Explaining The Twenties

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In 1920, for the first time, the United States census revealed that more Americans lived in cities than in rural areas. This fact speaks to a dramatic cultural shift that had taken place. The older ethnically homogenous white Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) culture, characterized by their traditional religion and farm life fell into decline. Overtaking its influence was a new, secular, urban mass culture rooted among diverse ethnic groups. It was a culture that provided more opportunity for equal participation to women and minorities than did the older traditional culture. Like all periods of change, however, the Twenties were accompanied by a reaction against these changes, as the older culture tried to reassert itself as the dominant group. The result was a decade marked by striking cultural conflict. Those who considered themselves traditional Americans, committed to traditional ways of life, launched a cultural war against those who presented a threat to it. There were many common themes that connected the three essays, “Sacco and Vanzetti”, “The Scopes Trial and the American Character”, and “Rural-Urban Conflict in the 1920’s”. Together they present an accurate interpretation of the Roaring Twenties. The case of Sacco and Vanzetti represented a deep division in American society. Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were Italian immigrants who came to American in 1908. In 1920, Sacco was working in a shoe factory and Vanzetti was selling fish on the streets. On April 15, 1920 a double murder and robbery took place at the Slater and Morrill shoe factory where Sacco worked. Three weeks later, the two men were arrested for these murders and the robbery. They were put on trial one year later and found guilty of all charges. Sacco and Vanzetti were executed for their alleged crimes. Many experts today and back then agree that the prosecution did not present the two men to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. There were many conflicting factors during the trial. Sacco and Vanzetti were avowed anarchists, people who believed in the absence of government. Their radical ideas were considered unacceptable in a society that was at the time experiencing a deep hatred of non-democratic ideas. Their political beliefs and ethnic backgrounds worked to their disadvantage. The judge presiding over the case of Sacco and Vanzetti made clear hi... ... middle of paper ... ...e in the membership of Fundamentalist denominations. When immigrants first began arriving in America, business owners welcomed them because they worked for less money. However, ever since the labor radicalism of the World War I era, and particularly since the Sacco and Vanzetti trial, business owners have increasingly come to view immigrants as the source of labor unrest. Because the common American felt that the United States was becoming too much of a multi-cultural, multi-belief nation, the government passed the Immigration Restriction Acts of 1921 and 1924. The latter reduced the number of Catholic and Jewish immigrants to a trickle by setting extremely low quotas for the number of people to be allowed in each year from Southern and Eastern European countries. As modernists questioned the beliefs of Fundamentalists, they ended up making a religion out of science. Modernists in the Twenties often acted as if science could provide all the answers to the questions of life, a role that religion had assumed in the past. If fundamentalist religion continues to remain a force in American culture and politics, perhaps it is because of the failure of science to answer these questions.

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