The rapid changes which occurred in America in the 1920s such as emergence of jazz, urbanization, 24 hour radio, movies, automobiles, advertising, and consumer credit led to the rise in materialism, immorality and fast brash city ways that assaulted and destroyed American traditional values. For the first time majority of Americans lived in urban centres.The 1920s are considered the time when there was cultural conflict in America, with some authors describing this time as the roaring twenties. Willoughby and Susan (2000), write that this was time of protest and rebellion when some accepted norms of behavior were challenged (p.38). Hilton (1999) explains that with the growth and prosperity of cities which contrasted with the decline and despair that marred the American rural countryside; the rural folks feared that their culture was being rapidly lost to urban culture (p.90).
The rural folk fought back in what was called the culture of wars, and was fought in churches, newspapers, schools, movies and political campaigns of the decade. According to Klose and Lader (2001), women defied older conventional dressing and wore dresses that were progressively shorter during the decades, had bobbed hair and smoked in public (p.188). The rise of a new generation of realistic style writers and the popularization of ideas about sex fronted by Freud became public subjects of discussion.
In the south, the Ku Klux Klan was revived and attained its highest numbers since its formation in the years preceding the civil war. The Klan practiced racist anti- African American practices, and expressed hatred and opposition against Jewish, Catholic and other immigrant groups whom they believed were the enemies of traditional Americanism. The Klan defended traditional rural values against modern strange ideas of urban the strange ideas were blamed on immigrants. America. According to Hilton (1999), the chief concerns of the Klan were loss of power and the gradual breakdown of morals, claiming that their morals were wantonly disregarded to the extent that they were no longer binding (p.91). They claimed that even the right to teach their own children in their schools had been violated. There was a claim that parents had the right to decide what was taught in their tax- supported schools. Following this complaint, a young biology teacher by the name of John Scopes was charged in Dayton, Tennessee for violating the state law prohibiting the teaching of the theory of evolution. Termed as 'the monkey trial' this trial marked the climax of struggle between religious fundamentalists and modern science, which introduced revolutionary ideas in public schools. The Christian fundamentalists wanted the biblical story of creation taught in schools instead of the evolution theory.
The cause of this change in behavior is believed to be the financial boom as well as the imposition of prohibition of alcohol. According to Klose and Lader (2001), the ban, contained in the 18th amendment, was thought to prevent lawlessness and crime, prevent injuries to health, reduce poverty and lower the tax burden and increase the efficiency of workers while reducing hazards to life and property in a mechanized society (p.186).
In view of the above explained events, the argument that the 1920s America was shaped by a clash of cultures can only be true. The rapid changes that urban life brought characterized by jazz, movies, consumption of liquor, automobiles and the media was in great contrast with the traditional cultures of rural America. The increased enrollment in high schools and colleges and the introduction of revolutionary ideas in these institutions generated a clash with the traditions of the time. Hilton (1999) argues that although the urban culture triumphed over the rural traditional culture at that time, the clash between traditional and urban culture, though of small magnitude and practiced by a few, still persists to our time (p.90).
A study of the history of the United States reveals that it is a nation of immigrants. As early as 14,000 years ago, the United States began to receive its first inhabitants. The statue of Liberty that stands in a small island in New York harbor symbolizes that America is historically a nation of immigrants from all over the world with a quest to 'breath free'. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries witnessed a huge number of immigrants move to the United States in search for a new life. In reference to Hilton (1999), about 20 million immigrants entered the United States between 1885 and 1915.During these times, immigrants were generally welcomed. However, over time as the population of the nation grew and the initial immigrants increased in their numbers, resistance to new immigrants began to emerge.
The anxiety was caused by the fact that the number of immigrants was huge and the assimilation was proving difficult. The natives thought that their society was going to be destabilized and ruined. According to Hilton (1999), the worry of difficulty in assimilation was due to the fact that most of the immigrants could not understand English (p.63). America was at the time predominantly protestant. Most of the immigrants were either belonging to eastern Orthodox, catholic or Jewish. The difference in belief system, coupled with the language problem that made assimilation difficult, caused the natives to speak out against liberal immigration policies, agitating that they needed laws that could limit immigration. Many people and groups began to openly express hatred against immigrants.
