APUSH Unit VIII Essay Prep: Early 1900s up to the Great Depression

(1) Compare and contrast the criticisms of American society in the 1920’s and 1930’s by American writers.

Synthesis:  Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Frederick Douglass’ slave narrative criticised the brutality of slavery through their literary works, both hoping to have an impact on the existence of slaves in America. Although both works wrote their stories in order to change the perspectives of Americans and shed light on the deplorable conditions of slavery, Douglass’ literary style was different than Beecher’s. He was able to recount his true story as a slave, while Beecher’s novel was fiction. Both authors were anti-slavery but approached the subject differently.  

Contextualisation: At the same time, artists, architects and musicians were also evolving their style — Joseph Stella’s The Bridge, Edward Hopper with Hopper, Dorothea Lange’s photos during the Great Depression, the shift from modern cubism to photography.



Writers attacked the materialism and the disillusionment that many Americans were enveloping themselves around. They disliked the new business culture of America. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels criticise the increasing of materialistic, self-absorbed views that the wealthy had. His books had characters that rejected traditional beliefs.

  • This Side of Paradise
  • The Great Gatsby is a literary novel that captures the glamorous party-filled life of the wealthy, but also how they tended to disregard those they considered below them on the social scale.

Sinclair Lewis criticised small-town America and how it limited individuality. Many of the people in his books were foolish men and women that chased after money.

  • Main Street, Babbitt, Arrowsmith, Elmer Gantry, and Dodsworth


  • Mencken attacked American values and considered them to be fools and stupid. Traditional Americans opposed his work.  
  • Hemingway’s work was about the war and the materialistic culture of the postwar years, love, struggle, courage, and loss.


To put it simply, 1920s writers wrote about materialism and the lavish lifestyles of the urban population and the greed that pervaded the culture at the time. During the 1930s, writers wrote about standing up for oneself and working hard and not relying on the politicians to do anything for them because they’re not. They tried to reject traditional values in order to make people pave their own roads instead of following the institutions. The 1930s also saw more attention and criticism of the areas outside of urban centers for their complacency and inability to adapt to present difficulties.

(2) Analyze the ways in which TWO of the following New Deal measures attempted to fashion a more stable economy and a more equitable society.

Agricultural Adjustment Act                         The Securities and Exchange Commission

Wagner Labor Relations Act                           Social Security Act

Synthesis: The Affordable Care Act (2010)

Contextualisation: Social Security Act (1935)


Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA, 1933):

  • Protected farmers from price drops by providing crop subsidies in hopes of reducing production and educational programs to teach methods of preventing soil erosion
    • Subsidy came from a tax that was later declared unconstitutional, resulting in the second act
    • Evens balance of supply and demand
      • So that farmers only produce what the consumers can buy and not excess
  • Second Act set a parity price, and the government pays the difference if the farmers did not make at least that much
    • Essentially (in both) the government was paying farmers not to grow crops on a part of their land (the Domestic Allotment Plan)
      • Solves deflation caused by surplus of products
  • Improved economy:
    • solving deflation (see above)
    • Farmers would use their higher wages to buy consumer goods, which helps the economy overall
  • Improved society:  farming is now profitable
    • Makes society fairer because people have an equal opportunity

Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC, 1934):

  • Regulated stock market and restricted margin buying
  • Protects people from fraud in stock market
  • Wanted accurate financial statements→ FASB
    • Financial Accounting Standards Board
  • Improved economy: curtailed dangerous practices like buying on margin
  • Improved society: helped to start to regain people’s confidence in the stock market, and makes it safer for consumers to buy stock

(3) How did TWO of the following help shape American national culture in the 1920’s?

