Rebellious Twenties vs. Conformist Fifties

The Rebellious Twenties versus the Conformist Fifties: What a difference thirty years can make There is a great amount of contrast between 1920s America and 1950s America - Rebellious Twenties vs. Conformist Fifties introduction. While the 1920s was a time for rebellious youth and flappers, the 1950s was a time for conservative family values and conformity. This is interesting considering that both decades come on the heels of a world war that rocked the nation each time, yet inspired such different reactions.

Some might argue that Americans were more mature following WWII because of their experience handling the fallout of WWI, but there does seem to be some similarity in foreign policy, perhaps as a result of each war. However, things were quite different politically, economically and socially in each decade. The political climate of the 1920s was vastly different from that of the 1950s. The election of President Harding in 1920 was more of a reaction against Wilson and his “moral overstrain” of progressivism than one of total support for Harding.

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The New York World reported that “the American people wanted a change and they have voted for a change. They did not know what kind of a change they wanted, and they did not know what kind of change they have voted for. ” Harding was in favor of big business and wanted less government in big business and more business in government, and his presidency is now known for its numerous scandals, such as the Veterans Bureau and Teapot Dome scandals. Following Harding’s passing, Coolidge – a man who had been through every level of government – assumed the presidency.

During the Boston police force strikes, Coolidge said there was no right to strike against the public safety and it marked him as an upholder of law and order. Coolidge’s presidency is associated with the “golden glow of Coolidge prosperity” and the lawless decade, age of the flappers, flaming youth and jazz. However, there was a severe misdistribution of wealth, overproduction, speculation, installment buying and agricultural distress, all of which contributed to the eventual crash on Wall Street in 1929.

Additionally, prohibition, which gave rise to new criminal activities was passed during this time before being repealed during the Great Depression. In contrast, Eisenhower was elected in both 1952 and 1956 and was a decorated war hero who seemed grandfatherly and believed we needed peace and tranquility, rather than change. While fiscally conservative, he called for private energy and believed the role of the government was first and foremost to help its people.

He was an excellent delegator and the majority of his chosen advisors had their backgrounds in business rather than politics. He saw his role as president as that of an administrator rather than a policy maker and under his tutelage, social security benefits were extended, minimum wage was increased and federal money was given to states for school lunches, student aid and the building of interstate highways. Again, there are more differences than similarities between the economic situations in 1920s America versus 1950s America.

Besides the obvious stock market crash and subsequent Great Depression that occurred in the late 1920s, there was a great amount of economic turmoil throughout the 1920s. Speculative activities on Wall Street helped lead to the stock market crash and there was a severe misdistribution of wealth amongst the classes. The industrial revolution in conjunction with the technological revolution lead to mass production of goods and this made for considerable over production and under consumption of goods throughout the nation.

There was agricultural distress throughout the 1920s as well. Farmers had expanded and this was possible thanks to the new machinery being invented, but they did not cut back production following WWI and ended up overproducing. Contrarily, prosperity is the single most important dominant feature of post WWII. Americans had been encouraged to save during WWII and they were now ready to spend, creating a consumer culture which drove prosperity and productivity. In addition to doubling the gross national product, the U. S. ad only six percent of the worlds’ population, but consumed 66 percent of the worlds’ goods. In 1945, there were only eight shopping centers in America. This number rose to almost 4,000 in 1960. There was also a population explosion which created a massive demand for goods and the number of homeowners increased. Socially, the 1920s were about rebellion and the American people’s need to let loose after being “good” for so long. There was a relaxation of moral standards as the old ways were rejected as old-fashioned and conservative.

The age of the flapper, and rebellious women occurred at this time and there were more women joining the workforce and experiencing more independence overall. In addition, more Americans were moving out of the country and into the city. The 1950s were a very complacent and conservative period with a great deal of social conformity. The position of women was one of conformity and feminine domesticity and a woman’s place was in a home. Again, there were a great number of people leaving the country for the city, but the 1950s also saw the development of suburbs as well as urban development to accommodate the new population.

The 1920s saw a great deal of anti-foreign sentiments and the first restrictions were placed on immigration. There was a quota placed based on national origin that favored northern and western European immigrants. There was a “red scare” partly due to the intolerance that came out of WWI and partly due to the reaction against the Bolshevik revolution, which lead to some labor violence and strikes as well as radical activities by anarchists in the U. S. The U. S. ecame isolationist following WWI and Americans rejected membership into the League of Nations. Equally, the Geneva Conference of 1927 between the five powers was a massive failure as France and Italy did not attend and the U. S. and England did not agree. In the 1950s, foreign aid was cut when the Eisenhower administration entered the White House and Eisenhower stated he wanted to ease the strain on American troops in Korea and did not want to be involved in peripheral disputes.

As a result, he developed his massive retaliation policy, meaning that any country that is an aggressor to the U. S. will be given ten times what they send our way. This was not an effective policy for obvious reasons. In 1957, the Eisenhower Doctrine was released and stated that the preservation of the independence and integrity of the nations of the Middle East essential to American interests and to world peace and any nation requesting help will be given it.

These two decades in American history are distinctly different from one another despite the similar circumstances that led up to each decade. Each was ripe with some anti-foreign sentiments which are to be expected following a world war of the magnitude that both WWI and WWII were. However, there seemed to be a more sympathetic foreign policy in the 1950s whereas the anti-foreign sentiments of the 1920s seem fueled by fear. Overall, the two decades are drastically different and make for an interesting comparison.

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