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The "Roaring Twenties"

Course Code
Dr.Liamvan Beek

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HIS271 The Roaring TwentiesFebruary 9th 2011
What did the major debates/conflicts of the turn of the decade reveal about deeper
social and cultural divisions of the 1920s?
Why do you think this decade has been characterized as exciting, modern, expansive,
creative, and liberating? Do you think this is an apt characterization?
What tensions existed between modernity and tradition in this period?
Below the surface of unity and patriotism, there was a great deal of conflict
The inability of the war to resolve these conflicts left many Americans disillusioned
after 1918
So, the result of the 1920s was a turning inward both in foreign policy and
In many cases there was a move away from the reform spirit
Influenza Pandemic
It hit communities so hard and so fast that it crippled their infrastructure and
inhibited their ability to alert and record the characteristics of it
Three waves of the flu hit, and around 20 million people died worldwide
In the US, around 700,000 people died, more than twice the casualties of their WWI
The event of this flu, directly following the war, was stressful and caused anxiety
Economic Unrest
There was also economic turmoil
During the war, the US made quite a bit of money, especially in the agricultural

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HIS271 The Roaring TwentiesFebruary 9th 2011
Because much of the European farms were destroyed because of the war, American
farmers were making a fortune shipping their produce
When the war ended, though, this ended as well
Labour regulations and higher wages during the war also disappeared
The cost of food and clothing more than doubled after the war
The agricultural sector was probably the hardest hit; more than half a million
farmers lost their land
This was made worse because many farmers had taken out loans to buy more land
during the war and now they couldnt pay those loans back
This was made worse by the rise in labour unrest
Corporations tried to stabilize the economy in a variety of different ways;
Businesses introduced welfare capitalists, which envisioned the business owner as
the guardian of the welfare of the workers
All of this was in the hope that workers would identify more personally with their
Other corporations implemented the open shop system, promising that no worker
would be required to join a union, but in the end this was used to undermine unions
Although many of these reforms were supposed to be for the benefit of the workers,
they actually undermined their ability to organize
Union membership dropped 65% during this period
Employers introduced new workplace hierarchies, introducing distinctions between
blue and white collar work
Issues of race and ethnicity were also issues which prevented workers from
Another problem facing labourers was a general distaste for union radicalism
General distaste for radicalism

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HIS271 The Roaring TwentiesFebruary 9th 2011
Red Scare
Often time, labour unrest was linked with socialism
So this general distaste for radicalism found an outlet in the spectre of the
fear/hatred of communism
Between 1900-1914, the support for socialism was at its peak in US
Americans increasingly began to link labour unrest and any kind of radicalism with
the socialist impulse
This fear was used as a broader tool to put down dissent in the US
What followed was a campaign to weed out radicals in the US
There were numerous attacks on the IWW and unions of Russian workers
A number of states ratified wartime sedition acts
Anyone promoting radicalism or revolution of anytime were punished ranging from
deportation to jail time
The federal government a series of raids was conducted across the US which saw
thousands arrested and hundreds deported
What made these fears all the more significant was the way they were tied to other
Stemming the Flow of Immigration
Anti-socialism was very closely linked to anti-immigration
There were a variety of laws passed with the intention of limiting immigration
In 1921, they pass the Quota Act, setting strict limits on the number of immigrants
arriving from specific regions
The Immigration Act of 1924 cut the Quota from 3% to 2% and the base of that
percentage was moved to 1890, meaning that the first wave immigrants were
privileged over newer waves of immigrants coming from places like southern and
eastern Europe
The act also cut off all immigration from Japan
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