Wikiquote:Transwiki/American history quotes Roaring 20s


Foreign Relations

1921 “In the existing League of Nations, world-governing with its superpowers, this republic will have no part.... The aim to associate nations to prevent war, preserve peace, and promote civilization our people most cordially applauded. We yearned for this new instrument of justice, but we can have no part in a committal to an agency of force in unknown contingencies; we can recognize no super-authority.” President Warren G. Harding, State of the Union Address to Congress.

1922 “Japan is ready for the new order of thought — the spirit of international friendship and cooperation for the greater good of humanity — which the Conference has brought about.” Japanese Naval Minister Admiral Kato Tomosaburo, explaining Japanese support for naval disarmament at the Washington Conference of 1921-1922.

1922 Signers agree to protect the “sovereignty, the independence, and the territorial administrative integrity of China.” Pledge of the countries signing the Nine-Power Treaty, one of the agreements made at the Washington peace conference of 1921-1922.

1925 The U.S. must “establish a Pax Americana maintained not by force of arms but by mutual respect and good will and the tranquilizing process of reason.” Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes, on how the U.S. might come to resemble the Roman Empire, whose Pax Romana (Roman Peace) kept the peace in the ancient world.

1927 “For many years numerous Americans have been living in Nicaragua, developing its industries and carrying on business. At the present time there are large investments in lumbering, mining, coffee growing, banana culture, shipping.... All these people and these industries have been encouraged by the Nicaraguan government. That government has at all times owed them protection, but the United States has occasionally been obliged to send naval forces for their proper protection. In the present crisis such forces are requested by the Nicaraguan government, which protests to the United States its inability to protect these interests and states that any measures which the United States deems appropriate for their protection will be satisfactory to the Nicaraguan government.... “There is no question that if the revolution continues, American investments and business interests in Nicaragua will be very seriously affected, if not destroyed.... “I am sure that it is not the desire of the United States to intervene in the internal affairs of Nicaragua or of any other Central American republic. Nevertheless, it must be said that we have a very definite and special interest in the maintenance of order and good government in Nicaragua at the present time, and that the stability, prosperity, and independence of all the Central American countries can never be a matter of indifference to us.” President Calvin Coolidge, message to Congress.

1928 “Paper peace” Put-down of the Kellogg-Briand Peace Pact, the treaty that outlawed war but which lacked any means of enforcement.

Domestic Politics

1920 “America’s present need is not heroics but healing; not nostrums but normalcy; not revolution but restoration,... not surgery but serenity,... not submergence in internationality but sustainment in triumphant nationality..” Sen. Warren G. Harding (Republican-Ohio): speech in presidential election campaign.

c. 1920 The country needs “less government in business, more business in government.” Republican Presidential Candidate Warren G. Harding.

1921 “Our supreme task is the resumption of our onward, normal way. Reconstruction, readjustment, restoration all these must follow. I would like to hasten them.” President Warren G. Harding, inauguration speech (March 4). His words led to the call for a “return to normalcy”).

1921 “For four long years the gates of the White House had been locked and guarded with sentries. Harding’s first official act was to throw them open, to permit... sightseers to roam the grounds and flatten their noses against the executive window-panes.... The act seemed to symbolize the return of the government to the people.” Journalist Frederick Lewis Allen.

1921 “I knew that this job would be too much for me.” An exhausted Pres. Harding, shortly after taking office.

1922 “Reactionaries and radicals would assume that all reform and human advance must come through government.” Herbert Hoover, in his book American Individualism.

1923 “My God, this is a hell of a job! I have no trouble with my enemies.... But my damned friends,... they’re the ones that keep me walking the floor nights.” Pres. Harding, on the members of his administration involved in scandals; spoken to his friend, journalist William Allen White, in June 1923, two months before his death.

1924 “Coolidge Prosperity” Republican presidential campaign slogan.

1928 “We offer one who has the will to win — who not only deserves success but commands it. Victory is his habit — the happy warrior, Alfred Smith.” Franklin D. Roosevelt, speech nominating Smith to be the Democrat candidate for president.

