Roaring 1920's (1918-1929)

    *Summary of themes and ideas
    *Summary breakdown in depth
    *Presidential administrations
    *Vocabulary and terms
    *Traditionalist/Rural vs. Modernist/Urban chart

Summary of themes and ideas:

    America turned away from the ideals of progressivism. Republicans regained the presidency and ushered in a new era of pro-business policies. Government policies, progress in technology, and a new consumer society produced a booming economy. Radio helped transform the US into a single national market, and a mass popular culture developed based largely on the consumption of luxury items. To take full advantage of the profits to be made, businesses merged and grew even larger. Tired from the war and disillusioned by Wilson's failure with the League of Nations, America entered a period of isolationism. The US aimed to stay out of European affairs and severely limited immigration. New immigrants were often subject to suspicion and hatred. The younger generation rebelled against traditional morals. College students took to drinking and throwing wild parties. The Sexual Revolution challenged traditional ideas of proper behavior. Women became more forward in dress and behavior. Premarital sex became more acceptable. The two symbols of this new, looser social behavior were jazz and the "flapper".


Summary breakdown in depth:

Politics- Three Republican presidents controlled the executive branch throughout the 1920's. Congress as well was solidly Republican throughout the decade when US business boomed and farmers and unions struggled. Republican leadership in the 1920's accepted limited government regulation as an aid to stabilizing business. Harding was the first president and promised a "return to normalcy". He pardoned Socialist leader Eugene Debs and released him from federal prison, demonstrating Harding's generous spirit. Harding approved a reduction in income tax, an increase in tariffs under the Fordney-McCumber Tariff Act, and the establishment of the Bureau of the Budget which created a single budget for Congress to review and vote on. His administration was marked by scandals and corruption; he had selected incompetent and dishonest men as officials (Teapot Dome scandal). Harding died suddenly in 1923 and Coolidge succeeded him. Nicknamed "Silent Cal", Coolidge summarized his presidency and era in the phrase: "The business of America is business". In the Election of 1924. Coolidge won easily. He believed in limited government that allowed business to conduct its own affairs. Cutting spending to the bone, Coolidge vetoed even the acts of the Republican majority in Congress (McNary-Haugen Bill). Hoover won the Election of 1928 in a landslide and promised to extend the "Coolidge Prosperity".

Foreign Policy- Although Americans pledged isolationism in response to WWI, US foreign policy didn't necessarily retreat completely back to the isolationism of the Gilded Age. Instead, it actively created arrangements in foreign affairs that advanced American interests while maintaining world peace. The Republican Presidents of the 1920's attempted to promote peace and scale back expenditures on defense by arranging treaties. Secretary of State Charles Hughes attended the Washington Conference, where major world powers agreed to scrap a percentage of their existing battleships, cruisers, and aircraft carriers. Tariffs were raised and resulted in other nations raising their tariffs as well. The Kellogg-Briand Pact renounced the aggressive use of force to achieve national ends, but it proved ineffective. The presidents also used diplomacy to advance American business interests in Latin America and other regions. While US military influence was reduced in South America, the economic impact of the US on its neighbors increased, as American investments in Latin America doubled between 1919 and 1929. The US had emerged from the war as a creditor nation, having lent billions of dollars to the Allies. Britain and France could not pay back all the borrowed money. Germany was bankrupt, had soaring inflation, and was near anarchy. In response, Charles Dawes negotiated a compromise that established a cycle of payments that provided loans to Germany so it could stabilize its currency and continue its reparations payments, which, in turn, would enable England and France to pay off loans to America.

Economy- The standard of living improved for most Americans as indoor plumbing, central heating, and electricity became commonplace. A business boom resulted from increased productivity and scientific management in the manufacturing world, energy technologies such as increased use of oil and electricity, and government policy which favored the growth of big business by offering corporate tax cuts and not enforcing antitrust laws of the Progressive era. Consolidations of business continued in the 1920's and corporations controlled most major industries, raising money through the sale of stocks and bonds. Consequently, the demand for corporate loans decreased and so banks invested their funds in the stock market. This created the illusion of prosperity until the stock market crash in 1929. Farmers, however, did not thrive with business. After the war, farmers were left with a heavy burden of debt. New technologies helped farmers increase their production in the 1920's, but it only served to increase their debts as growing surpluses produced falling prices. Consumer spending drove economic growth as new consumer products and advertising techniques were created. To facilitate spending, consumer credit was greatly expanded and installment plans offered money upfront for families to spend. This increased use of credit and resulting careless spending created a superficial prosperity that crashed with the Stock Market in 1929. The union movement went backwards in the 1920's and companies insisted on open shops and practiced welfare capitalism. Union efforts at strikes usually failed.

