the most ill-timed statements ever made by a U.S. president. Just 15 months later, fear and panic swept through the nation as the stock market crashed. It ushered in an era called simply the Great Depression. Radiating from its epicenter in the United States and quickly affecting the rest of the world, the poor, hungry, and jobless 141 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 141 6/10/11 12:14 PM CHAPTER 3 Section 3.3 The Crash (1929–1933) seemed to increase in numbers every day. In this section, we will explore the causes of this economic catastrophe, Hoover’s response, and the consequences and experiences of the American people during this trying time. A Quiet Storm Between 1925 and 1929, many Americans enjoyed the fruits of capitalism. While there were certainly numerous poor people throughout the country, never before had there been so many who were either wealthy or living much better than they imagined. Existing businesses were turning profits, and new businesses opened every day. The automobile industry exemplified this growth. In 1926, it produced 4.3 million cars, and just three years later, production increased to 5.3 million. It seemed that the only outlook for the future was an optimistic one (Galbraith, 2009, p. 2). But there was a quiet storm brewing that few, if any, noticed. Herbert Hoover (1874–1964), before a crowd on his campaign train during his successful run for the presidency against Democrat, Alfred E. Smith. 1928. One of the flaws of the system was the way that many people purchased stocks and invested in this economy. Stock prices rose nearly every day, and there was a surplus of buyers, which drove up the price. Everyone had a tip on the next hot stock, and often they were right, which fueled the speculative frenzy. Between May and September 1929 the average stock increased by 40 percent. In order to buy more stocks, people began purchasing on margin, which meant that people were enticed to buy stocks with loans from their brokers. Money seemed easy to make as exemplified by the film Stocks and Blondes. The problem was what happened if the stocks decreased in value for those who purchased on margin. If a stock decreased, then it became very difficult to repay the loan. Few people imagined this scenario could happen, and brokerage firms encouraged everyone to enter the stock market on margin. With their very low credit rates, many people took the brokers’ advice and borrowed money to invest. This was the quiet storm that was about to erupt. October 1929 The 1920s stock market hit its highest point on September 3, 1929. In the days immediately after, it began to erratically drift lower, but few people expressed concern. In mid-October, Irving Fischer, a well-respected economics professor from Yale, optimistically proclaimed that stocks would maintain their high plateau. But this began to change on Thursday, October 24, 1929. Within hours, panic streamed across all media outlets of the day. Boys selling the morning newspapers shouted Crowd gathers outside the New York Stock Exchange during the Crash of October 1929. 142 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 142 6/10/11 12:14 PM CHAPTER 3 Section 3.3 The Crash (1929–1933) the dire warnings. Radio announcers speculated about a problem. In New York’s financial district, the concern was evident on everyone’s faces (Smith, 2003, p. 124). What was happening was a massive stock sell-off unlike any in history. It happened so rapidly that the stock ticker, which conveyed the status of the market to the brokerage houses, could not keep up with the news, and many people could not find out how bad the situation really was. Officials at the New York Stock Exchange ushered people away from the viewing windows. Police arrived on the scene. By 11:30 in the morning, it was clear that the market was disintegrating. Observing the hysteria on Wall Street, one reporter from the Saturday Evening Post said that they looked like “dying men counting their own last pulse beats” (Thomas and Morgan, 1979, p. 363). By November, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, a measure of the top 30 stocks in the country, had declined 50 percent in just two months. Released one year before the Brokerage houses began calling back loans from inves- crash occurred, Stocks and Blondes tors who had purchased on margin. Few people had the depicted a booming economy. resources to cover their debts, and many went bankrupt. To make matters worse, companies failed, jobs were lost, and the spiraling downward economy left few standing in its wake. Causes of the Great Depression While the dramatic images of people tearing up their stock certificates and jumping from windows to their death represented the start of the Great Depression, in reality, the stock market crash was not the sole cause. While it was the first sign of impending economic disaster, there were several factors that contributed to and caused the Great Depression. The first was one of diversification. Much of the success of the nation’s economy rested in the hands of too