Advertising    Mass Production     Entertainment 

Synthesis: The 1950s  – both periods after World Wars, inventions of new technologies for the common consumer (radios in the 1920s, TV in the 1950s), magazines and media influenced American culture, economies were doing well in both times due to the war

Contextualisation: Advertising – glorified consumer spending, the value of a person depended on what they had: having things were more important that social character, religion, morals; companies wanted to sell more and targeted women (household appliances, makeup, promoted the idea of women drinking and smoking)



  • Movies: silent films, Nickelodeon (Clara Bow – The “It” Girl, Charlie Chaplin)
  • Radio – radio shows – “Amos ‘n Andy”, Presidents could address the American audience directly over radio, 60% of American families had radios
  • Jazz Age & Harlem Renaissance – help establish the African American identity in America. (Louis Armstrong, Jacob Lawrence, Alain Locke’s The New Negro)
  • Literary works by Fitzgerald, Sinclair, Hemingway, Stein (The Lost Generation) – commentary on life in the 20s (America’s materialism and modernism), post-war cynicism
  • Impacts:
  • changing views of women (flappers, smoking, drinking, open sexuality)
  • deviation from the secular, traditional lifestyle;
  • promoted a culture of consumption and buying (after WWI where people willingly rationed)

Mass Production

  • Consumer products became more widely available and more affordable – changed home life (refrigerators, washing machines, cars)
  • Changed the household life with labor saving machines doing work which allowed more leisure time
  • Impact on Workers:
  • They became less skilled, with more machines being able to do the work and assembly lines requiring they do one task.
  • Decline of labor union membership and the need for cheap labor

(4) Historians have argued that Progressive reform lost momentum in the 1920’s. Evaluate this statement with respect to TWO of the following.

Regulation of business   Labor   Immigrants

Synthesis:  Reconstruction

Contextualisation: Immigrants from East Asia came into the US in bigger numbers, prompting backlash because of unfamiliar culture and language barrier.


  • Regulation of Business:
    • Reforms before the 1920s
      • Trust-breaking (Clayton Anti-Trust Act)
      • Quality Regulation (Pure Food & Drug, Meat Inspection etc)
      • Reduction of Tariffs (notably Underwood Tariff), less protection for US companies
      • WWI wartime regulation of businesses (War Industries Board)
    • After 1920s
      • Implication of regulating businesses as being communist or socialist (in light of the Red Scare and WWI)
      • Economic boom discouraged any sort of checking power (Calvin Coolidge:“The business of America is business. The man who builds a factory builds a temple. The man who works there worships there.”)
      • Inventions (assembly line) exploded production and lowered prices and encouraged consumerism meaning businesses grew even bigger than what they were before therefore harder to control
      • Harding, Coolidge and Hoover were all hands-off presidents (Hoover himself was a businessman, owning silver mines. Fun fact: He and wife spoke Mandarin if they didn’t want to get eavesdropped on.)
      • Harding Administration’s corruption (Teapot Dome) meant that gov’t officials were often willing to look the other way if they got a little something under the table in return
      • Skyrocketing tariffs (eg Hawley-Smoot Tariff; highest peacetime tariff ever)
  • Labor:
    • Before 1920s
      • Regulation of wages, hours and condition by state governments
      • Incidents like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire brought awareness to both the long hours and unsafe conditions
        • Prompted the creation of regulatory institutions (New York State Factory Commision etc)
      • Stopped the use of Sherman Anti-Trust against strikers
      • Roosevelt performed the first go-between to resolve issues between owner and workers
      • Roosevelt and Wilson made their own headways into the issue
      • Headed by socialist-leaning reformers like Eugene Debs (who was a socialist)
      • Unions with widespread influence (Gomper’s AFL)
    • After 1920s
      • Renewed image of labor unions as communist and socialist, were seen as un-American
      • “Welfare Capitalism”, providing services to employees to stop the formation of independent labor unions (notable example being Henry Ford taking advantage of this by sponsoring stuff like sports teams, cafeterias, glee clubs and formed groups representing women, blacks and immigrants)
      • Open-shop movement- required people to work in nonunion places
      • Yellow dog contract–where the worker has to agree not to join a union
      • Gov’t started trying to break up unions again and struck down labor laws
        • 1922-federal troops broke up a railroad strike (The Great Railroad Strike of 1922)
        • Bailey v. Drexel Furniture Company (1922) struck down federal law regulating child labor  
        • Adkins v. Children’s Hospital (1923) struck down minimum wage law for women in Washington D.C.
        • Supreme Court weakened labor provisions of Clayton Anti-Trust Act (1914) in 1921 and 1927

(5) Compare and contrast the ways that many Americans expressed their opposition to immigrants in the 1840s–1850s with the ways that many Americans expressed their opposition to immigrants in the 1910s–1920s.