Culture and Society- Women gained the right to vote and more opportunities in the 1920's asserted their independence. More liberal divorce laws permitted women to end marriages more easily and they could achieve a greater degree of sexual liberation as birth control became more available. Fashions were less constricting. Religion endured the struggle between modernism and fundamentalism. Divisions among Protestants reflected tensions in society as modernists defined their faith in new ways, opposing the fundamentalists who taught that every word in the Bible must be accepted as literally true. "Lost Generation" writers such as Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Lewis, expressed the disillusionment from hypocriticism in religion, sacrifices from war, and fraud perpetrated by money interests. The Harlem Renaissance was the artistic achievements of African American actors, artists, musicians, and writers who lived in the Black community of Harlem, New York. Marcus Garvey advocated individual and racial pride for Blacks and developed political ideas of black nationalism. He established an organization for a back-to-Africa movement. Du Bois and other Black leaders disagreed with this idea. The Scopes Trial, prohibition, nativism, Ku Klux Klan, and the case of Saccor and Vanzetti all underlined the idea of fundamentalism vs. modernism, and the social changes of the 1920's.



    *Wilson announces 14 Points

    *Sedition Act limits free speech

    *Armistice ends the First World War


    *Paris Peace Conference punishes Germany and launches League of Nations

    *May Day bombings instigate Red Scare

    *Senate rejects Treaty of Versailles and US membership in League of Nations

    *Scnenck v. US

    *18th Amendment prohibits alcoholic beverages

    *Strike wave breaks out


    *Palmer Raids

    *19th Amendment ratified, legalizing the vote for women in federal elections

    *Harding elected president over other runners Cox and Debs


    *Federal Highway Act funds national highway system
    *Emergency Quota Act establishes immigration quotas

    *Sacco and Vanzetti convicted

    *Washington Naval Conference


    *Economic recovery raises standard of living

    *Coronado Coal Company v. United Mines Workers

   *Bailey v. Drexel Furniture Company

    *Federal government ends strikes by railroad shop workers and miners

    *Fordney-McCumber Tariff raises rates on imports


    *Harding dies and Coolidge assumes the presidency

    *Adkins v. Children's Hospital

    *Teapot Dome scandal


    *National Origins Act revises immigration quotas

    *Teaoit Dine scabdak occurs

    *Dawns Plan enacted


    *Scopes trial highlights battle between religious fundamentalists and modernists


    *Sacco and Vanzetti executed

    *Lindbergh pilots solo transatlantic flight

    *The Jazz Singer opens


    *Stock market soars

    *Hoover elected president

    *Kellogg-Briand Pact Signed


    *Stock market crashes; Great Depression begins


Presidential Administrations-

Warren Harding (1921-1923)- Republican

    Election of 1920- Harding was a Republican who was unclear about where he stood on every issue but he asserted America would "return to normalcy". He ran against James Cox, a Democrat. Harding was elected by a landslide which was a sign that the idealism and activism that had characterized the prewar years of the Progressive Era were over.

    Actions- *Pardoned Debs

                    * Approved a reduction in the income tax

                    *Passed an increase in tariff rates under the Forney-McCumber Tariff Act of 1922

                    *Established the Bureau of the Budget which created procedures for all government expenditures to be placed in a singlebudget for Congress

                    *Scandal in office (Teapot Dome)


Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929)- Republican

    Death of Harding- Harding died in 1923 while traveling in the West.

    Election of 1924- Coolidge ran against John Davis, a democrat and Robert La Follette, a new Progressive Party candidate.

     Actions- *little was accomplished except a close watch on the budget

                      *vetoed acts of Congress, even those of the Republicans

                      *vetoed the McNary-Haugen Bill of 1928

Herbert Hoover (1929-1933)- Republican

    Election of 1928- Herbert Hoover campaigned against Alfred Smith, a Democrat. Smith was a Roman Catholic and appealed to many immigrants. Republicans boasted of "Coolidge Prosperity" and Hoover won in a landslide.