few industries, such as construction and automobiles. In 1929, these began to lose profitability, and newer industries in areas like plastics and chemicals could not grow as fast as the others were declining (Brinkley, 2010, p. 654). The shift from industrial production to new and profitable sectors like chemicals, consumer packaging, and customer service could not lessen the length or severity of the Depression. A second cause was a weaker consumer. Mass consumption was one of the primary stimulants to the American economy in the 1920s, with people taking advantage of higher wages to purchase household goods. As the decade went on, employers returned fewer profits to the workers, which diminished their ability to purchase nonessential goods and services. Business owners began taking more profit for themselves and expanding their production capabilities. In economic terms, the supply side increased at the expense of the demand side because owners kept wages as low as possible (Tindall and Shi, 2006, p. 1147). The declining purchase power did not initially affect business because consumers could buy on credit. 143 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 143 6/10/11 12:14 PM CHAPTER 3 Section 3.3 The Crash (1929–1933) This related to the third cause of the Great Depression: increasing debt. Because workers had less disposable income to buy the products they needed or wanted, credit became an option for them to buy now and pay later. People began paying for larger and more expensive items with credit, such as automobiles. With wages not increasing fast enough to keep pace with the credit demands, many people defaulted on loans. Bankers, hoping to recoup their losses, often invested funds in the stock market. After the market crash suddenly the banks were also struggling to stay alive. Between 1930 and 1933, banks began to fail, and this essentially shut down the American financial system (Bernanke, 2000). A fourth issue was that the economic collapse became a worldwide problem. The United States had the largest economy in the world at the time and, during the 1920s, spent a tremendous amount of money investing in rebuilding Europe after World War I. But when the European economy started to falter, the United States suspended its international investments, and this weakened the economies of nations throughout the world. To compound this issue, America increased the import tariff with the Hawley-Smoot Tariff of 1930. This law raised U.S. tariffs on roughly 20,000 imported goods, making it very difficult for manufacturers in Europe to sell goods to the United States. As noted historian Richard Hofstadter described it, this legislation “was a virtual declaration of economic war on the rest of the world” (Houck, 2001). For example, the tariff raised duties on all Japanese imports by 23 percent, causing hundreds of small businesses in Japan to close (Brendon, 2000). Furthermore, when Germany could not pay back war debts to France and England in 1928, these nations in turn could not repay their debts to the United States, and a devastating depression swept through these European nations. In Germany, a young Adolph Hitler took advantage of the depression in his country to ascend to power (Cravens, 2009). Hoover and the Depression While Hoover lacked the authority to prevent banks from failing or offering a safety net to those who were penniless and without jobs, he nevertheless attempted to coordinate a federal response to help the nation. The problem was that he acted neither quickly nor creatively to the crisis. His first plan was to convene a conference of business leaders in Washington, DC. There, he tried to win their support for a voluntary plan to help the economy and restore confidence among Americans. He wanted business executives to retain their employees; at the same time, he tried to convince labor leaders not to strike for higher wages. By 1931, it was clear that these voluntary measures were not working. Because the federal government did not have the power to enforce its demands, business leaders simply did whatever they thought would best help their own businesses survive. Other Hoover programs also backfired. While he asked Congress for a massive (at that time) $432 million public works program, he was so concerned about a federal deficit that he raised taxes in 1932 to pay for it. This was perhaps the worst year of Squatter’s shacks in Central Park the Depression, and Hoover’s taxes made it even more with the landmark Dakota Apartment building in the background. difficult. 