1928 “A chicken in every pot, a car in every garage” Republican campaign slogan in the presidential election.

1928 “The poorhouse is vanishing from among us. We have not et reached the goal, but, given a chance to go forward with the policies of the last eight years, we shall soon... be in sight of the day when poverty will be banished from this nation.... “When the war ended, the most vital of all issues both in our own country and throughout the world was whether governments should continue their wartime ownership and many instrumentalities of production and distribution. We were challenged by a peacetime choice between the American system of rugged individualism and a European philosophy of diametrically opposed doctrines — doctrines of paternalism and state socialism. The acceptance of those ideas would have meant the destruction of self-government through centralization of government. It would have meant the undermining of the individual initiative and enterprise through which our people have grown to unparalleled greatness. “The Republican Party from the beginning resolutely turned its face away from these ideas and these war practices.... “By adherence to the principles of decentralized self-government, equal opportunity, and freedom of the individual, our American experiment in human welfare has yielded a degree of well-being unparalleled in all the world. It has come nearer to the abolition of poverty, to the abolition of fear of want than humanity has ever reached before. Progress of the past seven years is the proof of it. This alone furnishes the answer to our opponents, who ask us to introduce destructive elements into the system by which this has been accomplished.” Herbert Hoover, Republican candidate for president, speech in New York.

Postwar Society: Women

1923 “Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.” Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), introduced in Congress in 1923. Not passed.

1923 “So long as men cannot be mothers, so long legislation adequate for them can never be adequate for wage-earning women; and the cry Equality, Equality, where nature has created inequality, is as stupid and as deadly as the cry of Peace, Peace, where there is no peace.” Florence Kelley, arguing that women benefited from protective laws that would be unconstitutional if ERA was adopted.

c. 1923 “Women who are wage earners, with one job in the factory and another in the home, have little time and energy left to carry on the fight to better their economic status. They need the help of... labor laws.” Mary Anderson, Director, Women’s Bureau

c. 1923 “What on earth do you want me to do? Just sit around home all evening?” High school girl to her parents.

1924 “I think a woman gets more happiness out of being gay, light-hearted, unconventional, mistress of her own fate.... I want [my daughter] to be a flapper, because flappers are brave and gay and beautiful.” Author Zelda Fitzgerald.

1925 “She is frankly, heavily made up... pallor mortis, poisonously scarlet lips, richly ringed eyes.... And there are, finally, her clothes.... Her dress... is cut low where it might be high, and vice versa. The skirt comes just an inch below her knees, overlapping by a faint fraction her rolled and twisted stockings. The idea is that when she walks in a bit of a breeze, you shall now and then observe the knee.... [The flapper’s] haircut is also abbreviated. She wears of course the newest thing in bobs.” Bruce Bliven, “Flapper Jane,” The New Republic, (Sept. 9, 1925).

c. 1925 “Today women are on the whole much more individual. They possess as strong likes and dislikes as men. They live more and more on the plane of social equality with men... [and] there is more enjoyable companionship and real friendship between men and women.” Margaret Sanger, A More Perfect Union

Postwar Society: Prejudice

1921 “An organizer of the Ku Klux Klan was in Emporia the other day, and the men whom he invited to join his band at $10 per join turned him down... The proposition seems to be: Anti-foreigners, Anti-Catholics, Anti-Negroes.... “To make a case against a birthplace, a religion, or a race is wickedly un-American and cowardly. The whole trouble with the Ku Klux Klan is that it is based upon such deep foolishness that it is bound to be a menace to good government in any community. Any man fool enough to be Imperial Wizard would have power without responsibility and both without any sense. That is social dynamite.... “For a self-contained body of moral idiots, who would substitute the findings of the Ku Klux Klan for the processes of law... would be a most un-American outrage which every good citizen should resent....” William Allen White, letter to Herbert B. Swope.