    Actions- *Stock Market Crash


 Vocabulary and Terms:

"Roaring Twenties"- the time period characterized by a seemingly strong economy which recovered and grew after World War I and remained strong until the stock market crash of 1929.

Isolationism- the belief that the United States should not be involved in world affairs. This is one of the policies the Harding Administration is best known for.

Prohibition- the outlawing of the manufacturing, selling, or transporting of alcoholic beverages which took effect in 1920. Also known as the "noble experiment".

Consumerism- it largely drove the economic growth of the 1920's. Electricity in homes enabled millions of Americans to purchase the new consumer appliances of the decade- refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, and washing machines. Automobiles became more affordable and advertising expanded

Harlem Renaissance- a creative outpouring among African American writers, artists, and musicians.

Modernism- the definition of faith in a new way. It was influenced by the changing role of women, the Social Gospel movement, and scientific knowledge. It took a historical and critical view of certain passages in the Bible.

Fundamentalism- opposed the modernizing forces of the cities and upheld traditional values. It blamed the liberal views of modernists for causing a decline in morals. Protestant preachers condemned the modernists and taught that every word in the Bible must be accepted as literally true.

Assembly line- a method of mass production whereby the products are moved from worker to worker, with each person performing a small, repetitive task on the product and sending it to the next for a different part until the item is assembled. Henry Ford invented the moving assembly line.

Advertising- the promotion of products in various media. Modern advertising, employing psychology, expert testimony, and other innovations developed in the 20's

Speakeasies- illegal bars and saloons that operated during Prohibition

Bootleggers- people who illegally manufactured, sold, or transported alcoholic beverages during the Prohibition period

Consumer credit- it was greatly expanded to facilitate spending. The increased use of credit was only superficial prosperity, which was proven by the Stock Market Crash in 1929

Installment plans- the practice of paying for goods at regular intervals, usually with interest added to the balance

Flappers- a youthful and rebellious ideal that replaced the Victorian matronly style of petticoats and corsets. this ideal valued shorter hair, waistless dresses cut above the knee, and a degree of self-assuredness. Flappers, more likely to be found in urban settings, even began smoking and drinking in public

Nativism- anti-immigrant sentiment that had been present in the US as far back as the first waves of Irish immigration in the 1840's. It gained strength during the latter part of the 19th century as Eastern and Southern Europeans began immigrating to the US. Protestants feared an influx of Jews, Catholics, and members of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Organized labor feared that an influx of unskilled workers would drive wages down and make organizing unions more difficult. Some Americans just simply resented different cultures and languages entering the US.

Ku Klux Klan- It reemerged in 1915 as African Americans began leaving the South in large numbers as part of the Great Migration. It was strongest in the South but felt everywhere. It resorted to repressive tactics, including cross burnings and lynchings, largely directed at African Americans. After the death of the leader Grand Dragon David Stephensom, its influence and membership declined rapidly.

Open shops- keeping jobs open to nonunion workers

Welfare capitalism- voluntarily offering employees improved benefits and higher wages in order to remove the need for organizing unions.



Great Migration- half a million African Americans made the move from the rural South to the urban North in the 1910's to work in war-related industries since many workers had joined the army. It continued into the 20's. This migration was fueled by Jim Crow discrimination and low-paying jobs in the South. While African Americans did find work in war-related industries in the North, they still suffered discrimination and violence. Over 25 race riots erupted in Northern cities in 1919.

Red Scare- It was both a government attempt to expose and punish communists, anarchists, and radicals, and a grassroots fear of the spread of a worldwide communist revolution. It was ignited first in 1917 when communists staged a successful revolution in Russia and publicly expressed their hopes for a general uprising around the world, and second, in 1919 when strike waves convinced some that a communist uprising was imminent.

Palmer Raids- characterized the Red Scare. Investigations of labor leaders and radicals occurred across the nation. Government agents raided homes, union halls, offices, and meetings, often without warrants, in search for communist subversion.

Seattle general strike and Boston police strike- significant incidents of the 1919 strike wave. Union membership declined after 1919 as employers pushed for open shops.

