The Alleged Roaring Twenties

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The decade that left behind the ideologies of the old Victorian way of life and brought on a new era of a more a modernized America is the 1920’s, bringing an escalation of the economy, transforming mass consumerism, and a new political and social way of life for American people. The American people were ready for an innovative and vibrant lifestyle and a return of a pro-business government after the first World War. At first glance the Roaring Twenties seemed to be a time of prosperity for all, when in reality that may speak for a small percentage of the nation.

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The Roaring Twenties associates with cultural homogenization, liberation of women, Harlem renaissance, prohibition of alcohol, and surge of immigrants in a nationalist climate.

Several major political scandals contributed greatly to this era that astounded the nation, leading to the end of the decade and the Great depression. The post-world war I era of the 1920’s for most American people was a time of cultural change and economic progress. A return of traditional values and an increase of people moving to culturally rich cities created a sense of homogeneity. Although the lives of many improved, lives for others were worse than ever before. Everyone aspired to have the same lifestyle and in order to fit in and be a true American, people practically had to buy there American identity. It was common for everyone to dress the same, style their hair the same, listen to the same radio channels and read the same newspapers to fit into this certain way of life. Industries of manufactured goods and advertisement played a major role in consumption and many families began to seek this new American living standard. Businessmen like Henry Ford and engineers like Herbert Hoover were cultural heroes. Consumer goods became much more attainable through the development of credit which greatly influenced the consumer driven economy.

For those Americans that were living at the poverty line were the ones who had jobs that were being taken over by new industries and machines that could do their jobs for them, which resulted in many people becoming jobless. Americans began to participate in elements of popular culture and began to go out more and enjoy life by going out the cinema or dancing. Women of the 1920’s gained the right to vote and with the women suffrage movement being succeeded by the nineteenth amendment, women experiencing new avenues of expression. Energetic women of this time who freely expressed themselves and pushed the cultural, political and sexual fence built up against them were known as Flappers.

Although women did push for some political changes, there were far more changes seen socially and culturally for women. Furthermore, the rise of industrial jobs and the hope of a better way of life resulted in many African Americans moving to major cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, and Los Angeles, known as The Great Migration. African Americans that came from all different backgrounds were all coming to together to create a community of a new life. African American communities ranged from the middle class to unskilled labor workers that all shared the same issues such as racial oppression and backgrounds of slavery. The result of these large communities evoked some of the most talented African Americans in Harlem, New York. Various forms of art represented African Americans in America and the impact of their culture was seen by everyone. Through the arts, many people redefined to stereotypical view of African Americans.

Notably, the prohibition of alcohol during the 1920’s took effect under the 18th Amendment. This Amendment prohibited the sale, manufacture, and transport of alcohol. Prohibition ended up causing higher rates of crime, smuggling, illegal transportation and manufacturing of alcohol. Bootleggers and Gangs began to take control of alcohol supplies and sold there alcohol secretly to businesses. Many died from drinking tainted liquor during this time or resulted to drugs. Many immigrants came to America during the 1920’s resulting in larger gaps for rural and urban populations.

Contradictory to the United States being known for and being proud of its immigrant patrimony and inheritance of many new people, Americans worried about the effects of these new immigrants coming to the United States and feared their presence in the culture and economically. Nativism grew stronger and other immigrants that especially appeared non-American were inferior and not accepted in society, along with the scare of them stealing jobs of working Americans. The Emergency Immigration Act of 1921 attempted to remove and limit the immigrants that were unskilled from Eastern Europe. By 1924, the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act exploited any immigrants of Asian countries from coming to America. Multiple scandals throughout this decade all contributed to fall of this so called roaring era. Many scandals took place under the Harding Administration from 1920 to 1923 and many were exposed years after. President Harding was criticized for his choice of advisors and friends from Ohio, referred to as the Ohio Gang. The Ohio Gang successfully abused their power and violated the public’s trust in the government.

Moreover, the Veteran’s Bureau Scandal involved Charles R. Forbes who was head of the Veterans Bureau and was appointed by President Harding. Forbes was involved with making private deals with contractors and giving government land to them for less. Forbes was also involved with selling medical supplies for less than half of the actually worth to a Boston Firm to later make profit after the resale. In 1924, an investigation took place and found out that Forbes robbed the government of over two hundred million dollars through corruption and bribery.

Furthermore, head of the Office of Alien Property, Thomas W. Miller was also charged with bribery and fraud and accused of trying to defraud the government. More scandals include attorney general Harry M. Dougherty who was involved himself in bribes and taking money from bootleggers for their protection. Dougherty purposely failed to enforce the prohibition of alcohol and was involved working with bootleggers to make a profit. Another aspect of this scandal involves Jess Smith, who was the assistant of Harry M. Dougherty and was involved with the bribery and committed suicide days after being fired by Harding. Dougherty was also involved in blocking a trial against Wright-Martin Aircraft Corporation for overcharging the government on war contracts, since he was investing in the company. Throughout this time, The Teapot Dome Scandal revealed to Americans the reality of the federal government and the corruption within in. This scandal involved the leasing of Navy petroleum reserve at very low rates to private oil companies in Elk Hills, California and in Teapot Dome, Wyoming. Secretary of the interior, Albert Fall convinced president Warren Harding to transfer oil reserves from the navy department to the interior in 1921, which means these lands are now under Fall’s control. In 1927 the government cancels the leases of this land to these private oil companies and in 1929 Fall is found guilty of accepting bribes. This scandal shocked the public’s trust of government and what their intentions really were.

Throughout expansion of businesses and industries in the 1920’s, stocks were increasing and reaching high, unrealistic rates and should have been a red flag. Major causes of the Great Depression was influenced by the over production of mass consumption, manufacturers had to cut back on production which laid off many people. In addition there was misleading information told to investors about stocks and what they were getting into. Investors relied on companies word that they were doing well. Single investors and businesses put their money into stock as well so when the market crashed, so did those businesses. After the market crashed President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted to restore life for the American people and The New Deal was presented. For American people, the role of the Federal Government was redefined by The New Deal. The political shift of the democratic party and the creation of The New Deal was made up a series of government programs to fix the Great Depression and restore life for all people. The government’s role in the economy strengthened by establishing welfare aid, social security, regulating housing, agriculture and banking.

In addition to trying to fix the problems of the Great Depression, the government wanted to establish a program that would also prevent another one. Moreover, some similarities seen the 1920’s and last couple of decades to the present day include, the government being republican dominated in the 1920’s, 1950’s and today in 2018. In addition the 1920’s and 1950’s both had strong reform movements, Communist Red Scares, and women suffrage and rights movements. Post-World War II, The 1960’s was prospering in consumerism just like 1920’s did. In conclusion, the roaring twenties was a time of a new social and political way of life for the American people, involving mass consumerism and a prospering economy. This decade was portrayed as a time of a fulfilled vibrant life at first glance, when taking a deeper look this was not a time of prosperity for all. Many political scandals influenced Americans view of their trust in the government that people in high power take advantage of their positions. The Liberation of women, the Harlem Renaissance, explosion of immigrants and prohibition of alcohol were all important factors that shaped 1920’s to being an era of remembrance of overlooked factors were not at all glamorous, compared what it is known to be.  

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