1924 “Native, White, Protestant Supremacy” Motto of the new Ku Klux Klan

1924 “Store owners, teachers, farmers,... the good people, all belonged to the Klan. They were going to clean up the government, and they were going to improve the school books that were loaded with Catholicism.” Northern Indiana Klanswoman.

c. 1924 “The nation is Protestant and must remain so.” Spokesman for the Klan.

1924 “Our capacity to maintain our cherished institutions stands diluted by a stream of alien blood, with all its inherited misconceptions respecting the relationships of the governing power to the governed.... The day of unalloyed welcome to all peoples, the day of indiscriminate acceptance of all races, has definitely ended.” Congressman Albert Johnson (Republican-Washington), co-author of the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act of 1924.

c. 1925 Mexicans are suitable for agricultural work “due to their crouching and bending habits..., while the white in physically unable to adapt himself to them.” Report of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce

1927 Sacco and Vanzetti were “victims of race and national prejudice and class hatred.” Labor leaders on Bartolomeo Sacco and Vanzett. Many people defended Vanzetti and his co-defendant Nicola Sacco for killing a paymaster and a guard during a robbery at a Brockton, Massachusetts shoe factory in 1920. They were executed in August 1927. Proof has since established the fact that they were in fact guilty, and not found guilty because they were radicals and immigrants.

1927 “Now, I should say that I am not only innocent of all these things, not only have I never committed a real crime in my life... I struggled all my life to eliminate... the exploitation and the oppression of the man by man.... “I am suffering because I am a radical and indeed I am a radical; I have suffered because... I am an Italian.... “I am finished. Thank you.” Bartolomeo Vanzetti, final statement in court.

1928 “No subject of the Pope” should be allowed to become president.” Bishop James Cannon of the Southern Methodist Episcopal Church, on Alfred E. Smith, a Catholic, Democrat candidate for president.

1928 “I summarize my creed as an American Catholic. I believe in the worship of God according to the faith and practice of the Roman Catholic Church. I recognize no power in the institutions of my church to interfere with the operation of the Constitution of the United States or the enforcement of the law of the land. I believe in absolute freedom of conscience for all men and in equality of all churches, all sects, and all beliefs before the law as a matter of right and not as a matter of favor. I believe in the absolute separation of church and state and in the strict enforcement of the provisions of the Constitution of the United States....” Gov. Alfred E. Smith, Democrat candidate for president, attacked for being a Catholic, in an article in the Atlantic Monthly magazine.

Postwar Society: African-Americans

1921 “I can never put on paper the thrill of the underground ride to Harlem. I went up the steps and out into the bright September sunlight. Harlem! I stood there, dropped my bags, took a deep breath and felt happy again.” Poet Langston Hughes

1923 “If Europe is for the Europeans, then Africa shall be for the black peoples of the world.” Marcus Garvey of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, calling for a return to Africa.

c. 1923 “Assure them [Garvey’s followers] of the cordiality with which I invite them back to the home land, particularly those qualified to help solve our big problems and to develop our vast resources. Teachers, artisans, mechanics, writers, musicians, professional men and women— all who are able to lend a hand in the constructive work which our country so deeply feels, and greatly needs. “Here we have abundant room and great opportunities and here destiny is working to elevate and enthrone a race which has suffered slavery, poverty, persecution and martyrdom, but whose expanding soul and growing genius is now the hope of many millions of mankind.” Message of the Emperor of Ethiopia to the Universal Negro Improvement Association.

1923 “In a world where black is despised, he taught them that black is beautiful. He taught them to admire and praise black things and black people.” The Amsterdam News on Marcus Garvey, following his deportation for mail fraud.

1927 “Nothing can go farther to destroy race prejudice than the recognition of the Negro as a creator and contributor to American civilization.” Essayist James Weldon Johnson

American Society: Prohibition

c. 1920 “In the old days when father spent his evenings at Cassidy’s bar with the rest of the boys are gone, and possibly gone forever. Cassidy may still be in business at the old stand and father may still go down there of an evening, but since prohibition mother goes down with him.” Reporter Elmer Davis.

