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Following WWI we began the roaring twenties, America starting rebuilding, repopulating, mass producing consumer goods, and essentially spending their income as fast as they made it. In this time of change and shifting of culture, resistance was prominent. Fundamentalists, also known as the traditionalists, believed they were the native people of America and strived to keep their country pure and clean from too many immigrants. They embodied nativism, supported religion over science, and opposed modernization. As nativist they focused on the wellbeing and advancement of primarily English speaking Americans and strongly discriminated against the influx of immigrants.
Word had spread that America was an open gate, full of jobs, opportunity, freedom, and Hollywood fame. Conflicts began between the newly arrived immigrants and the native-born Americans. This eventually led to the very public and well known Sacco-Vanzetti case resulting in the execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. The two men were Italians caught in the middle of immigration discrimination. A local American factory security guard was killed and Sacco and Vanzetti were immediately blamed, sent to trial and killed via electric chair even though there was little to no evidence that they had committed the crime. This was just one example of how the Fundamentalists were trying to regulate and control their “ideal population.”
The Scope trial was another highly publicized case due to the Fundamentalists outrage of evolution education within schools, specifically Charles Darwin’s theories. Traditionalist believed in religion over evolution and wanted the schools to teach accordingly. John Scope was a teacher who taught the theories of Charles Darwin and modern science. The Fundamentalists solution to this problem was to “build their own schools and college where teaching could be done as they saw fit.” (Foner, p. 627-628)
Meanwhile, the great depression was approaching. Labor was not being distributed correctly, wages were decreasing while owner profits increased, and family savings accounts were depleting. Many farm owners were beginning to default on loans and banks were forced to shut them down. This pushed many families and workers out of the rural farming industries, and into big cities in search of jobs or better employment.
A new age of woman was growing within the lively cities, known as the flapper girl. Women had taken on a new role; they were more independent, contributed to the families’ income, showed more skin, smoked cigarettes, expressed their sexuality and gained the right to vote. For traditionalist, this was a shocking time. Hollywood movies had given a vision of a more provocative and independent woman which left a lasting impression on American Culture. The cities also ran rapid with prohibition. Alcohol was illegal but still secretly consumed behind closed doors.
America was changing, growing, and learning from the new cultures and religions that were migrating into the United States. However in 1924, a major restriction was put into place which limited the number of immigrants allowed into the United States per year. European immigrants were mostly affected by this new regulation. Nevertheless, Mexico was still an open door as we needed cheap farming labor since a majority of American farmers had fled to the cities for better jobs. Within the suburbs, employment was now limited and consumer goods were not in as high demand. Shortly after immigration was limited, in 1926, sales were becoming stagnant, homes were foreclosing, companies were failing, and banks were going under. Eventually in 1929, the stock market crashed and ultimately led the country into the Great Depression. Companies couldn’t afford to pay their workers and many people were left unemployed. City people were forced back out of the urban areas as their only hope for surviving the next couple of years was to start farming again.
The country was in need of repair and a plan. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was focused on economic recovery and protection from poverty. Together with his advisors he sold a presidential campaign based on the New Deal which was a “big government solution.” (Video Lecture: Hard Times and New Deal, Part 2) The hope of leadership and a vision ultimately won him the Presidential election in 1933. The first Hundred Days of FDR’s presidency was full of action. He passed fifteen bills which were drenched in patriotism and promised a stronger future such as the Emergency Banking Act, National Industrial Recovery Act, Public Works Administration, Agriculture Adjustment Act, and also the Federal Housing Administration just to name a few. Around 1935, Roosevelt revealed that there would be a Second New Deal which would include the Social Security Act, Works Progress Administration, and Welfare. This won him a second term and created a nice distraction from international relations that were beginning to boil over in Germany and Japan. Little did America know, but they were about to get forced into WWII without warning.
On December 7th, 1941 Pearl Harbor was bombed by Japanese aircrafts killing 2000 Americans and decimating the western military base in Hawaii. This sneak attack would leave Americans with a hatred for Japanese people, culture, and ideas in general. Roosevelt asked congress to declare war on Japan; meanwhile Germany declared war on the United States, forcing America into the biggest war in history. The American Government shifted their focus on the War, protecting their civilians from future bombings and creating a strong alliance with Great Britain and the Soviet Union. By 1944, the Allies joined forces and were able to defeat Germany in the infamous D-Day battle which ultimately liberated Paris and shifted the German Army East. America was in full momentum; funding, manufacturing and inventing contraptions for wartime needs. The West Coast of the United States had been flooded with workers, federal spending and military training. In 1945, during his fourth term as president, Franklin D. Roosevelt continued to push forward through the war until he was taken by stroke and left the Nation in shock.
A new deathly era was approaching. Harry S. Truman accepted the role as President, following Roosevelt’s death, and was quickly introduced to the atomic bomb. America would ultimately use the atomic bomb on Japan twice within three days, horrifically killing over 200,000 people (some of which included Americans). With the lateral attack from the Soviet Union, Japan was forced to surrender. Some 50 million people were killed during WWII and another War was already underway. This would be the only time an atomic bomb was used on an enemy.
Truman went on to serve another term as president but was beginning to push away from the communists of the Soviet Union. Unbeknownst to the United States, the Soviet Union had built an atomic bomb in secret. Once the word spread, fear and paranoia took over the American people. This pushed The Smith Act to pass as it made it illegal to associate with communist and/or share intelligence regarding the US. Hollywood was again a focal point as it was a meeting place where many influential people would gather. Movie stars, producers and the wealthy were questioned for leaking secrets to communists. The Cold War was led by fear between the communist of other countries and the capitalism of the United States Government. Truman turned his focus on lifting Americans spirits and expanding on Roosevelt’s previous New Deal by creating the Fair Deal. This focused on “the social safety net and raising the standard of living of ordinary Americans.” (Foner, p. 725)
Economic growth flourished after the Cold War which led into the early 1950’s, also known as the golden age. Dwight D Eisenhower was elected President in 1953 and would continue to hold office until 1961. Jobs had returned, wages had increased, the economy was growing, and the baby boom had begun. The Freedom Movement picked up and minorities made their voice heard. Martin Luther King and Lyndon B. Johnson focused on civil rights for African Americans but were unsupported by President Eisenhower at the time.
John F Kennedy, who was a glamourous and groomed president, held office for only two years before being assassinated in 1963. His successor was Lyndon B Johnson, who fully supported the New Deal ideas from Roosevelt’s time and also the Civil Rights Movement which would make a dent on racial discrimination. The right to vote, health insurance, and funding of education were just some of the changes that Johnson pushed for. While he had great intentions within the United States, his foreign relations were lacking. He was not interested in war but Vietnam had come across an American ship near it’s coast line and took fire which ultimately took us into the brutal Vietnam War. In addition to the Vietnam War, Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968 and sent the poor urban communities into violence and outrage.
This led us into the 1960’s where drugs were experimented with, people were pro-freedom, open to change, and tolerant of each other.
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