Scopes Trial- conservative fundamentalist Protestants led by William Bryan had been pushing for the elimination of evolution for high school curricula. Tennessee passed legislation prohibiting the teaching of evolution in 1925. American Civil Liberties Union was eager to challenge the law, and found a biology teacher, John Scopes, who was willing to break the law to create a test case. Scopes was found guilty in this trial that attracted national attention, as Bryan argued against evolution and the lawyer Clarence Darrow defended Scope's right to teach it. The northern press, however, asserted that Darrow and the modernists had thoroughly discredited fundamentalism.

Sacco and Vanzetti Trial- two Italian immigrants, Sacco and Vazetti, were convicted in 1921 in a Massachusetts court of committing robbery and murder. Liberals protested the two men were innocent and they had been sentenced to death simply because they were poor Italians and anarchists. After six years of appeals and national and international debates over the fairness of their trial, they were executed in 1927.

Teapot Dome scandal (1921-23)- the most notorious of the number of scandals the Harding administration was embroiled in. It involved bribery and the transfer of rights to precious oil reserves at Teapot Dome, Wyoming. The whole affair, when made public, demonstrated the administration's shaky ethical foundation as well as its pro-business slant, although Harding himself was not involved.

Washington Naval Conference (1921 secretary of state Charles Evans Hughes initiated talks on naval disarmament, hoping to stabilize the size of the US Navy relative to that of other powers and to resolve conflicts in the Pacific. Representatives to the Conference came from Belgium, China, France, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, and Portugal. Three agreements to relieve tensions resulted from the discussions:

    Five-Power Treaty- Nations with the five largest navies agreed to maintain a specific ratio with respect to their largest warships. Britain and the US also agreed not to fortify their possessions in the Pacific.

    Four-Power Treaty- The US, France, Great Britain, and Japan agreed to respect one another's territory in the Pacific.

    Nine-Power Treaty- All nine nations represented agreed to respect the Open Door policy by guaranteeing the territorial integrity of China.




18th Amendment (1919)- banned the manufacture, sale, or transportation of alcoholic beverages. Wartime concerns to conserve grain and maintain a sober workforce moved Congress to pass this amendment.

Volstead Act (1919)-the federal law that enforced the Prohibition amendment.

19th Amendment (1920)- gave the women the right to vote.

Fordnet-McCumber Tariff (1922)- raised tariff rates in fear of a flood of goods from a revived postwar Europe. This act, which was especially high on agricultural goods, was an expression of American isolationism desires. It increased the duties on foreign manufactured goods by 25 percent. It was protective of US business interests in the short run, but was destructive in the long run because other nations responded to the high US tariffs by imposing tariffs of their own on American imports which ultimately weakened international trade and the world economy. 

McNary-Haugen Bill (1927 and 1928)- was twice vetoed by Coolidge. It would have provided price supports to struggling farmers.

Emergency Quota Act (1921)- established by Congress as European immigration increased after WWI. It set quotas for different nationalities based on the number of people from that nationality that had lived in the US in 1890, thus discrimination against new immigrant groups.

National Origins Act (1924)- a variation of the formula designed in the Emergency Quota Act. The net result was a dramatic decrease in European immigration from 1921 until 1965. 

Dawes Plan (1924)- a compromise that established a cycle of payments flowing from the US to Germany and from Germany to the Allies. US banks would lend Germany huge sums to rebuild its economy and pay reparations to Britain and France. In turn, Britain and France would use the reparations money to pay their war debts to the US. This cycle helped ease financial problems on both sides of the Atlantic. However, it collapsed in 1929 when US bank loans stopped and the stock market crashed.

Kellogg-Briand Pact (1928)- outlawed war, but it was little more than a statement of intent with no powers of enforcement. It reflected the naive hope that America could avoid international entanglements through gestures and good intentions.



William Jennings Bryan- argued for the prosecution in the Scopes Trial. He himself took the stand as an expert on religion and science, defending fundamentalist views on the Bible.

Clarence Darrow- represented the defense in the Scopes Trial.

Babe Ruth- famous baseball player

Charles Lindbergh- flew nonstop across the Atlantic from Long Island to Paris in 1927. He was a popular hero of the decade and many Americans listened to updates of his flight on the Radio.

Margaret Sanger- advocated birth control which achieved growing acceptance in the 20's.

Henry Ford- created the moving assembly line which revolutionized industry

Eugene V. Debs- was a socialist leader who was imprisoned for violating the Espionage Act in wartime, but was pardoned by Harding.

