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1 The Collision Of Cultures
2 Britain And Its Colonies
3 Colonial Ways Of Life
4 The Imperial Perspective
5 From Empire To Independence
6 The American Revolution
7 Shaping A Federal Union
8 The Federalist Era
9 The Early Republic
10 Nationalism And Sectionalism
11 The Jacksonian Impulse
12 The Dynamics Of Growth
13 An American Renaissance: Religion, Romanticism, And Reform
14 Manifest Destiny
15 The Old South
16 The Crisis Of Union
17 The War Of The Union
18 Reconstruction: North And South
19 New Frontiers: South And West
20 Big Business And Organized Labor
21 The Emergence Of Urban America
22 Gilded-age Politics And Agrarian Revolt
23 An American Empire
24 The Progressive Era
25 America And The Great War
26 The Modern Temper
27 Republican Resurgence And Decline
28 New Deal America
29 From Isolation To Global War
30 The Second World War
31 The Fair Deal And Containment
32 Through The Picture Window: Society And Culture, 19451960
33 Conflict And Deadlock: The Eisenhower Years
34 New Frontiers: Politics And Social Change In The 1960s
35 Rebellion And Reaction In The 1960s And 1970s
36 A Conservative Insurgency
37 Triumph And Tragedy: America At The Turn Of The Century

The Modern Temper - Document Overview

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World War I unleashed forces that caused severe social strains in the United States. In 1920 the American economy suffered a brief but sharp recession as factories and businesses shifted back to peacetime production. At the same time, returning soldiers and sailors swamped the labor market. Prices soared as consumers sought to buy the goods and services they had sacrificed during the war. Frustration over scarce jobs and high prices led to violent labor disputes fanned by socialist and communist agitators. In 1919 a flurry of bombs addressed to government officials led many Americans to fear that something akin to Russia's Bolshevik Revolution was erupting in the United States.

This "Red Scare" prompted Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, whose front porch was destroyed by a mail bomb, to launch a series of raids directed at labor radicals and alien activists across the country. Over 5,000 people were arrested, some 250 of whom were convicted without the benefit of a court hearing, loaded onto a ship, and deported to the Soviet Union. These "witch hunts" were conducted by the FBI under the direction of a young official named J. Edgar Hoover.

These powerful anti-immigrant and anti-radical sentiments surfaced in the most sensational criminal trial of the decade. In 1920 robbers shot and killed the paymaster and guard at a shoe factory in Braintree, Massachusetts. The police later arrested two Italian immigrants who were avowed anarchists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, and charged them with the murders. A jury found them guilty in 1921, and numerous appeals supported by prominent liberals kept the case in court until 1927, when they both were executed.

During the summer of 1919 the same social tensions that ignited the Red Scare fueled a new round of race riots. The war had disrupted the patterns of race relations. Blacks from the rural South who served in the military were less willing to tolerate racial abuse and "Jim Crow" segregation laws once they returned home. Thousands of southern blacks also migrated north and west in search of higher wages and racial equality, only to discover that racism was not limited to the deep South. White mobs in communities across the nation assaulted blacks for various reasons or for no reason at all. In a Chicago riot thirty-eight people were killed and hundreds injured; troops had to be called in to restore order.

By the end of 1920 the race riots and the Red Scare had dissipated, but they left in their wake an atmosphere of venomous racism and xenophobia and a latent tension that repeatedly erupted in violence over the next two decades. During the early 1920s the Ku Klux Klan witnessed a dramatic revival, and anti-immigration sentiment culminated in new laws intended specifically to restrict the number of newcomers from southern and eastern Europe.

The nativism and racism that surfaced after World War I revealed fissures that repeatedly sent tremors through American society and culture during the 1920s. The social fault lines tended to occur between rural and urban values. Large cities increasingly represented centers of modernism. The residents were more affluent, more secular, and more "liberated" about mores and manners than their rural counterparts. Many young adults—especially affluent college students—discarded old prohibitions. They engaged in sensual dancing, public kissing and swimming, cigarette smoking, and alcohol consumption that shocked and angered moral guardians. Drawing upon manipulated theories of the Viennese psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, young rebels engaged in what amounted to a sexual revolution during the 1920s. In the face of such cosmopolitan challenges, many rural traditionalists countered with an aggressive conservatism that coupled religious and cultural fundamentalism.

Traditionalists focused much of their energy on an old crusade: the prohibition of alcoholic beverages. Throughout the nineteenth century, moral reformers had tried to outlaw the production and sale of alcoholic beverages, but not until 1919 did they succeed on the national level. With the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment, the federal government prohibited the manufacture, sale, or transport of all intoxicating liquors, and the Volstead Act, enacted the same year, defined as "intoxicating" any beverage that had 0.5 percent or more of alcohol.

The clash between rural and urban values reached a theatrical climax during the famous "monkey trial" in the town of Dayton, Tennessee, in 1925. A state law prohibiting the teaching of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution was challenged by a high-school biology teacher named John Scopes, and the resulting trial pitted the forces of fundamentalism against liberalism. The court ruled against Scopes, but the widely publicized trial helped generate a nationwide assault against fundamentalism that further eroded the foundations of biblical and social orthodoxy. Liberal Protestants and advocates of modern scientific methods heaped scorn upon fundamentalists, initiating a cultural civil war that persists today.


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