A2 - The USA 1917 - 54: Boom, Bust & Recovery
The USA 1917 54: Boom, Bust & Recovery
The focus of this topic is on the domestic history of the USA in the period from 1917, through the period of boom and bust and the economic recovery after 1941, and on the impact of both boom and bust on US society.The key areas of study required for section A are summarised in the four bullet points and the two associated controversies to be examined in section B are clearly delimited underneath in the unit content section of the specification. Collectively, they offer a framework for the study of the period 1917-54. Although the bullet points are defined and clarified separately here, students should appreciate the links between them, since questions may be set which target the content of more than one bullet point. For example, students might draw on elements from each of the first two bullet points in an explanation of the impact of prohibition on US society in the 1920s and early 1930s.
The first bullet point covers the economy of the US in the 1920s in the 'boom' years. Questions will not be set specifically on the period before 1917, but students should have an understanding of the condition of the USA's economy in 1917 in order to understand the impact of the war and its legacy. Students should have knowledge and understanding of the reasons for the prosperity of the 1920s. It is expected that students understand the way in which government policies helped create and perpetuate this 'boom', in particular: the Emergency Tariff Act of 1921 and the Fordney-McCumber Act of 1922, tax reductions and Coolidge's general policy of 'laissez-faire'.
The second bullet point relates to social and political tension in the USA in the period to 1933. Students should have knowledge and understanding of: the activities of the Ku Klux Klan, federal immigration policy, the 'Red Scare', reactions to social changes, to the women's suffrage issue and to racial tensions. Students should also understand why prohibition was introduced into the US. In addition, they should be able to consider the positive and negative attributes of prohibition and its impact on US society.
The third bullet point relates to opposition to Roosevelt as President in the period 1933- 45 and opposition to the New Deal. Students should have knowledge of Supreme Court opposition via its legal rulings and Roosevelt's response to it. It also relates to business opposition within the US and political challenges from both left and right perspectives.
The fourth bullet point deals with the impact on the USA of its entry of the US into the Second World War and the consequences of this involvement in the period to 1954. Students should have knowledge and understanding of the growth of federal intervention in the economy in the period 1941-54. Students will be expected to know about the economic benefits of the war for US society and how this laid the foundations for the post-war boom. 'Anti-communism refers mainly to the impact of McCarthyism on US society why so many people supported the anti-communist and anti-trade union activity. Students are not expected to have knowledge of the military campaigns in which the USA was involved in this period.
In section B, students will use their knowledge of the period as a whole to provide a broad context but, in addition, they will need detailed knowledge of the two issues selected as subjects of historical controversy and an understanding of why this area has been the subject of debate.
The first controversy requires a study of the nature of the depression in the years 1929-33, both long and short term causes of this and why it lasted so long. Students should be aware of the historical debate which surrounds this period with historians stressing various factors: structural imbalances within the USA, the weaknesses in the US banking system and the lack of financial regulation by the federal government, the problems of international trade etc.
The second controversy requires a study of the New Deal and its impact on the US economy and society in the period 1932- 41. In terms of success, some historians see the initiatives of President Roosevelt and federal government as being of importance. Others have argued that recovery only really came when the US decided to rearm in 1938 and the Second World War broke out in 1939, thus providing millions of new jobs for both men and women.
The United States of America was originally established by the British as part of its Empire.
Poverty, a rigid class structure, lack of opportunity and a lack of religious toleration in Britain encouraged many early settlers to undertake the long and arduous Trans- Atlantic journey to the new Thirteen Colonies.
However, North America was very tempting to other nations as well, leading to war between the British and the French.
This war was eventually won, but the British were not keen to either pay for the war nor the continued defence of the colonies.
Taxes were imposed on the colonies to pay for its continued defence. However, the British did not consults the colonists
The rallying cry of many colonists was No taxation without representation.
They saw the imposition of taxes without any say themselves as an act of tyranny by a distant and increasingly despotic government in London.
With London unsympathetic to their demands for a voice in Parliament things got worse.
The colonists regarded Britain and its King as a dictatorship and learnt an eternal distrust of government and centralised power.
This resulted in the American War of Independence and the defeat of the British by the newly formed United Sates of America.
The United States was born in a mood of great optimism and self-belief. The Americans as they now called themselves had thrown off the rule of the worlds most powerful nation and as they would often do from now on, turn their back on the old world (Isolationism) to focus on the new world and their manifest destiny to Go West! and forge a new nation with Gods (a Protestant Gods) blessing.
Throughout the 19th Century The United States expanded further westwards towards the Pacific and encouraged millions of immigrants to cross the Atlantic to become Americans by becoming part of the great American Melting Pot.The motto of the United States reflected this socially engineered Utopia:
E Pluribus UnumFrom the Many, One
Give me your tired, your poor,Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
The Melting Pot took people of all races and nationalities and turned them into Americans.
That at least was the plan
The reality however, was somewhat different and this will be a recurring theme throughout this course.
How would the founding, ruling elite of the USA deal with this change being as deeply conservative and intolerant of change (especially that coming from abroad) as they were.
The United States remained dominated by the original ruling class of the United States. These were the White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs), hailing from Britain, Northern Europe and Scandinavia.These great and good Americans held all the high positions in Government and Industry.
As for immigrants from other countries, they found themselves sailing past the Statue of Liberty into processing stations before being granted entry to New York and a life often as hard as the one they were escaping from in ghettos where the Melting Pot was an idea far from reality.
Still today, New York has districts dominated by certain nationalities, proof of the failings of the Melting Pot.
Frequently, The United Sates found itself beset with racial conflict between groups of immigrants and concerns over its Open Door policy to immigration. During economic downturns, racism often increased and ethnic tensions increased.
As The United sates grew, other fissures opened up in American society.
WASPs v OutsidersWhite v BlackRural v UrbanReligion v ScienceFundamentalism v CosmopolitanismPolitical Conservatism v LiberalismCapitalism v CommunismIsolationism v InternationalismSmall Government v Big GovernmentOld v YoungBusiness v UnionsRugged Individualism v Welfare
These can be simplified into the perceptions of the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant elite:
As the forces of change will be labelled, challenging the conservative ideas of WASP America
How WASP America challenged the forces of change sweeping through America
As the USA entered the Twentieth Century it did so as a sleeping economic giant. Its potential hid the divisions that were increasingly apparent to the WASP elite.
World War One brought the USA prematurely into a role it would have eventually succeeded to anyway.
Drawn into the Great War, the USA turned its back on isolationism, responding to old ties of blood with Britain and France and economic ties that made desirable the triumph of the Allies.
As its economic rivals destroyed each other, the USA grew rich feeding the war and filling their shoes as the worlds greatest economic power.
Despite only joining the war in 1917, the USA tipped the balance in favour of the Allies.
It was a triumph for WASP culture and a country that could change the world now challenged