144 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 144 6/10/11 12:14 PM CHAPTER 3 Section 3.3 The Crash (1929–1933) However, Hoover did make some positive attempts to combat the Depression. One example was the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), which granted federal loans to struggling businesses, such as banks, insurance companies, and railroads, to prevent them from collapse. It was widely regarded as a failure because, despite its budget and authority to lend several billion dollars to railroads and banks, RFC officials only loaned money to organizations it felt had enough collateral to pay back the loans (Ippolito, 2003). This was a too-conservative approach, and the RFC only used 20 percent of its funds to help businesses in need. The Response to Hoover Hoover very quickly began losing the support and confidence of the American people. Unemployment was one of the most visible signs of the Depression. It was not unusual for some cities to have a 50 percent unemployment rate. Men without work aimlessly walked the streets during the day in hopes of finding employment. They had few options with no governmental aid and only private charities doing what they could to feed the poor and homeless. In most areas of the country during the Depression, the African American unemployment, poverty, and homelessness rates were higher than they were for the white population. The great migration resulted in nearly 400,000 African Americans leaving their homes in the South to find work in the North. Even though African Americans were closely tied to the Republican Party, many of Hoover’s decisions alienated them. He failed to renounce lynching and nominated John J. Parker to the Supreme Court, a man who believed African American participation in politics was a “source of evil and danger to both races” (Jonas, 2005). Though the Senate rejected the nomination, it brought Hoover’s own judgment into question. The press corps soon abandoned Hoover, too. He rarely said anything of substance in his news conferences, and soon the 200 reporters who typically gathered to hear him speak dwindled to just 12. Without the support of the press, Hoover was unable to convince the American people that he was working to bring an end to the Depression. The American farmers were especially distraught. Like those seeking industrial jobs, the farmers also struggled. One-third of all farmers lost their lands, and they migrated further westward with whatever possessions they could carry with them in hopes of starting over. Western farmers not only had the Depression to contend with, but also the worst drought in the nation’s history. Their fields turned into dust bowls that made it nearly impossible for some to grow crops. John Steinbeck’s classic novel The Grapes of Wrath told the harrowing story of an Oklahoma farm family who abandoned their land because of the dust storms, drought, and depression (Gregory, 1989). High interest rates also hurt them, along with the soaring costs of farming goods and the African American seasonal cotton workers waiting in hopes of being hired for a day. During the Great Depression, tractors, combined with low cotton prices, created hard times for agricultural workers. 145 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 145 6/10/11 12:14 PM CHAPTER 3 Section 3.3 The Crash (1929–1933) Technology in America Rural Electrification Nighttime during the 1930s in Indiana was a vast sea of darkness, as it was for nearly all of rural America. In the countryside, the only light after sundown came from candles and oil lamps. The main electrical company in Indiana was the Indiana General Service, and only 4 percent of its customers lived in rural areas. In 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt’s Rural Electrification Act (REA) ended the electrical isolation of agrarian populations throughout America. Indiana was the first state to begin this process, and the initial REA farm in Muncie turned on its lights on May 22, 1936—the result of 60 miles of electrical cable. But electrification meant more than just light in darkness and a stronger connection to the outside world. It also opened an important new market for electrical appliances. The REA helped private electrification companies recoup their investments by sponsoring traveling appliance shows beginning in 1938. Patterned after a Barnum and Bailey circus, these shows included a huge tent erected in an empty field; instead of lions and tigers, there were electrical stoves, refrigerators, and hay dryers inside the tents. More than 5,000 people per day traveled to these big tents from neighboring towns. There were several significant effects of electrification. It improved farm life through the influx of labor-saving products. However, at the same time, it began a vast reduction in farm population because, as productivity increased, the number of farm laborers decreased. Most importantly, as David Nye wrote in his book Electrifying America, electrification ended rural isolation by increasing a city’s integration “irrevocably to a national culture.” Rural electrification meant that those separated from large industrial centers could now go to the movies, listen to the radio, and eventually watch television. Electricity was the enabling factor in the end of their isolation. For further reading see: Nye, D. E. (1990). Electrifying America: Social meanings of a new technology, 1880–1940. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. low prices for their crops. But it was more than economic and environmental conditions that threatened their lives. Farmers felt that no one in government supported them or the agrarian value system in America. In response, they established the Farmers’ Holiday Association. Founded in 1932 by Milo Reno and the Iowa Farmers’ Union, its goals were to raise national attention to their plight, as well as increase prices for farm products and decrease foreclosures on farmers’ lands (Stock, 1997, p. 128). Families everywhere suffered under the intense economic strains. Many shared homes with relatives who had no other place to go, while others with rooms to spare accepted borders who paid rent. The experience for women was also difficult because the Depression erased many of the professional gains they had made. With jobs being scarce, most believed that women belonged in the home and not taking a job away from out-of-work men. As a result, women tended to their domestic responsibilities and looked for ways to earn extra money by doing laundry, selling baked goods, or sewing clothes. Despite these hardships, the previously increasing divorce rate temporarily declined during the Depression (Clarke-Stewart and Brentano, 2007). In the 1930s, many men walked away from their families when they could not bear the indignity of being unable to provide for them. Violence was also more common in households during the Depression as men sometimes expressed their frustrations through drinking and abuse. Jane Addams made the following observation about families and the Depression in 1931: “I have watched fear grip the 146 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 146 6/10/11 12:14 PM CHAPTER 3 Section 3.4 Roosevelt and the New Deal (1933–1939) people in our neighborhood around Hull-House. Men and women have seen their small savings disappear. Heads of families see hunger for their children—one of the most wretched things to endure” (Fradin and Fradin, 2006, p. 174). American veterans were another group that strongly protested the Hoover policies. During the summer of 1932, more than 45,000 World War I veterans, calling themselves the Bonus Expeditionary Force or the Bonus Army, marched on Washington, DC. Most of them had lost their jobs during the Depression, and then the government failed to uphold an eight-year-old promise to pay a bonus due to them for their military service. During the march, the Senate did not pass the “bonus bill.” This bill would have moved forward the date when the veterans received their bonus, and Hoover feared violence after the bill’s defeat. He called his Army chief of staff, Douglas MacArthur, to drive tanks through the streets to disperse the marchers. The sad irony of sending the U.S. Army against its own veterans was difficult for many to accept (Dickson and Allen, 2004). This was the most devastating blow to Hoover’s reputation. Bonus Army veterans from California bed down on the Capitol grounds. The World War I veterans protested to Congress for passage of the Bonus Bill, which allowed early payment of the bonuses, some worth as much as $625 per soldier. Conclusion The first three years of the Great Depression demonstrated the severity and complexity of the economic problems facing the nation. A few days before his death, former President Calvin Coolidge, who had championed a business environment with few governmental regulations and reveled in the prosperity of the 1920s, saw little hope for the future. In January 1933, he told a reporter, “In other periods of depression it has always been possible to see some things which were solid and upon which you could base hope. But as I look about, I now see nothing to give ground for hope, nothing of man” (Watkins, 1999, p. 53). In the months before the 1932 election, few believed that Hoover would remain in office. His policies did little to bring relief, and with the Republicans controlling the White House for 12 years, the American people were ready for a change. They wanted a “new deal” with the hopes of bringing an end to the depression and the start of a new era of prosperity. 3.4 Roosevelt and the New Deal (1933–1939) I n 1932, during some of the worst times of the Depression, Democrats nominated the governor of New York, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, to run for the presidency. He had a famous name (distant cousin to former president Theodore Roosevelt) and a fiery and charismatic persona. While he was giving his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention, the Bonus Army still camped in Washington, DC, and the nation struggled 147 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 147 6/10/11 12:14 PM Section 3.4 Roosevelt and the New Deal (1933–1939) CHAPTER 3 desperately in the throes of the Depression. Roosevelt had a comment in his speech that he delivered with particular conviction. He said, “Republican leaders not only have failed in material things, they have failed in national vision, because in disaster they have held out no hope . . . I pledge you, I pledge myself to a new deal for the American people” (Houck, 2001). His rhetoric inspired the American people at a time when