1920s USA Sources Coursework Essay

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(1.) In source A, we see a cartoon of Uncle Sam, the symbol of America, looking at a picture of life in the USA from years before. I think that the cartoonist is trying to show how American life in the 1920s (when the cartoon was drawn) is so much different to American life in earlier years which is shown in the picture on the wall. We can see that many characters that represent different aspects of 1920s life in the USA surround Uncle Sam. For example, there are three women with the words Scandal, Materialism or Divorce written on their dresses, and the words Easy money in the smoke of Sams cigar.

The word scandal refers to the presidency of Warren G. Harding, when many instances of corruption occurred. For example, Hardings close friend, Charles Forbes, was thought to be responsible for the suspicious disappearance of $200 million from the Veterans Bureau account, of which he was the director. During Hardings term in office, this case of blatant fraud (and others) was unknown to the general public. However, by the time Source A was drawn in 1925, Calvin Coolidge had become president and these scandals were uncovered to the public.

The word materialism refers to peoples changing attitude towards their own wealth, mainly due to the economic boom. After the First World War, the USA had gained status as the richest nation in the world. This was because it had not suffered physically or financially from the war, unlike its European counterparts. In fact, America was receiving vast amounts of money through re-payments from countries they had given loans to during the conflict. Also, Americas politics helped to shape the way that people earned and spent their money. With the Republicans in power, the nation learnt to exercise the policy of laissez-faire, which literally translated means let it be.

In other words, people were able to build up their own businesses freely, safe in the knowledge that the government would not interfere too much or put up high taxes. In actual fact, taxes were decreased to encourage Americans to spend their wages on luxury goods, such as refrigerators or cars. High tariffs on exported goods from overseas meant people were more likely to buy products made in America, thus boosting the countrys industries. People began to care more and more about their own wealth, and found that they had more money at their fingertips.

This ties in with the words easy money, which refers to the Stock market. With more money in their pockets, Americans were always on the look out for ways in which they could invest it and even increase it. The Stock Exchange and property market provided the perfect outlet for this. Not only did professional stockbrokers play the market, but also the normal working public, who found they could make easy money, as it says in the cartoon, by simply buying stocks. However, the people who did this were not loyal to the company they bought them from, as they usually sold them as soon as the prise had risen.

Another big change that occurred in this time was the role of women in society. The fact that the women in the cartoon are flappers, shows how by 1925, women were beginning to become independent and outspoken. They smoked, swore in public, and even rode motorcycles. The woman with the word divorce on her dress emphasises this point as well. In the 1920s, the divorce rate rose as women began to live their own lives without depending on men for support.

So, what was the cartoonists message? Personally I think that he/she was trying to show how much the USA had changed from the times when pioneers lived simple lives in log cabins. The fact that Uncle Sam is gazing at the picture and saying, Ah, those were the days is showing that, in effect, America yearns for the way that life used to be before everything became so materialistic and money-orientated, even though he himself is sitting in the seat of luxury.

(2.) In source B, we see a photograph of two Negroes hanged from a tree whilst being surrounded and watched by a crowd of white people. Source C is an extract from a newspaper, which describes in detail the lynching of another Negro in a separate incident. These two sources are similar in some ways and different in others. There are a number of ways that we can see this.

Firstly, both sources show a similar reaction from the crowd to the actual lynching. B shows the crowd looking up at the bodies enthusiastically, and even one man pointing to them as if to show to the camera something he is proud of. There does not appear to be anyone looking distressed or upset by the incident, with most spectators looking joyous and pleased. Both sources show the crowd to be diverse (obviously within the same ethnic group), with people of all ages and both sexes. Source C also describes the crowds reaction as being happy at the Negros fate. In fact, the crowd seemed to be even more enthusiastic in the second source than in the first one, ¦. joined hands and danced around while the Negro was burned. But ultimately, both sources show the different crowds to be in approval of the lynchings.

However, one difference between the two sources is who actually committed the lynching in each case. In B, we can only see what appears to be normal, white cillivians in the crowd. There does not seem to be any members of the Ku Klux Klan in their usual white uniform. Therefore, independent bigots could have simply done the hanging in the first source, in an almost spontaneous fashion. In comparison, Source C seems to have been a more planned event, organised by the Ku Klux Klan. The fact that the extract says that there was more than 500 people present and that people were travelling from other cities by car just to see the lynching gives us the impression that it was highly publicised within the racist community. We can not tell the exact number of people at the hanging in source B, but we can assume that it was probably not as many as in the second source.

Another difference between the two sources is that, obviously, one is a photograph and one is a newspaper extract. If I were to choose, I would probably say that a photograph (source B) gives a more accurate impression of an event than an account (source C) of somebody who was simply present at the time. This is because a photograph is taken at the time and can not be changed. Whether or not the photographer was racist does not make any difference because, generally, the camera does not lie and is not biased, depending on the context. But the newspaper extract was written after the event and is therefore less accurate, because the writer could have forgotten important details or even written the account in an unfair or biased way.

(3.) Source F is a photograph showing a crowd of people demonstrating on the behalf of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, taken in April 1927. How useful would it be for a historian who was studying the case of the two imprisoned immigrants?

We can see in the photograph that there is quite a large crowd of people, which gives the impression that the majority of Americans supported Sacco and Vanzetti. However, that is not strictly true. Although the two accused men did have many supporters who protested against their impending execution, most normal American people agreed with it.

This was mainly due to the American publics fear of Communists or Reds as they were commonly called. Since the Russian Revolution in 1917, people had started to believe that communism was spreading and would eventually reach the USA. This caused the number of immigrants brought to America to be limited, and any that did come were discriminated against. This seems to be case with Sacco and Vanzetti. In hindsight, it appears that the two men were used as scape-goats for a crime they possibly did not commit. Being Italian immigrants made them an easy target, and it was unlikely that the American public would believe their word against the American legal system and police.

