History of the USA

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IM CROW LAWS on black people, using the rationale that such legalization of segregation resulted in a more orderly, systematic electoral system and society. Many of the steps that had been taken toward racial equality during the Reconstruction period were thus reversed. The federal government upheld the principle of racial segregation in the U.S. Supreme Court case PLESSY V. FERGUSON (1896), as long as blacks were provided with "separate but equal" facilities. In the face of the rigidly segregated society that confronted them, blacks themselves were divided concerning the appropriate course of action. Since 1895, Booker T. WASHINGTON had urged that blacks should not actively agitate for equality, but should acquire craft skills, work industriously, and convince whites of their abilities. W. E. B. DU BOIS insisted instead (in The Souls of Black Folk, 1903) that black people ceaselessly protest Jim Crow laws, demand education in the highest professions as well as in crafts, and work for complete social integration. In 1910 the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE (NAACP) was founded to advance these ideals.


Intervention and World War


President Taft continued to stress the economic aspects of Roosevelts interventionist spirit. Under Tafts foreign policy (called dollar diplomacy) U.S. firms were encouraged to increase investments in countries bordering the Caribbean in the hope that the American economic presence would ensure political stability there. President Wilson went a step further, seeking not simply to maintain order, but to advance democracy and self-rule. In 1915 he sent troops into Haiti to put an end to the chaos of revolution--and to protect U.S. investments there--and in 1916 he did the same in the Dominican Republic; the two countries were made virtual protectorates of the United States. With Nicaragua he achieved the same end by diplomacy. In hope of tumbling the Mexican dictator Victoriano Huerta, Wilson at first denied him diplomatic recognition, then in April 1914 sent troops to occupy the Mexican port city of Veracruz and keep from Huerta its import revenues. The Mexicans were deeply offended, and in November 1914, Wilson withdrew American forces. The bloody civil war that racked Mexico until 1920 sent the first large migration of Mexicans, perhaps a million people, into the United States (see CHICANO).


After the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, Wilson sought vainly to bring peace. In early 1917, however, Germanys unrestricted use of submarine attacks against neutral as well as Allied shipping inflamed American opinion for war (see LUSITANIA). Wilson decided that if the United States was to have any hope of influencing world affairs, it was imperative that it enter the war and fight to protect democracy against what he called German autocracy.


Americas entry into the war (April 1917) was the climax of the Progressive Era: Wilsons aim was the extension of democracy and the creation of a just world order. In January 1918 he issued his FOURTEEN POINTS as a proposed basis for peace: freedom of the seas and removal of all barriers to trade; an end to secret diplomacy; general disarmament; self-government for the submerged nationalities in the German and Austro- Hungarian empires; and a league of nations. The addition of more than a million American troops to the Allied armies turned the balance against the Germans in 1918, and an armistice on November 11 ended the war. At the PARIS PEACE CONFERENCE, however, Wilson failed in much of his program, for the other Allies were not interested in a "peace without victory." The British would not agree to freedom of the seas; tariffs did not tumble; self-determination was often violated; key negotiations were kept secret; but in the end Wilson obtained his greatest objective, establishment of the League of Nations to provide collective security against future aggression. Many at home, however, preferred to return to Americas traditional isolation from world affairs. When Wilson tried imperiously to force the Senate to accept the entire treaty, he failed. The United States never became a member of the League of Nations.




After its participation in the conflagration then known as the Great War, the American nation was ready to turn inward and concentrate on domestic affairs (a "return to normalcy," as 1920 presidential candidate Warren Harding called it). Private concerns preoccupied most Americans during the 1920s until the Great Depression of the next decade, when increasing numbers turned, in their collective misfortune, to government for solutions to economic problems that challenged the very basis of U.S. capitalistic society.


The 1920s: Decade of Optimism


By the 1920s innovative forces thrusting into American life were creating a new way of living. The automobile and the hard- surfaced road produced mobility and a blurring of the traditional rural-urban split. The radio and motion pictures inaugurated a national culture, one built on new, urban values. The 19TH AMENDMENT (1920) gave women the vote in national politics and symbolized their persistence in efforts to break out of old patterns of domesticity. The war had accelerated their entrance into business, industry, and the professions and their adoption of practices, such as drinking and smoking, traditionally considered masculine. So, too, young people turned to new leaders and values and sought unorthodox dress, recreations, and morals.


Traditional WASP (white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant) America fought the new ways. The adoption of PROHIBITION in 1919 (with ratification of the 18TH AMENDMENT) had been a victory of Yankee moral values over those of immigrants, but now many of the great cities practically ignored the measure. The Russian Revolution of 1917 sent a Red Scare shivering through the country in 1919-20; suspicion centered on labor unions as alleged instruments of Moscow. The KU KLUX KLAN, stronger in the northern Republican countryside than in the South, attacked the so-called New Negro, who returned from the fighting in France with a new sense of personal dignity (the HARLEM RENAISSANCE expressed this spirit through the arts), and the millions of Roman Catholics and Jews who had been flooding into the country since the 1890s. The Immigration Law of 1924 established a quota system that discriminated against all groups except northern and western Europeans. In 1925 the spectacular SCOPES TRIAL in Dayton, Tenn., convicted a high school science teacher of presenting Darwinian theories of evolution, which fundamentalist Protestants bitterly opposed.


New ideas, however, continued to inundate the country, and optimism remained high. The U.S. population delighted in the "miracles" that new inventions had brought them--electric lights, airplanes, new communication systems. The solo flight to Paris of Charles LINDBERGH in 1927 seemed to capture the spirit of the age. The business community was praised for its values and productivity. Henry Ford (see FORD family) and his system of cheap mass production of automobiles for people of modest incomes was regarded as symbolic of the new era.


Three Republican presidents occupied the White House during the 1920s. Warren HARDING, a conservative, was swept into office by a landslide victory in 1920. He proved an inept president, and his administration was racked by scandals, including that of TEAPOT DOME. Calvin COOLIDGE, who succeeded to the office on Hardings death (1923), worshiped business as much as he detested government. Herbert HOOVER, an engineer, brought to the presidency (1929-33) a deep faith in the essential soundness of capitalism, which to him represented the fullest expression of individualism. In 1920 the U.S. census showed, for the first time, that a majority of Americans lived in cities of 2,500 people or more.


The 1930s: Decade of Depression


The stock market crash of October 1929 initiated a long economic decline that accelerated into a world catastrophe, the DEPRESSION OF THE 1930s. By 1933, 14 million Americans were unemployed, industrial production was down to one-third of its 1929 level, and national income had dropped by more than half. In the presence of deep national despair, Democratic challenger Franklin D. ROOSEVELT easily defeated Hoover in the 1932 presidential election. After his inauguration, the NEW DEAL exploded in a whirlwind of legislation.


A new era commenced in American history, one in which a social democratic order similar to that of Western European countries appeared. The federal government under Roosevelt (and the presidency itself) experienced a vast expansion in its authority, especially over the economy. Roosevelt had a strong sense of community; he distrusted unchecked individualism and sympathized with suffering people. He nourished, however, no brooding rancor against the U.S. system. He sought to save capitalism, not supplant it.


Recovery was Roosevelts first task. In the First New Deal (1933-35) he attempted to muster a spirit of emergency and rally all interests behind a common effort in which something was provided for everyone. Excessive competition and production were blamed for the collapse. Therefore, business proprietors and farmers were allowed to cooperate in establishing prices that would provide them with a profitable return and induce an upward turn (under the NATIONAL RECOVERY ADMINISTRATION and the AGRICULTURAL ADJUSTMENT ADMINISTRATION). By 1935, however, 10