hope was fading. After Roosevelt won the 1932 election, the New Deal became one of the most well-known political labels in American history. While the merits and results are still debated today, it unquestionably changed the course of U.S. history. When Roosevelt first uttered these words, the New Deal was an undefined hope for change, but it eventually became a series of programs that fundamentally reshaped America and included the beginnings of the modern welfare system and increasing powers of regulation for the federal government. The programs reinterpreted the relationship between the people and their government; in the process, Roosevelt became known as the “founding father” of American liberalism. As historian Alonzo Hamby wrote, FDR’s “legacy to the nation was no less than a new political tradition” (Hamby, 1992). The Rendezvous with Destiny Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was born in 1882 to a wealthy family in New York. Though not enamored with the academic world, he attended Harvard and Columbia Law School but did not distinguish himself as a remarkable scholar. Nevertheless, because of his heritage and family name, a well-known Wall Street law firm offered him a position, and it appeared his future would be one of a typical lawyer. Roosevelt had other ideas though and knew that his passions lay with politics. He got his first opportunity to pursue this in 1910, when the Democratic Party nominated him to run for state assembly. Visibly struggling through some of his speeches and his attempts to connect with the farmers who asked him questions, few gave his political career much hope. However, Roosevelt won the election in an upset (Hamby, 1992). Roosevelt soon lent his support to New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson in his bid to become president, and FDR eventually became an important presence for Wilson in New York. In return, after Wilson won the presidency, he appointed Roosevelt to the position of assistant secretary of the navy. It was the same job once held by Theodore Roosevelt. FDR soon found the appointment far more important than he first imagined as the United States entered World War I. Though FDR did not have a military background, he became responsible for the daily administrative duties of the entire navy, and he performed his job admirably. After the war, the Democratic Party selected him to run in the 1920 presidential election as vice president to James Cox. Despite the loss Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945) when the country voted for the Republican ticket led by campaigning for president against Warren Harding, it seemed that FDR was destined to incumbent Herbert Hoover. A enjoy a long life in politics. However, a personal tragedy paraplegic from polio, he used his nearly ended that career when, at age 39, he contracted car to compensate for his difficulty polio. in walking. 148 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 148 6/10/11 12:14 PM Section 3.4 Roosevelt and the New Deal (1933–1939) CHAPTER 3 At this time polio was a frightening and contagious disease that attacked the central nervous system and destroyed or greatly diminished muscular capabilities. It included a spectrum of symptoms from weakness to paralysis. Though we often forget about it today (Jonas Salk’s vaccine in the 1950s virtually eradicated polio), in the 1920s it was common for cities to have polio epidemics in the summer months (Oshinsky, 2005b). For FDR, polio was an incredible personal struggle in which he battled not just the disease, but also his overbearing mother’s plan for him to live the rest of his life on their country estate as an invalid. FDR wanted an active and independent lifestyle and endured several years of intense rehabilitative therapy. Despite his efforts, he never regained the use of his legs and walked with the help of leg braces the rest of his life. Undaunted by his handicap, in 1928 he returned to politics as the governor of New York, and with several years of success there, he became the favored choice to run for president in 1932. The election was a landslide, with FDR defeating Hoover soundly in all but four states. It was a “rendezvous with destiny” (Roosevelt, 1944). its The Inauguration The Depression reached it most devastating point in the months between FDR’s victory and when he entered the White House. The banks were collapsing, panic was growing, and hope was fading. When FDR finally took the oath of office, he knew that this was a moment to inject confidence in the American people, and his rousing speech on March 4, 1933, did just that. In the midst of panic, Americans saw and heard confidence. Most notably, FDR said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” (Roosevelt, 1944). While few people knew of his battles with polio, a secret that even the press kept for him, FDR included allusions to it in his address. He said that the fear that gripped the nation was a “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” The word “paralyzes” was an important one. Through his own