The Jazz Age Great Depression New Deal Era and World War 2 America

Chapter 13: Smashup :: The Perils of Prosperity, 1914-1932 by William E. Leuchtenburg

Response / Thought Quotes

  • “central to the culture”
  • “We grew up founding our dreams on the infinite promises of American advertising,”
  • “I still believe that one can learn to play the piano by mail and that mud will give you a perfect complexion.”
  • “Stock prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.”
  • “One can assign no single cause to the crash and the ensuing depression, but much of the blame for both falls on the foolhardy assumption that the special interests of business and the national interest were identical. Management had siphoned off gains in productivity in high profits, while the farmer got far less, and the worker, though better off, received wage increases disproportionately small compared to profits. As a result, the purchasing power of workers and farmers was not great enough to sustain prosperity.”
  • “The financial community purported to see the depression as a blessed occurrence that would improve the national character by chastening the spirit”
  • “I do not sympathize with those who think that this process of compulsory mass saving will sap the virility and self-reliance of our race. There will be quite enough grind-stone in human life to keep us keen.”
  • “Men relentlessly sabotaged the technology on which they had preened themselves in the Coolidge years.”
  • “When I think of what has been happening since unemployment began, and when I see the futility of the leaders,” declared Father John A. Ryan, “I wish we might double the number of Communists in this country, to put the fear, if not of God, then the fear of something else, into the hearts of our leaders.”
  • “They are just ready to do anything to get even with the situation. I almost hate to express it, but I honestly believe that if some of them could buy airplanes they would come down here to Washington to blow you fellows all up…. The farmer is naturally a conservative individual, but you cannot find a conservative farmer today…. I am as conservative as any man could be, but any economic system that has in its power to set me and my wife in the streets, at my age—what can I see but red?”
  • “Has the prophecy of Henry Adams, that we are all on a machine which cannot go forward without disaster and cannot be stopped without ruin, come true?”
  • “Sometimes it is a dreadful nightmare, when I feel the cold shears at the back of my neck, and see my curls fall one by one at my feet, useless, lifeless things to be packed away in tissue paper with other outworn treasures.”
  • “It was a time of paradoxes: an age of conformity and of liberation, of the persistence of rural values and the triumph of the city, of isolationism and new internationalist ventures, of laissez faire but also of government intervention, of competition and of merger, of despair and of joyous abandon.”

Thought Questions

  • Explain and Expand: “The prosperity of the 1920s encouraged the contagious feeling that everyone was meant to get rich.”
  • What was the “Great Bull Market”?
  • Affirm or Refute: “No one can explain what caused the Great Bull Market.”
  • Affirm or Refute: “It is true that credit was easy, but credit had been easy before without producing a speculative mania.”
  • Explain and Expand: “Customers borrowed money, bought more stock, watched the stock go up, and borrowed still more money to buy still more stock.”
  • Explain and Expand: “Not long before he left office, President Coolidge announced that stocks were “cheap at current prices.””
  • How did the nature of the stock exchanges change in the 1920s?
  • Explain and Expand: “The policies of the federal government in the 1920s were disastrous.”
  • What role did the Stock Market crashes in 1929 play in the development of the Great Depression?
  • Explain and Expand: “Nothing did more to turn the stock market crash of 1929 into a prolonged depression than the destruction of business and public morale by the collapse of the banks.”
  • In what ways did the Great Depression begin to impact American families?
  • How did President Hoover respond to the growing Great Depression in its early phases?
  • As the Great Depression continued how did President Hoover’s response change?
  • Describe “Hoovervilles”
  • Explain and Expand: “those in destitution and their children are actually receiving more regular and more adequate care than even in normal times.”
  • How did the European economic situation impact the United States?
  • How did the depression in the United States impact Germany?
  • What was the purpose of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and in what ways did it change the depression?
  • Explain and Expand: “While people went hungry, granaries bulged with wheat no one could sell.”
  • Explain and Expand: “Many Americans who had never had a radical thought before in their lives began to question the virtues of capitalism.”
  • What was the “Bonus Army” and how did Washington react to it?
  • Compare and Contrast: The Bonus Army and Coxey’s Army
  • Describe how the Great Depression impacted the Democratic primary for President in 1932?
  • Explain and Expand: “Here we are in the midst of the greatest crisis since the Civil War and the only thing the two national parties seem to want to debate is booze.”
  • Explain and Expand: “Never was a decade snuffed out so quickly as the 1920s.”
  • Explain and Expand: “The depression years killed off the icons of simplicity the 1920s had cherished.”
  • Explain and Expand: “In the 1920s, the events of half a century finally caught up with America”

Primary Sources

Articles and Resources

Further Reading


Primary Source Documents

A Letter to American Workingmen from the Socialist Soviet Republic of Russia – V.I. Lenin – Moscow, August 20, 1918

A Letter to American Workingmen from the Socialist Soviet Republic of Russia

By V.I. [M] Lenin

Moscow, August 20, 1918

LeninComrades: A Russian Bolshevik who participated in the Revolution of 1905 and for many years afterwards lived in your country has offered to transmit this letter to you. I have grasped this opportunity joyfully for the revolutionary proletariat of America—insofar as it is the enemy of American imperialism—is destined to perform an important task at this time.

The history of modern civilized America opens with one of those really revolutionary wars of liberation of which there have been so few compared with the enormous number of wars of conquest that were caused, like the present imperialistic war, by squabbles among kings, landholders and capitalists over the division of ill-gotten lands and profits. It was a war of the American people against the English who despoiled America of its resources and held in colonial subjection, just as their “civilized” descendants are draining the life-blood of hundreds of millions of human beings in India, Egypt and all corners and ends of the world to keep them in subjection.

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