Two Wars and a Depression The United States, 1912-1939
Woodrow Wilson Elected in 1912 (because the Republican Party had been split by the Roosevelt-Taft feud) Woodrow Wilson was only the second Democratic President since Lincoln. Wilson was a southerner by birth, a former college professor of history and government, and, as governor of New Jersey, a moderate reformer. He was also unwilling to admit he could ever be mistaken.
The Money Issue and Taxation • Wilson put his support behind a number of issues that would raise more revenue for the government, prevent major financial panics in the future, and help consumers: • The Underwood Tariff lowered rates on many imported items. • The Federal Reserve System created a group of Federal banks that would handle the flow of currency, regulate other banks through loans, and try to maintain a steady economy. • A Federal Trade Commission that could use a tougher anti-trust process to encourage competition in business. • The 16th Amendment to the Constitution, which permitted the Federal government to collect income taxes.
Civil Rights Wilson also did not have any interests in civil rights (as a child in Virginia in the 1860s he resented the defeat of the Confederacy by Lincoln’s armies). While Roosevelt and Taft had invited African-Americans like George Washington Carver to dinner at the White House, Wilson ended the practice and refused to meet with any civil rights leaders.
Rivals to Carver Other Black leaders criticized Carver’s unwillingness to challenge segregation. W.E.B. DuBois (left) argued that African-Americans should enter the professions of law and medicine, and reject a segregated society. Marcus Garvey (right) called for a separate Black state,
Trouble Abroad War in Europe in 1914 threatened to interfere with American trade. The U.S. declared it would be neutral in the war, and Wilson promised that Americans would not get involved.
War and Propaganda • Every nation had secret treaties for obtaining territory from the losers • Every nation sought to convince world opinion that the war was the fault of someone else • US neutrality (until 1917) based of view that all were at fault • US businesses were selling arms to Britain and France
US Sympathy for Victims U.S. groups organized aid for Serbia, Belgium, and other smaller nations caught up in the Great War.
Wartime Propaganda Actress Geraldine Farrar strikes a pose as Joan of Arc in “Joan the Woman,” Cecil B. DeMille’s 1916 film. Critics charged that the French lily and the actress’s raised arms suggested that France was being crucified by German invaders. In 1916, Woodrow Wilson won re-election on the slogan that he had “kept us out of war.” But even then Wilson knew that America might have to fight to keep Germany from dominating European trade and the Atlantic sea lanes over which American products were shipped.
American Entry into War, 1917 • U.S. public increasingly angry over German atrocities in Belgium, France • Zimmerman telegram proposes German alliance with Mexico against U.S. • German’s decide to again unleash “unrestricted” submarine warfare
The Fourteen Points When the US entered the war, Wilson made the main American war aim a “world safe for democracy.”
The Fourteen Points • No secret treaties • Freedom of the seas • Free trade • Armament reductions • Self determination of peoples, based on cultural values of nationality (including an independent Poland, breakup of Turkish empire, adjustment of Austrian empire, restoration of Belgium, and replacement of European colonies by “territories” to be given independence). • An international organization for maintaining peace and preventing future wars by negotiations – Wilson called it a “League of nations.”
U.S. in France Because they entered the war 3 years after it began, US casualties were far less that those of other nations.
Enlisting the Movie Stars Actress Mary Pickford give a pep talk to the “troops” in her 1918 summer hit “Johanna Enlists.”
The Hun When a German officer makes improper advances to civilian Mary Pickford, another German officer intervenes. “The Little American” (1917) like so many films of the time, depicted many of the German soldiers as beasts who would kill and rape at the slightest provocation. In truth, German soldiers did execute Belgian civilians in order to enforce obedience.
Hate the Hun Utilizing the style of political cartoonists, William Fox had this marquee poster designed to promote his 1918 action film, “The Prussian Cur,” directed by Raoul Walsh. The Espionage Act of 1917 complemented the wartime propaganda by suppressing the speech of dissidents. Socialists, labor leaders and pacifists, who spoke out against the war, were arrested and jailed.
To Hell With the Kaiser After the U.S. entered the war, this feature literally showed German Emperor Wilhelm and the emperor of Austria enter into a pact with the devil to “rule the world.”
Hoover and Food As the head of the War Food Administration Board, Herbert Hoover became an international figure for his efficiency in sending food to war-torn Europe. Hoover, a millionaire-engineer, promised to be part of a new breed of political leaders, skilled in administration and progressive in outlook.
Victory After 4 years of war and economic blockade, Germany asked for an armistice. By then, the Russian empire had collapsed in revolution, Germany’s allies were ruined, and Britain and France were exhausted. This left America the richest and most powerful nature on earth. Wilson wanted a peace that would prevent future wars and counter the attractions of the Communist revolution in Russia. But the Treaty of Versailles did little to promote peace in the future.