experiences with literal paralysis, he deeply empathized with the economic paralysis most Americans felt. He knew the fear that it brought, and understood that victory came only by meeting the challenge head-on. He did not enter the White House alone. When we consider the significance of FDR, we must also take a moment to look at the importance of his wife. Eleanor Roosevelt was a woman of extreme influence in the history of the 20th century. Her social activism turned her into an icon and an inspiration around the world. She transformed the position of “First Lady” of the United States from being a ceremonial observer to an active participant in the politics of her day. She became the first woman to serve as a delegate to the United Nations. She was involved politically as the first woman to lead the Democratic Party, and many thought of her as the “conscience of the nation,” “FDR’s eyes and ears,” and the “first lady of the world” (Black, 1999). She also broke down many other gender barriers by becoming the first woman to testify before Congress, offer her commentary First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt completes the first flight ever made by a president’s wife when she flew from Newark, New Jersey, to Washington, DC. March 16, 1933. 149 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 149 6/10/11 12:14 PM Section 3.4 Roosevelt and the New Deal (1933–1939) CHAPTER 3 on the radio, speak before a party convention, write a syndicated column in a newspaper, and go on tour earning money as a lecturer. She also became the first presidential wife to hold her own press conferences (Goodwin, 1995). Despite her prodigious capabilities, while her husband spoke about escaping the fear that gripped the nation during his inauguration, Eleanor recalled that the moment was “very, very solemn and a little terrifying” (Wolin, 2010). It was terrifying because Eleanor said that “when Franklin got to that part of his speech when he said it might become necessary for him to assume powers ordinarily granted to a President in war time, he received the biggest demonstration.” Eleanor was concerned about a president, even her husband, having wartime powers in an era of peace. She said, “One has a feeling of going in blindly because we’re in a tremendous stream, and none of us knows where we’re going to land” (Schlesinger, 2003). The First 100 Days—Banks and Beer The Roosevelt administration hit the ground running. From March to June 1933, a period of time referred to as FDR’s first 100 days in office, he initiated a tremendous amount of new legislation directed at immediate improvements to the economy. His decisive actions were unprecedented in American history. The first place he directed his attention was the banks. He assembled his cabinet of advisors and decided to close all the banks for four days, calling it a bank holiday. The purpose of it was to prevent the runs on the banks by investors who were afraid of losing all of their money. It also gave the federal government time to figure out how to write legislation to strengthen them (J. E. Smith, 2008, p. 306). The result was the Emergency Banking Act that Congress signed into law three days later. It gave power to the Treasury Department to inspect the banks and ensure that they were operating wisely. The act also provided some federal funds to further support the banks. Importantly, FDR rejected the notion of nationalizing the banks, or bringing them all under the control of the federal government. This was what Hitler was doing in Germany during this period, and FDR wanted to avoid this solution. The Emergency Banking Act was successful in restoring confidence as $1 billion in currency quickly moved from under people’s mattresses or in coffee cans back into the banks. One of the reasons for this confidence was the creation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). This corporation guaranteed that the government insured all bank deposits under $5,000. If the bank failed, customers got their money back from the government. FDR knew that improving morale was also essential in any recovery, both physical and economic. He felt that his own presence was one way to achieve this, and in an era before television and long before the Internet, the best way to do this was through radio. Radio brought his voice instantly into the living rooms of millions of Americans, and he called these informal addresses Portraits of Franklin Roosevelt (1882–1945) and his Vice President, John Garner (1868–1967), on the cover of the Official Inaugural Program, March 4, 1933. 