Normalcy “, or a return to tranquility and isolationism. The country demobilized

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1st Passage: Domestic and Foreign policy during the 20’s

After World War I, the country found itself with Presidents that had to readjust to a post war America. Warren Harding won his bid for the White House in 1920 with the campaign slogan "Return to Normalcy “, or a return to tranquility and isolationism. The country demobilized, disarmed, in the years that followed and focused on business. Yet, Harding found himself mired in scandals. In The Teapot Dome Scandal, Harding’s Secretary of the Interior was caught accepting bribes from private oil companies to lease public lands. Harding fell ill in 1923 and died shortly thereafter. The country saw a continuation of Harding’s policy under Coolidge.

herbert hoover
President Hoover tosses out the first pitch at a major league baseball game

Politically, two seemingly contradictory themes dominated American diplomacy: idealism and isolationism. Idealistically, the US took steps to avoid the mistakes that led to World War I. To this end, President Harding convened the Washington Naval Arms Conference in 1921. The United States, Great Britain, and Japan agreed to limit warship construction. They also agreed to respect each other's holdings in the Pacific. In 1928, the United States with the support of peace organizations such as Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) led an initiative called the Kellogg-Briand Pact, in which 62 nations agreed to outlaw war. These two measures showed the degree to which Americans hoped to forestall another disastrous war, yet with limited American commitment. So in this regard, The US worked for idealistic goals yet staying true to its isolationist traditions.

While practicing political isolation, the United States was completely entangled with Europe economically. The Allies owed the United States an enormous sum of money from World War I. However, high American tariffs such as the The Fordney–McCumber Tariff, hurt European economies. Lacking the funds to reimburse America, the Allies relied on German reparations. Yet, the German economy was so destroyed by the Treaty of Versailles, that they risked defaulting. The United States intervened with the Dawes Plan. The Dawes Plan allowed Germany to extend their payments on more generous terms. In the end, when the Great Depression struck, only Finland was able to make good on its debt to the United States.

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2nd Passage Social Changes meets conservative views

model t

Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village. Model T — 1919

For many Americans in the 1920’s life changed dramatically. There seemed to be an economic transformation and revolution of spirit that affected so much of the population. There are many reasons to account for this change. First The 1920s saw the culmination of fifty years of rapid American industrialization. New products seemed to burst from American production lines with the potential of revolutionizing American life. The automobile was first and foremost among these products. The practices of Henry Ford made these horseless carriages affordable to the American masses. Other products that had previously been toys for the rich were now available to a majority of Americans. The standard of living increased as the economy grew stronger and stronger. The results were spectacular. The America of 1929 was vastly different from the America of 1919.

Secondly, Americans wanted to experience life after suffering the horrors of World War I. Young Americans were looking to cut loose and have a good time. Although the 18th Amendment made alcohol use illegal and the Volstead Act intended to provide Federal enforcement of the Amendment, Prohibition did not end alcohol usage. Underground clubs known as speakeasies kept the firewater flowing. Organized crime flourished as gangland violence related to bootlegged liquor plagued America's cities. It was in this context that the Flapper emerged, the symbol of the new carefree attitude among women, who through traditional values to the wind. Young flappers engaged in behaviors previously reserved for men including smoking and drinking.

The Harlem Renaissance brought a new form of entertainment. The sounds of jazz bands had appeal that transcended African American audiences, as thousands flocked to hear the new sounds. Aided by the rapid migration of African Americans to the cities during the great migration, the Harlem Renaissance brought to national attention the sounds of Duke Ellington and the poetry of Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston. It was a movement, best captured by F Scott’s Fitzgerald famous assertion, the Jazz Age.

Not all Americans embraced the new way of life. Many conservative groups saw the United States as a civilization in decline. Many were resolute to confront these changes and challenge the materialist lifestyle of the 20’s. Among them were fundamentalists, or those that believe in a literal interpretation of the bible. Fundamentalists challenged the promiscuous lifestyle of the flappers and the scientific doctrine of evolution.

In the end, the 1920s ushered in more lasting changes to the American social scene than any previous decade. The economic boom that unleashed the transformation and its consequences made the Roaring Twenties an era to remember.

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3rd Passage: Civil Rights during the 20’s

In an effort to preserve so-called true American values, reactionary and intolerant groups in the 1920’s pressured the government to pass restrictive legislation. At other times the used outright violence against minority groups. The New Immigrants became targets of narrow-mindedness. After facing threats for years, different African Americans leaders offered new solutions to age old problems.

newly arived immigrants at ellis island
As people from other nations began to pour into the US, some Americans began to blame them for economic and social problems

Since the 1880s, America's shores were flooded with immigrants primarily from Southern and Eastern Europe. The old nativist groups grew louder in the first two decades of the 20th century. Protestant fundamentalists worried as the numbers of Jewish and Catholic Americans grew larger. Labor leaders claimed that immigration lowered wages. Most notorious of the anti-immigrants were the Ku Klux Klan who were bent on reasserting white supremacy, and viewed the influx of immigrants as a danger to the racial stock of America. Many of these groups and the other Americans shared the view that these new immigrants were bringing dangerous socialist ideas that were destroying the fabric of the nation.

ku klux klan rally (1924)
Membership in the Ku Klux Klan peaked in 1924. Here, the Klan holds a rally in Williamson, West Virginia

As a result, Congress slowly built walls against the newcomers, culminating with the National Origins Act of 1924. According to the law, immigrants from Northern and Western Europe were granted higher quotas than from other parts of the world. Asian immigration was banned completely. Soon after the American government conducted a number raids to incriminate and deport anarchists and socialists. In the climate of the 1920’s, these raids and public sentiment against suspected communists and anarchists reached a feverish pitch, commonly referred to as the red scare.

The intolerance of the decade is embodied in the murder trial of two anarchists and atheists, Sacco and Vanzetti. During the trial the Judge had denied them due process, by violated all semblance of impartiality. In the end they were found guilty and executed.

Like immigrants, African Americans had been the target of abuse by both the government and society. By the 1920’s, three distinct voices emerged to assert solutions. Traditionally, Booker T Washington had advocated for accommodation with whites. For Washington, blacks had to make short term sacrifices in civil rights in order to focus on education in practical trades that can raise their economic conditions. As a founder of the NAACP, W.E.B Dubois became a strong advocate for addressing civil rights of Africa Americans by challenging the segregation system of the South. Lastly, Marcus Garvey led the back to African Movement. Garvey believed that equality for African Americans could never be achieved in the United States. He formed the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) to promote economic cooperation among black businesses.

Excerpts from: and Notes

Passage Items

1st Passage

Use the following terms for each description below:

  • Washington Naval Arms Conference

  • Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

  • Kellogg-Briand Pact

  • The Fordney–McCumber Tariff

  • Dawes Plan.

  1. A Women’s Peace organization that strives for the end of war

  2. The United States, Great Britain, and Japan agreed to a ten-year freeze on the construction of battleships

  3. Allowed Germany to extend their payments on more generous terms

  4. A High Tax on exports that hurt European economies after World War I.

  5. 62 nations agreed to outlaw war as an instrument of foreign policy.

2nd Passage

The diagram below shows two categories, conservative and Liberal lifestyles write the following words in the category that each most closely resembles.

18th Amendment

the Volstead Act



The Harlem Renaissance

the Jazz Age


Conservative lifestyle

Liberal Lifestyle









3rd Passage

  1. List the 3 nativist groups that opposed US immigration.

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