Revolution at Home The 19th Amendment to the Constitution gave the right to vote to all American women aged 21 and older. Not every woman accepted that this would provide full equality. Alice Paul, a suffragette, called for an “equal rights amendment” to prevent any discrimination against women in business or society. Throughout the 1920s, women would enter business in a number of “new” professions – law, journalism, medicine. But the majority still worked in nursing, clerical jobs or teaching (and teachers who married were fired in most states).
Treaty Rejected After Wilson (left, with the French and English leaders) returned to the U.S., the Senate rejected the Treaty of Versailles. The U.S. never joined the League of Nations as Wilson had intended.
U.S. Regrets Role in War In 1920, American voters elected Warren Harding as President. Because Harding had opposed the Treaty of Versailles, this vote was taken as a rejection of America’s role in the Great War. By the mid-1920s, U.S. history books called American entry in the war “a mistake.” He said it was time to return to “normalcy.”
The End of Reform The 1920 presidential election demonstrated that the public had become tired of reform movements. The Democratic candidates, James B. Cox and his running mate Franklin D. Roosevelt, campaigned for the U.S. joining League of Nations. But the Republican candidate, Warren Harding, running on the slogan “Back to Normalcy,” opposed the League. He won an overwhelming victory.
“Normalcy” Returns • Election of Harding in 1920 opened an era of U.S. withdrawal from most world affairs. • Americans were angry that most European nations were not repaying their war debts. • U.S. politics was dominated by prohibition and and rising power of Wall Street. • Farmers had a very hard time, because the wartime prices of grain and cotton fell as Europe recovered in 1921-22.
The Business of America – is business Harding, a small town businessman, took a pro-business view toward his role, and thus did not favor support of unions or regulation of corporations. But friends and advisors plunged his administration into scandal. Attorney General Harry Daugherty (right) of Hardin’s “Ohio Gang,” narrowly missed being convicted for accepting bribes and was forced to resign; other scandals erupted in the Veterans’ Bureau.
Prohibition After a nationwide campaign by the Women’s Christian Temperance Unions and other anti-liquor groups, the 18th amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1920, prohibited the sale of any alcoholic beverages in the U.S. The Volsted Act enforced it (people could make a limited amount of “home brew” beer of 3.2% or less alcohol content). Prohibition was poorly received by much of America, and criminal gangs quickly expanded to supply the booze buyers wanted.
Booze and Corruption Bribery and corruption flowed as heavily as booze in the 1920s, with one group of state and Federal law enforcers working to discover and destroy illegal liquor (left) and other groups of local and even Federal police taking millions of dollars to “look the other way.” Along the Minnesota-North Dakota border certain county sheriffs assisted the smuggling of liquor from Canada into the U.S.
Racism Revival As had happened after previous eras of reform, the 1920s saw a revival of racism and anti-foreignism. The Ku Klux Klan grew up again, in the South, but also in many cities. In Congress, a National Origins Act altered the immigration rules to reduce the number of immigrants from eastern and southern Europe.
The New Prosperity Postwar prosperity in urban America helped make the early 1920s – with new advertising through the radio and magazines, and with profits from overseas trade. Rural America did not obtain much of this “easy money” but still wanted the comforts advertised in publications like the Sears Catalog.
The Jazz Age The prosperity characterized the “Roaring Twenties,” where “flappers” smoked in public, youth enjoyed their own status as a “market,” movies with titles like “Flaming Youth” suggested an end to “old fashioned” morals, and writers like Fitzgerald and Lewis deride the old ways of life. But the prosperity rested on shaky ground – people did not make enough money to buy all that was being manufactured. By 1927, many industries were reducing staff and cutting wages. All that was required was a shock to create a financial panic. The bubble burst in 1929.
The “Teapot Dome” The most infamous scandal of the Harding Administration, known as the “Teapot Dome,” involved payment of $360,000 in bribes to high federal officials to arrange for the leasing of oil drilling rights on federal naval reserves to favored companies. Albert B. Fall (far left), the secretary of the interior, was much involved and became the first Cabinet member in history to be convicted for crimes while in office.
Coolidge Takes Over His administration ruined by the scandals, Harding died of a cerebral hemorrhage on August 2, 1923. His successor, Calvin Coolidge, was able to distance himself from the scandals by moving swiftly to bring indictments against those who had abused the public trust. And, like Harding, this Vermont Republican believed that the presidency should encourage prosperity by supporting big corporations.