150 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 150 6/10/11 12:14 PM Section 3.4 Roosevelt and the New Deal (1933–1939) CHAPTER 3 Fireside Chats. One of positive messages in his first chat was to announce plans to eliminate prohibition. Called the Beer Bill, it legalized the sale and consumption of 3.2 percent alcohol beers and light wines. Within a few days of taking office, FDR managed to raise the nation’s spirits with alcohol and made them feel more secure with their local banks (Kiewe, 2007, p. 134). Eventually this would lead to the Twenty-first Amendment that completely repealed Prohibition. The Emergency Banking Act of 1933 temporarily closed down insolvent banks. One-third of the country’s banks never reopened. The Agricultural Adjustment Act The farmers were one of the groups of people hardest hit by the Depression. As a result, FDR tailored his first massive program to come to their aid with a plan called the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA). It passed Congress in May 1933 and had several goals. The first was to reduce the output from American farms, which resulted in the surplus of food that drove down the price at market. Representatives from the major commodities industries (corn, cotton, wheat, tobacco, and rice) decided on an overall production limit. Then the government took this number, and the AAA directors officially told each farmer how much they could produce. The government also had funds to pay some farmers for leaving their land open. This worked well in the short term and strengthened the agricultural industry. But mainly, the large farms reaped most of the benefits, and it put the smaller farmer at a disadvantage. As a result, in 1936 the Supreme Court suspended the AAA because the Justices argued it was unconstitutional to limit farm production (O’Sullivan and Keuchel, 1989). The National Industrial Recovery Act While clearly the agricultural workers were struggling, so too was industry, and FDR addressed its problems through the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA). There were two main components to this plan. The first was the creation of public works projects to improve and beautify the nation’s infrastructure and also put people to work. FDR allocated $3.3 billion to create new buildings, roads, and flood controls. There are numerous examples of these projects that are still in use today, such as Chicago’s subway system, Skyline Drive in Virginia, and New York’s Triborough Bridge. The second main part of this plan was establishment of the National Recovery Administration (NRA). This was controversial because the federal government established, along with input from consumers, laborers, and industry leaders, “fair practices” or codes of conduct in all industries. Textiles were the first industry to come under these practices. The process worked like this. Business leaders proposed a code that covered items like production schedules, wages, and prices. The code then went to workers and consumers for review, who highlighted key areas where, from their perspective, the code was unfair. The NRA then stepped in to work through a compromise. These compromises led to minimum wages, elimination of child labor, collective bargaining for union workers, and limits to working hours per week. While these were positive developments that are an 151 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 151 6/10/11 12:14 PM Section 3.4 Roosevelt and the New Deal (1933–1939) CHAPTER 3 unquestioned part of the industrial workforce today, the Supreme Court called the NRA unconstitutional in 1935. There were significant problems with it, such as larger organizations dominating the code writing and tailoring them to their benefit. There were other problems, too. Most African Americans received no benefits from the program. Nevertheless, it was a short-term boost to industry that despite its abrupt ending left an enduring mark (Brands, 2009). Tennessee Valley Authority There were two competing ideas for how to bring the nation out of the Depression. The first was through private interests and the second was through nationalization—having the federal government take over certain aspects of the economy. Examples of the first approach included the AAA and NRA, while an example of the second was the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The TVA was a plan to use federal funds to help develop sources of inexpensive electricity. During World War I, the government began construction of a large dam at Muscle Shoals on the Tennessee River in Alabama. When the war came to an end, the project stalled and was left unfinished. FDR thought that 1933 was the time to return to it and proposed completing Muscle Shoals and building other dams in the region known as the Tennessee Valley. Its goals were to reduce flooding, develop electricity, promote reforestation, and assist local farmers (Hargrove, 1994). Ultimately, its results were both positive and negative. It brought increased prosperity to the region, and saved several millions of acres of land from erosion. But, overall, the TVA did not end the poverty in the region, and thousands of families lost their farms when the government pushed them off their land (Davidson, 2008). The TVA still exists today and provides electricity that serves 9 million people in 7 states. Welfare Reforms For the average American out of work, these New Deal programs might have been, in theory, a positive step on the road to recovery; however, they did not provide immediate relief. In truth, FDR did