Synthesis: BRACERO Program against Mexican immigrants

Contextualisation: Chinese Exclusion Act (1882)



  • Anti-immigration Attitudes
    • Ethnic neighbourhoods were seen with suspicion, poverty, crime
    • Immigrants inherently inferior to “real” Americans
    • Immigrants steal jobs from honest Americans
    • Whigs complained that immigrants (who were overwhelmingly Dems) would corrupt the political process
    • Taxpayers would have to pay for programs that would support immigrants and that wasn’t fair because the immigrants aren’t paying for themselves.
  • The Irish were targeted (in particular in Boston where some places put up “No Irish Need Apply” signs, seen as non-white, were looked down on for being a drinking culture
  • A lot of immigrant groups were Catholic and anti-Catholic views mixed with anti-immigrant prejudice
  • Nativism
    • 1850s-The American Party
      • 1854-membership at one-and-a-half million
      • Supported extension of period for naturalisation from 5 to 21 years; ban on naturalised citizens’ holding of public office
      • Declined in 1856 when divided over slavery question
      • Accused immigrants of plotting with Catholics to overthrow U.S. democracy
  • Germans were better off being better educated, financially stable and settled further West in more sparsely populated areas
  • Chinese
    • 1854 People vs. Hall (California Supreme Court)- extended a previous law saying non-whites can’t testify against whites to the Chinese
    • 1855 & 8-California passed laws stopping Chinese immigration, overturned by SCOTUS
  • Mexicans also saw discrimination, especially as more Anglos moved into the annexed Texas and the far West


  • Progressives did not want more immigrants as they thought  that would increase economic problems  
  • World War I propaganda influenced American’s views on Germans that they were barbaric. (anti-German and anti-Irish)
  • Red Scare – linked socialism and radicalism with immigrants (Palmer Raids – revealed the fear for foreign ideas and immigrants in the government)
  • Sacco and Vanzetti – foreign-born anarchists (reinforced the idea that immigrants were radicals), they were executed despite little proof for their crimes.
  • The KKK came back – reinforced the ideas of white supremacy; had power in the Democratic Party; supported violence against Jews, Blacks, and other immigrants who got jobs or didn’t assimilate to American culture
  • Ozawa v US (1922) and US v Thind (1923) – Japanese, Indian, and Asian immigrants couldn’t assimilate and were unable to obtain citizenship
  • Hidemitsu v. the US — Japanese were rejected naturalisation for being “alien” racially and ethnically
  • National Origins Act of 1924- showing discrimination toward immigrants from southern and eastern Europe and excluded Asians.- Coolidge said America must be kept American.

(6) Analyze the origins and outcomes of the intense cultural conflicts of the 1920s. In your response, focus on TWO of the following.

Immigration   Prohibition   Religion

Synthesis: 1960s

Contextualisation: Prohibition

  • Temperance movement originally began with the 2nd Great Awakening but there was revival of its importance now
  • WCTU was part of the temperance movement
  • Anti-Saloon League
  • However, in 1920s culture, there was much bootlegging and illegal acts and the Amendment did not stop it — impossible to enforce


Immigration conflict

  • Origins
    • Increase in immigration before 1920
    • Generally poor
    • Prior nativism
    • Progressives thought that fewer immigrants means better off public
  • Outcomes
    • Discrimination continues
    • KKK expanded
      • Wants 100% Americanism
      • Violence
      • Preserve America as a “white” nation
    • Emergency Quota Act
      • 35700 immigrants/year is maximum
    • Ozawa v. the US — Japanese so racially different/inferior that they cannot get citizenship
    • Hidemitsu v US- Japanese cannot be naturalised
    • US Border Patrol was established in 1925 to decrease Mexican immigration too

Religion conflict

  • Origins
    • The Fundamentals – influenced people to return to literal interpretations while others persisted with metaphorical interpretations
    • More against Catholics and Jews
  • Outcomes
  • Fundamentalism movement
    • Literal interpretation
    • Response to beliefs during changes in 1920s lifestyle
    • William Jennings Bryan was leader of it
  • Some Southern states don’t want to teach evolution
    • Scopes Trial
    • Shows general discontent about religion

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