Low taxes, small budgets Coolidge promised to keep Federal taxes low and the Federal budget balanced. As this newspaper cartoon suggests, Coolidge and his Treasury Secretary, Andrew Mellon, trimmed Federal expenses by closing down some of the Progressive era regulatory agencies that had fought against child labor, while supporting factory safety, and other pro-worker actions. This helped increased the prosperity of the decade.
Easy Money Cars, radios, and movies also helped increase national income and national spending. Advertising, presumably the job of the man in the Abraham Lincoln costume, played an important role in selling luxury model autos such as this 1923 Lincoln touring car.
Consumers and Producers Registration of vehicles rose in the ’20s from 9.2 million to 26.7 million. General Motors dominated cars by 1930. Unlike Ford, which concentrated on the "no-frills" inexpensive "Model T," GM executives each year introduced a variety of models that made earlier ones obsolete. With many models and many “luxuries,” they increased their sales each year.
The “Silver Screen” The “movies” added to a “national culture” by teaching young men and women how to dress, look, and behave. Rudolph Valentino’s most famous film, TheSheik, left women swooning and men copying his Latin "machismo" hair style. When he died in 1925 of complications following an ulcer attack, his funeral became one of the public events of the decade.
“Wild Youth” The movies, combined with the incomes of working women to give young women liberties they had not previously had. They could purchase new and more daring fashions featured on the screen – shorter hemlines, more casual designs, less constrictive undergarments, and brighter colors. This financial independence, when mixed with short or “bobbed” hair, created the look of the “flapper” generation. Women smoking in public shocked older Americans.
Changes in behavior Advertising urged both men and women to smoke cigarettes as a “modern” expression of good taste. Many companies paid radio and movie stars to publicly smoke their brands. Previously unacceptable behavior for women – smoking, swearing, frank discussion of sex – became “smart,” with movies, new “Confession” magazines, popular novels, and celebrities providing role models for new behaviors.
Mass Communications and Celebrity Radio also added to the advertising aimed at consumers. This 1924 Freed-Eisemann radio receiver, with a separate loud-speaker, illustrates the way in which many Americans would have heard the radio programs of the day. Dominated by large networks, radio programs broke down local barriers, created national celebrities among sports figures and performers, z=and paved the way for a nation-wide “consumer culture.”
An Assurance of Peace? In the late 1920s, U.S. Secretary of State Frank Kellogg joined the French foreign minister in persuading world leaders to sign a pact promising to “settle all differences without resorting to war.” Every major nation signed it – and then ignored it.
Prosperity on shaky ground • Despite the rising stock market, American (and world) prosperity rested on very little more than public confidence; this declined as dictatorships took hold in Europe and Asia • World trade declined as many nations imposed high tariffs (taxes on imported foreign goods) • The world’s gold supply was not stabilizing prices • Unemployment was slowly growing, as fewer people could afford modern luxury goods • As sales of cars, radios, and other “durable goods” (refrigerators, washing machines, etc.) slowed down, American factories laid off workers.
THE CRASH Over speculation in the stock market led to wild swings in stock prices. In October 1929, the overall market fell to less than 50% of its previous value. Hundreds of thousands loss their jobs and the financial depression began.
Bank Failures – 9000 banks holding $7 billion closed in 1 year (no deposit insurance existed)
Hunger in a food-rich nation A BREAD LINE In NYC, 1930
Herbert Hoover’s response As the president in 1929, Herbert Hoover (left) was faced with the crisis. He had been elected in 1928 as a “problem solver” who had provided aid to Europe after the Great war and helped the South recover from the devastating 1927 flood. But Hoover refused to expand the Federal government’s debt in order to provide direct aid. He and the Congress created the National Recovery Administration (NRA) – which would lend money to corporations. He assured people that the NRA would “engineer” recovery “in the long run.” One economist replied, “People don’t eat in the long run, they eat every day. And they’re hungry now.”
The Bonus March – 1932 The hard times dragged on. In 1932, thousands of veterans from the Great War of 1917-18 went to Washington to ask Congress to advance them money from the bonus promised to them in 1945. Several economists argued that advance payments of the bonus would stimulate economic recovery.
Crushing the Bonus March Congress refused to advance the bonus payments, while Hoover, worried about rumors that the marchers were being influenced by communist agents, ordered the U.S. army to “guide” the marchers out of Washington. Army chief Douglas MacArthur (left) exceeded his orders, using cavalry and tanks to drive them out.When the veterans were gone, chased out by tear gas, MacArthur ordered the burning of their camp at the city’s edge. Many in the nation were outraged at this treatment of hungry former soldiers at a time when Federal funds were being spent to save large corporations from bankruptcy