not consider direct aid to the people his most important task, but it was important enough that he addressed it in his first 100 days. FDR attempted to achieve this in his first term through three programs called the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), and the Civil Works Administration (CWA). The CCC targeted unemployed and unmarried men between 18 and 25 years old and sought to give them jobs. More than 3 million men earned $30 per month working on national conservation projects in parks, President Franklin D. Roosevelt forests, and other recreational areas. FERA provided having lunch at a mess table in money directly to states to help relief agencies. In part Camp Fechner, a Civilian Conthis included a “dole” or a welfare system. Finally, the servation camp, at Big Meadows, CWA put 4 million people to work in a variety of civil Virginia. He is surrounded by uniprojects, such as leaf raking and ditch digging. Look- formed CCC recruits and members ing back on these public welfare efforts, FDR said the of his administration. 152 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 152 6/10/11 12:14 PM CHAPTER 3 Section 3.4 Roosevelt and the New Deal (1933–1939) following at his second inauguration address: “the test of our progress is not whether we add to the abundance of those who have much. It is whether we add to the abundance of those who have too little” (Alter, 2006). Relationship with Congress Roosevelt had a complex relationship with the U.S. The New Deal Farm Security Congress and was a master at pressuring and comproAdministration offered benefits mising with his conservative detractors to the New Deal to struggling farmers and their programs. Each of the bills was different in how FDR families. negotiated with Congress, but the Farm Relief Act is important for understanding the overall relationship. The act sought to increase the number of agricultural products that the AAA could control. At the beginning, FDR sent a message to Congress asking for quick passage due to the timing of the crop cycle. It was March, and the farmers needed immediate relief for the upcoming growing season. Nevertheless, there was significant delay in Congress. Joseph Martin, the Republican representative from Massachusetts (and later the Speaker of the House), suggested that the Farm Relief Act would transform the United States into Moscow-style communism. He also thought that the increased taxes would unfairly burden the American consumer. The act eventually became law, with a key Roosevelt concession. He appointed George Peek, one of the most vocal opponents of crop restriction, to actually head the AAA. Peek’s appointment was ironic given that one of the AAA’s main goals was the planned restriction of crop production. This concession began what one historian called an “enduring program of national planning in agriculture,” and FDR made it a reality through an unusual and significant compromise (Freidel, 1990). Timeline of the 100 Days Not all of the main programs enacted during the first 100 days have been discussed. To give you an indication of the speed and scope of the legislation during this first 100 days, here is a synopsis of some of the main legislation (Brinkley, 2010): Date Program Description March 9, 1933 Emergency Banking Relief Act See earlier description in chapter. March 20 The Economy Act Gave the federal government the power to control salaries and reorganize agencies in the interest of the economy. March 31 Civilian Conservation Corps See earlier description in chapter. April 7 Farm Relief Act See earlier description in chapter. April 19 Gold Standard Abandoned the gold standard. See the Gold Repeal Joint Resolution below. May 12 Federal Emergency Relief Act See earlier description in chapter. May 12 Agricultural Adjustment Act See earlier description in chapter. 153 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 153 6/10/11 12:14 PM CHAPTER 3 Section 3.5 Depression Era Culture (1930s) Date Program Description May 12 Emergency Farm Mortgage Act Provided for the refinancing of farm mortgages. May 18 Tennessee Valley Authority See earlier description in chapter. June 5 Gold Repeal Joint Resolution Canceled the gold clause in federal and private debts. This meant that all debts could be paid in legal tender. This was the final step in ending the gold standard. June 13 Home Owners Loan Act Refinanced home mortgages at lower monthly payments. June 16 National Industrial Recovery Act See earlier description in chapter. Conclusion FDR’s first 100 days in office was a remarkable period and is known today as the genesis of the “alphabet soup” of programs (because of their various acronyms like the AAA, CCC, and FERA) that contributed, sometimes in very controversial ways, to easing the economic strains facing the nation. It needs to be emphasized that neither FDR nor these programs brought an end to the Depression itself. The Depression lasted not only well beyond FDR’s first 100 days in office, but also through his firs...
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