Marcus Garvey- headed the Universal Negro Improvement Association. He believed blacks should separate from corrupt white society. He cultivated racial pride with mass meetings and promoted black-owned businesses. He also founded a shipping line to help blacks immigrate to Africa.



Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, Extra Pound, and T.S. Eliot- writers of the "lost generation" which expressed disillusionment withh the ideals of an earlier time and with the materialism of a business-oriented culture. Eliot and Hemingway expressed their unhappiness by moving into exile in Europe.

The Passing of the Great Race (1916)- written by Madison Grant. He expressed that certain human races, mainly Nordics



"Return to normalcy"- the campaign slogan for Republican nominee Warren Harding in 1920. This was both a rejection of the activist government of the Progressive era and a call to isolate America from war and revolution-torn Europe.

"100 percent Americanism"- the devotion of the KKK. This entailed opposition to African Americans and Catholics, as well as to Jews and immigrants in general. It also stood for fundamentalist Protestantism, Prohibition, and what is seen as traditional moral values.

"A dollar down and a dollar forever"- a critic quipped about installment plans

"Associationalism"- Hoover wanted to stimulate cooperation between business and government

"Bright with hope"- how Hoover proclaimed his administration would be. He said this at his inaugural address.

"The new woman"- the intriguingly of independent women who were asserting a new social equality with men and remaking the image of feminity.

"Noble experiment"- was prohibition.

Traditionalist/Rural vs. Modernist/ Urban table




Didn’t want it because they supported unilateralism and thought that if Europe went to war then U.S. would be forced to go

The League of Nations

In 1919, isolationist Senators rejected American membership in the League of Nations, which had been supported by President Woodrow Wilson. The US remained outside the League throughout the 1920’s.

Wanted it because they believed that the league could prevent wars.

Happy with decision because they believed they believed in the traditional view of creation.

Scopes Trial

Schoolteacher John Scopes was found guilty in 1925 of breaking a Tennessee law against the teaching of Darwin’s theory of evolution in the public schools. He was defended by noted criminal lawyer Clarence Darrow, while the famous fundamentalist William Jennings Bryan aided the prosecution.

Considered it a victory because it brought fundamentalism to the stands and scopes didn’t do anytime.

Viewed it as a good thing because they thought alcohol was a sin and was frowned upon and caused social problems.


With ratification of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, the manufacture, sale, and consumption of alcoholic beverages became illegal in the United States. It remains so, despite widespread violations and rampant crime throughout the 1920’s.

With the ratification, there was an uproar against it. However, alcohol was still being consumed.

Women are too exposed. They shouldn’t wear clothes above the nee and shouldn’t cut their hair short.


Women were first granted the vote under the 19th Amendment in 1920. Relaxed standards of morality and dress also contributed to the “emancipated woman” of the 1920’s.

With the relaxed standards, modernists felt that the 19th amendment was necessary to women gaining status in a men’s world.

Red scare is an example of what people thought of immigration. They also believed in nativism.


High unemployment. Labor troubles, and anti-Communist feeling brought a quota system in 1921 that limited European immigration for the first time in American history. These quotas favored northwestern Europeans at the expense of Asians.

Although there was still nativism, it wasn’t as strong and didn’t discriminate as much of “new” immigrants.

They thought that the people were heroes for persecuting certain people.

Ku Klux Klan

Klu Klux Klan was revived partially to the film, Birth of a Nation. It expanded targets of hate to include Catholics, iimmigrants, and Jews, as well as blacks.

Went against it because of the horrible things that they did to innocent people.

Believed in Nativism and thought that the execution was fair and for a good reason.

Sacco and Vanzetti

In 1920, these Italian immigrants were put on trial for the murder of a paymaster in Massachusetts. Their execution seven years later provoked controversy over the fairness of their trial, since many thought their radical political views had been held against them.

Thought that the trial was unfair because the immigrants were convicted under radically political views and not the actual evidence.


Catholics are too inferior to become president.

Election of 1928

This election marked the first time that a Catholic, New York governor Al Smith, ran for president. Republican Herbert Hoover won on the issue of prosperity but the size of his victory was viewed as evidence that a Catholic could not be elected President of the United States

They accepted new religious views and thought Al was a good candidate.