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Isolationism: The USA is large country with a complex governmental structure. After President Woodrow WIlson returned to the USA after is efforts at Versailles (post World War I), he found that most Americans no longer wanted anything to do with the rest of the world. Since gaining independance from Britain in 1783, the American people had tried to avoid foreign entanglements and concentrated on building up the strength of their nation. There were two main reasons for this :- Over one hundred thousand American had been killed during the war.
This left many families without a “bread-winner” and consequently without money. The war itself had badly disrupted trade with other countries. In 1920, half the people in America had been born outside the USA. They were mostly Eurpoean settlers who had left their homes and come to America to start a new life. For many, Europe was associated with poverty and harsh governments. Also, since the communist uprising in Russia had just been completed and communist ideals were beginning to infiltrate into Western Europe, they wanted to avoid any contact with Europe as many
Americans deeply opposed comunism. Woodrow Wilson had hoped that the USA would play a big part in world affairs and created a “League of Nations” plan that would involve many countries. In spite of its obvious bonuses, he found little support for it. The USA never signed the Treaty of Versailles and never joined the League of Nations. This policy came to be called isolationism: the wish to stay out of any involvement with other countries.
Immigration: Even though the American population at that time disliked foreigners, they were still attracting a large number of immigrants, as the poor, the persecuted, and the ambitious flooded in from every nation in Europe, all hoping they would be part of the “American Dream” of riches for everyone. For many years, America had kept an “open door” to immigrants from any country, all over the world. After a certain stability had been added to the country the government decided to remove any possible immigration channels that would encourage other races to move to America. From 1921 the American people began to become intorlerant of the large numbers of immigrants entering the country.
The number of immigrants allowed into the USA was gradually cut until, by 1929, only 150,000 entry visas per year were granted – less than half the amount of 1921. There was also a quota system which made it easier for people from northern and western Europe to enter and discriminated against those wishing to come from southern and eastern Europe. As most immigrants from the prefered places had already been in America for several generations, they became know as WASPs (White, Anglo-Saxon Protestants) and had always held power.
They feared losing this power to Jews and Roman Catholics. Racism:The racist attiudes of the WASPs was also directed against people who were already living in the USA and were said to have “slipped through the controls”. A group called the Ku Klux Klan gained strength in the 1920s. Most of its members were poor whites afraid of blacks and immigrants workers, who were willing to work for low wages. Although the Klan was started in the southern USA, it strenght grew in the north and west. Their cerimonial dress included white sheets, with pointed hoods and Klan symbols. To make their presence felt, they would attack and terrify blacks, Jews and Roman Catholics.
Some victims were tarred and feathered, lynched or had their houses burned down. The Klan’s leader was called “The Imperial Wizard” and the group had five million members by 1925. Prohibition and Gangsters: In 1919, the US Congress passed the eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, declaring the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages illegal. This was called prohibition. Many very religious people though that alcohol was the root of social problems. These people were outweighed by the people who liked this very popular pastime. GAngsters stepped in to take the place of the banned alcohol business. This was one vast and very profitable business that was outside the law.
They ran illegal bars called speakeasies, imported alcohol drink (“bootleg”), or had it made secretly (“moonshine”). Gangsters such as the famous Al Capone made millions of dollars by operating outside the law from the beginning. They settled their business rivalries in gunfights and while providing oppertunities for gangsters, it turned many ordinary Americans into criminals. Mass production and Consumer Boom: The 1920s were a boom time in the American economy.
Their huge reserves of natural materials like coal, oil, and gold made them one of the richest countries and business took advantage of this and expanded enourmously. Industrial goods such as metals, chemicals and machine-tools were produced on a large scale. The most noticeable rise in consumables was in radios, telephones, watches, vacuum cleaners and hundreds of other luxury items that most people could now afford. Radio now meant that advertisements could be transmitted dircelty into peoples homes. The best example of a consumer industry would be the car industry.
In Detroit, Henry Ford set up a fully automated factory. Each worker did only one small job on the assembly line, and by 1925 Ford produced on car every ten seconds. Because of the mass production of items, prices plumeted and people rushed to buy these new goods and services. With plenty of money about, and plenty of new things to spend it on, many Americand enjoyed the carefree, live-for-the-moment atmosphere of the twenties. Women experienced new freedom and the music of the black bands in speakeasies gave its name to this peroid: the Jazz.