1920 “In 1920, when prohibition was very young, Johnny Torrio of Chicago had an inspiration. Torrio was a formidable figure in the Chicago underworld. He had discovered that there was big money in the newly outlawed liquor business. He was fired with the hope of getting control of the dispensation of booze to the whole city of Chicago. At the moment there was a great deal too much competition; but possibly a well-disciplined gang of men handy with their fists and their guns could take care of that, by intimidating rival bootleggers and persuading uneasy speakeasy proprietors that life might not be wholly comfortable for them unless they bought Torrio liquor.... “Al Capone had been an excellent choice as leader of the Torrio offensives.... As the profits... rolled in, young Capone acquired more finesse — particularly finesse in the management of politics and politicians. By the middle of the decade he had gained complete control of the suburb of Cicero, had installed his own mayor in office, had posted his agents in the wide-open gambling resorts and in each of the 161 bars.... He was taking in millions now. Torrio was fading into the background; Capone was becoming the Big Shot.” Frederick Louis Allen, in Only Yesterday (1931)

1925 “I make my money by supplying a public demand. If I break the law, my customers, who number hundreds of the best people in Chicago, are as guilty as I am. Everybody calls me a racketeer. I call myself a businessman.” Bootlegger Al Capone

Social Change: The Automobile

1924 “Why on earth do you need to study what’s changing this country? I can tell you what’s happening in just four letters: A-U-T-O.” A resident of Muncie, Indiana, responding to questions from sociologists Robert and Helen Lynd for their book Middletown (1929).

c. 1924 “Does father crave to fish for trout and bass and pike and musky? Take him auto-touring. Does sister want to dip in the surf... or see the world? Take her automobile vacationing.... Does mother sigh for a rest from daily routines? Take her touring.... Does baby need fresh mountain air far from flies and heat? Take him auto-camping.” Autotouring guidebook

c. 1924 “We’d rather do without clothes than give up the car.” Mother of nine children.

c. 1924 “Trespassers will B persecuted 2 the full extent of 2 mongrel dogs which neve was over sochible to strangers and 1 doubl shot gun which ain’t loaded with sofa pillors.” Sign posted by farmer to chase off city tourists who rob from his land.

1929 “The extensive use of this new tool by the young has enormously extended their mobility and the range of alternatives before them; joining a crowd motoring over to a dance... twenty miles away may be a matter of a moment’s decision, with no one’s permission asked.” Robert and Helen Lynd, looking at how life has been changed by the auto, in Middletown (1929), their study of Muncie, Indiana.

Social Change: The Movies

c. 1920 “In the ‘de luxe’ house every man is a king and every woman a queen. Most of these cinema palaces sell all their seats at the same price,-- and get it; the rich man stands in line with the poor... In this suave atmosphere, the differences... that determine our lives outside are forgotten. All men enter these portals equal, and thus the movies are perhaps a symbol of democracy.” Journalist Lloyd Lewis.

c. 1925 “Goodness knows, you learn plenty about love from the movies.... You meet the flapper, the good girl, ‘n’ all the feminine types and their little tricks of the trade.” A young woman of the times.

1926 “Upon going to my first dance I asked the hairdresser to fix my hair like Greta Garbo’s. In speaking on graduation day I did my best to finish with the swaying-like curtsy which Pola Negri taught me from the screen.” A high school graduate

1927 “You ain’t heard nothin’ yet.” Al Jolson, first words spoken in movies, in The Jazz Singer.

Social Change: The Scopes Trial

1925 It is unlawful “to teach any theory that denies the story of the divine creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.” From State of Tennessee Public School Law, which was violated by John Scopes, a biology teacher at Central High School in Dayton, Tennessee.

1925 “Our purpose and our only purpose is to vindicate the right of parents to guard the religion of their children against efforts made in the name of science to undermine faith in supernatural religion.” William Jennings Bryan, Democrat presidential hopeful and former Secretary of State, speaking out in favor of the Tennessee law, before the beginning of the Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tenn.

