Tensions of the Old and New During the 1920s

After witnessing the devastating, yet human-induced tragedies of World War I, the psyche of America was never the same. They abandoned their fundamental beliefs that the Western Civilization was not a model, but flawed society and turned their attention towards internal affairs, signaling the beginning of American isolationism. As William Allen White put it, Americans were “tired of issues, sick at heart of ideals, and weary of being noble. ” The Roaring Twenties reflected this rejection of tradition ideals as consumerism and sexual revolution swept the nation.

In the 1920s, the boom in technology, coupled with cultural and social developments led to tensions between the old and new. The manifestation of these conflicting ideals was a focal point of the Election of 1920 and Scopes Monkey Trial. The reform movements and Woodrow Wilson’s staunch moral legislation preceding the 1920s were a source of exhaustion for the American public. The American public was disillusioned with the failed League of Nations, and quickly embraced the Election of 1920 as what the victorious Warren G.

Harding put it, “the return to normalcy. ” “The return to normalcy” was essentially calling for the return to the older and simpler times in America, which also condoned American isolationism. Warren G. Harding and his successor, Calvin Coolidge’s presidencies embodied the return to a laissez faire economy with their pro-business stance. The Fordney-McCumber Tariff of 1922 and Smoot-Hawley Tariff protected American companies to foreign companies. Treasury Secretary, Andrew Mellon was also successful in lowering income taxes for the wealthy.

Their disdain for liberalism was apparent with their lackluster reform legislations passed in office, but they left office with high approval ratings as a result of that staunch conservatism. The reemergence of the Ku Klux Klan nativism was another key topic of these administrations with the passing of the American Immigration Act of 1924 and the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923 which placed severe quotas on the number of immigrants from these countries.

Appointing the Nativism and conservative judges like Webster Thayer to the trials of Sacco and Vanzetti demonstrated that their subsequent executions were not the result out of justice, but of the sour public opinion against immigration. The reemergence of Nativism, spearheaded by Ku Klux Klan (Document D) served to reestablish and enforce tradition and morality in society. They used tactics of violence to preserve Protestant principles and decency, as a method to “return of power into the ands of the everyday…. average citizen of the old stock. ” Their fight however was not just limited to Southern Hicks, but Northerners, and Midwesterners like Indianans who comprised of half the Klan membership during the decade. Their slogan, “100% Americanism” echoed through all the regions of the nation, where they targeted Jews, Catholics, and anyone that posed a threat to their middle-class protestant.

Their religious conservatism was prominently voiced during the Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, TN (Document C) where the clash between fundamentalism and evolution reached a culmination with the whirlwind trial of hot shot Chicago lawyer, Clarence Darrow versus 4 time presidential nominee, William Jennings Bryan. Clarence Darrow‘s loss in the courtroom was viewed as a triumph for liberals. Women, one of the most deprecated groups in society countered against the confinements and expectations of society.

With the passage of the nineteenth amendment and the availability of jobs in the city, women were in some aspects, free from the constraints that plagued the previous generations of women. Flappers, embodied by the carefree, smoking, and sexually charged female outraged the previous generations with their overt rejection of the Victorian ideals of a lady. The new women had the highest divorce rates than their predecessors as well (Document H). Margaret Sanger’s invention of birth control and the open discussions of sexuality contributed to the change in women roles.

Although most women still clung to their gender norms, the sexual and gender revolution of this time period would serve as the foundation of the feminism movement of the 60s. The boom in consumer technology and inventions spurred mass consumerism and decadence within the American public. Mass production made goods cheap and readily available to the mass market, and almost every household owned a Ford Model T by the end of the decade. The desire to keep up with the Joneses became a measure of one’s social standing and identity. Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt satirized the conformist and shallow existence of the average American household.

Writers of the Lost Generation expressed their contempt for America’s growing consumerism by becoming expatriates and publishing literary masterpieces exposing the folly of conspicuous consumption. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby showcased the tragic ending of the title character due to his infatuation with material gains. The cartoon, “If Grandpap Could Only Return with some of his discipline,” illustrates the current, undisciplined generation being spanked by the frugal forefathers for their lack of appreciation and materialism for all the new technological advances.

It served as a plead for morality as the older generations warned the current generation that excess will get them in moral and economic trouble since the introduction of credit and installment plans. Instead of following Booker T. Washington’s Atlanta Compromise and waiting to assimilate and be accepted into White Society, the Garvey Movement completely rejected it and called for the establishment of a black nation, which wasn’t successful, but still had a lasting impact on the black community.

Racial tensions were brought to the surface with the influx of arts and literature of the Harlem Renaissance, where writers proclaimed and expressed their frustrations at white society. Langston Hughes and other famous African American authors created a black culture that proudly declared in their own superiority. Langston wrote, “Why should I want to be white? I am Negro-and beautiful” (Document E). Although White Society did not accept them as they had hoped, the artistic and cultural impact of the movement would serve as the basis of the Civil Rights movement several decades later.

The 1920s were a time of great social, technological, and cultural changes. Set against the backdrop of staunch American conservatism, these changes were inevitably bound to clash. The manifestations of old and new tensions were highlighted in two defining legal battles, the Scopes Monkey trial and Sacco and Vanzetti. Although this period of upheaval did not impose significant changes on the minorities and outsiders of American society, it did provide the principle components of the equal rights movements for these largely ignored members of society,