However, is this shown in the photograph? Without background knowledge of the subject, it would be hard to tell by the photograph whether most people were supportive of Sacco and Vanzetti or not. The photograph is quite misleading, as it seems as though the majority of the American public was on their side, which was not the case. Although I can not tell for sure, I believe that the people in the photograph are other immigrants, who were generally the only people that supported the two men. This was because most immigrants felt that the discrimination against Sacco and Vanzetti could easily happen to them one day in the future. But this is not necessarily clear from the photograph. However, it could be useful to a historian as an example of the minority that did support them.

(4.) I do not believe that the cartoon in Source E is very useful at all. This is for a number of different reasons. Firstly, Nazis produced the cartoon. This means that it is biased against the USA, and would therefore not provide a fair or accurate view of American life. Even if some aspects of the cartoon were true, they would undoubtedly be used in a misleading way. This is why propaganda can never be used as an accurate impression of something. Secondly, as the cartoon was made during the Second World War, it is intended to show what American life was like during this time (1939-1945). So therefore it does not show what life was like in the 1920s.

Also, many of the examples of American life used are loosely true but are used inaccurately. For example, the body (which is supposedly meant to represent the USA) is shown as having the head of a Ku Klux Klan member. This could be interpreted that the Klan were very dominant throughout the whole of the USA as they are seen as being at the head of it all. This was not true. A registration of cars increased. This means that more cars were made because there was a bigger demand for them, and more cars were bought because people had more money to spend. Also the sale of radios greatly increased in this decade. These statistics certainly help to support Hoovers claim that America was winning the battle over poverty. Source J also emphasises the point that during this era, the country began to spend more money on luxury goods, such as big houses and cars.

However, the same two sources also show us that the opposite was also true. Not everyone in the USA was making a lot of money, as shown in source I. When compared to the $1246 that Californian fruit farmers made per month in 1929, the South Carolinas farmers pay packet of only $129 per month seems very measly. This is one example of how not everybody did well in the 1920s. This was mainly due to overproduction of goods; in other words, more food was produced than could be sold. Also, due to the high tariffs put on American exports, the food could not be sold in Europe. Source J also points out that the America people had become so obsessed with making money that it would eventually be the death of them;

I think the country was in greater danger during the twenties¦more money every year for everyone¦Suddenly everybody owned a motor car¦All we needed was to make more automobiles and build bigger houses.

We must also remember that Hoover made the speech in source H during the Presidential Election campaign. This means that he was obviously going to say something that would encourage the general public to have faith in the Republican government and to help get him in to the White House. Therefore it might be an exaggerated or sugar-coated form of the truth, which most politicians seem to have a talent at expressing.

(6.) Source K is a song written in 1971 for an American television show. It is about how much better life in the 1920s was than the present day (i.e. when the song was written). Source L is an extract from a history textbook about how the majority of Americans in the 1920s did not live the high life and were, in fact, very poor and facing unemployment.

At a first glance we can see that source K is not completely accurate about life in the twenties. In the first line it mentions Glenn Miller, a bandleader who is described as playing, Songs that made the hit parade. This is actually incorrect, as Glen Miller was a bandleader in the 1930s and 1940s, not the 1920s. It also mentions Herbert Hoover, which seems quite strange as he was only President for one year of the twenties, 1929. It is examples like these that seem to jeopardise the accuracy of the source. Also, the fact that it was written in 1971 makes me believe that it is less reliable than something that was written closer to the time.

Also, I get the impression that the song is slightly sarcastic and comedic, as opposed to being a reliable account of 1920s American life. It is because of this that it could be easily misinterpreted. For example, the line that says, Freaks were in a circus tent could be referring to the time when people were highly suspicious of immigrants and hence Attorney-General Palmer ordered for many suspected socialists to be deported. But this is not very clear. Also the line that says that everybody was content is not very true. Many people were very poor in the twenties, and times were very hard for some people, such as farmers. Also, Negroes were still being treated as third-rate citizens and were often discriminated against. Also, the song is an opinion, so does not represent everybodys views.

Source L however seems much more accurate. Because it was written for a history textbook it is more likely to show a reliable viewpoint on 1920s life. Especially since it contains an example of an actual fact, as opposed to an opinion (i.e. that job insecurity was on the increase for the over 35s). It is much more realistic than source K, for example using words such as vast numbers of Americans instead of words like everybody as seen in the first source. So, in my opinion, Source L shows a more reliable impression of 1920s life than source K.

(7.) From looking at all the sources, it is very hard to draw a straight conclusion as to whether the 1920s was a golden age for Americans or not. To decide, I will look at all the sources again.

Firstly, it is evident that economically, America did extremely well in this decade. In source I we see that within three years (1926-1929) the number of cars produced each year had increased by over 1 million. We also see that within eight years (1920-1929) the number of cars registered had been increased by nearly three times and that within seven years (1922-1929) the amount of money spent on radios increased by $764.5 million. So what does this tell us? This basically shows us that the 1920s were the beginning of the age of consumer power. People began to have more money to spend on luxury goods, so in turn more were produced. This lead to the growth of industries in the nation.

However, the ever-growing capitalism in the USA did not reach everyone. Source L shows us how there was still many people without jobs. Source I supports this fact by showing how there was a wide range of wages all over the country, ranging from just $129 per month to $1246 per month. Also, there was a great deal of intolerance in America. Sources B and C show in great detail how Negroes, in particular, suffered from intolerance.

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