Nativism and discrimination rose tremendously in the 1920s and even began to take violent forms. According to Berkin et al (2008), restriction covenants attached to real estate property prohibited the future sale of property to certain groups mainly African Americans and Jews (p.698). Colleges placed quotas on the number of students from certain groups, especially the Jews. It is said that Andrew ford accused the Jews in 1920 of trying to control everything in the United States. Berkin et al (2008) indicates that the increase in the number of immigrants after the World War 2 to about from 420,000 in 1920 to 805,000 in 1921 raised the anxiety among those opposed to immigration. The large number of poor immigrants at a time of high unemployment, combined with the strong idea of nativism and fear of foreign radicalism convinced congress to approve an emergency act to limit immigration from any country to 3 percent the number of people from that country in the United States in 1910.
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In 1924, a permanent law called the National Origins Act that limits the total immigration to 150,000 per year was enacted. Quotas for each country were set at two percent of the number of Americans whose ancestors came from that country. It was prohibitive immigrations from Asia and Southern and Eastern Europe, being informed by the ideas of the Eugenics movement, which advocated the use of the knowledge of genetics to improve the human race through selective breeding. According to Berkin et al (2008) the eugenics movement, which was established between late nineteenth century and early 20th century, argued that the immigrants from Asia and South and Eastern Europe ha undesirable characteristics which barred them from immigration (p.698). The Supreme Court in 1927 approved a Virginia law that sought to allow the state to sterilize those considered mentally retarded.
Immigration also led to the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, the rise of which was motivated by nativism, anti-Catholicism, anti-Semitism and fear of radicalism. The Klan was devoted to protecting traditional Protestant American values. However, Marred by corruption, the Klan membership fell sharply and with further implications of corruption, came to an end. In conclusion resistance to immigration in the United States was a contribution of several factors that occurred in a rapidly changing society, ranging from difficulties in assimilation to differences in values and belief systems, from racism to government policy.
After the great depression, the American economy began to rise again. The country's leadership under Delano Roosevelt focused on domestic reforms that saw the coming up of the new deal. The new deal focused on preserving the private enterprises and democratic institutions. Roosevelt chose to forego the agreement of the London conference that advocated for international support to solve economic problems. According to Klose and Lader (2001), Roosevelt's innovations consisted of a large number of measures to plan and regulate the economy of the nation by government controls (p.203), and sought to restore the prosperity of the nation.
The program consisted of three goals: relief, reform and recovery. One of the new deal measures concerned labor regulations. Roosevelt declared relief for the unemployed, saying that it was a matter of social duty. The new deal envisaged better working conditions, better wages, the right of laboring of men and women to form unions, the establishment of the federal minimum wage, abolition of child labor and the introduction of social security. The new deal expanded government's operations and created many departments to deal with the challenges of a rising nation Central were reforms in banking, agriculture, labor industry and laying down f legal framework to run the newly created institutions.
All these social and legal changes, alongside those that ensured the expansion of industries and the creation of employment resulted in increased level of employment in the federal government. Due to these increased government commitments, the federal budget grew commensurately. The new deal saw the formation of the labor relations board that guaranteed the collective bargaining whenever labor laws were breached. The deal gave worker the liberty to form unions in the various industries and to lobby for fairness in the in terms of employment.
The powers of the president were widely used during this period. Many people claimed that the president was usurping powers. In response the president argued that he was broadened his power as provided by law. According to Berkin et al (2008), Roosevelt says, 'I did not usurp power but I did greatly broaden the use of executive power.... I did no care a rap for the mere form and show of power; I cared immensely for the use that could be made of the substance' (p.645). He argued that the constitution did not explicitly hinder him from rendering service, while giving the example of Abraham Lincoln. The demonstrated use of great power by the president is the influence he had in the formulation of the new deal, and president Harry Truman's approval of the use of the atomic bomb in the invasion of Japan in 1945.
The relationship between the people and the state was closer as individuals could now pay taxes for their businesses, and at this time the government had the control of the people and their freedoms more than before. This was the result of the establishment of many institutions by the government that facilitated increased interaction between government and the common man.
In conclusion, the rapid developments that the new deal brought were motivated by the great depression. If fact, it was a creative political response to the great depression. The economic and political circumstances of the time challenged the Roosevelt administration to achieve the most significant federal and liberal reforms in the history of the United States.
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