1925 Q: “Do you claim that everything in the Bible should be literally interpreted?” A: “I believe that everything in the Bible should be accepted as given there.” B: “But when you read that Jonah swallowed the whale — or that the whale swallowed Jonah — excuse me, please, how do you literally interpret it?... You believe that God made such a fish, and that it was big enough to swallow Jonah?” A: “Yes, sir.” Q: “Perfectly easy to believe that Jonah swallowed the whale?” A: “If the Bible said so.” Questions by famous defense lawyer Clarence Darrow to William Jennings Bryan at the “Monkey trial” of John Scopes.

1925 “If a minister believes and teaches evolution, he is a stinking skunk, a hypocrite, and a liar.” Evangelist Billy Sunday.

Cultural Affairs: The Lost Generation

1920 “All of you young people who served in the war, you are a lost generation.” Poet Gertrude Stein to young novelist Ernest Hemingway.

1920 The new generation of Americans was “dedicated more than the last to the fear of poverty and the worship of success; grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken.” F. Scott Fitzgerald, in his first novel, This Side of Paradise

1929 “I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice and the expression in vain. We had heard them... and had read them... now for a long time and I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards of Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it.” Character in Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms (1929), expressing the disillusionment of many members of the wartime generation.

c. 1921 “Our laws are invented, in the main, by frauds and fanatics, and put upon the statute books by poltroons and scoundrels.” H. L. (Henry Louis) Mencken

Cultural Affairs: Jazz

c. 1925 “I had a little tin horn, the kind people celebrate with. I would blow this long tin horn without a top on it. Just hold my fingers close together. Blow it as a call for old rags, bones, bottles, or anything that people had to sell.... The kids loved the sound of my tin horn!” Louis Armstrong, on how he came to be one of the world’s best trumpeters.

c. 1927 “Jazz I regard as an American folk-music.” Composer George Gershwin, who used jazz material in his classical compositions Rhapsody in Blue (1924) and Piano Concerto (1926).

1927 “The engine was working perfectly and that cheered me. I was going along a hundred miles an hour and I knew that if the motor kept on turning I would get there.... “Fairly early in the afternoon I saw a fleet of fishing boats.... An hour later I saw land.... It must have been shortly before 4 o’clock. It was rocky land and all my study told me it was Ireland. And it was Ireland!” Charles A. Lindbergh, interview with the New York Times after flying his small monoplane The Spirit of St. Louis from Long Island to Paris, the first solo air crossing of the Atlantic Ocean on May 20-21, 1927.

1927 “In the spring of ‘27,... a young Minnesotan who seemed to have nothing to do with his generation did a heroic thing, and for a moment people... thought of their oldest dreams.” Novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, on Charles Lindbergh and his flight.

The Economy

c. 1921 Every piece of work in the shop moves; it may move on hooks, on overhead chains,... it may travel on a moving platform, or it may go by gravity, but the point is that there is no lifting or trucking.... No workman has anything to do with moving or lifting anything.” Henry Ford, describing his assembly-line method of manufacturing automobiles.

1921 “[If] government takes away an unreasonable share, the incentive to work is no longer there and slackening of effort is the result.” Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon, on the need for tax cuts.

1921 “Among the nations of the earth today America stands for one idea: Business.... For in this fact lies, potentially, the salvation of the world. “Through business, properly conceived, managed, and conducted, the human race is finally to be redeemed. How and why a man works foretells what he will do, think, have, give, and be. And real salvation is in doing, thinking, having, giving, and being — not in sermonizing and theorizing....” Edward F. Purinton

1923 “American institutions... are founded on righteousness, they are productive of material prosperity. They compel the loyalty and support of the people because such action is right and because it is profitable.” Vice President Calvin Coolidge, Memorial Day Address

1924 “The industrial might of the United States must not deceive us. Agriculture is still the greatest American industry.... “What are the complaints of the farmers who still make up 30 percent of the active population and who produce about 18 percent of the national income? They charge that they cannot get a sufficiently remunerative return for their products.... “The United States could, if need be, absorb all of the Fords but not all of the lard of Chicago, nor the wheat, the corn, the grains of the Mississippi Valley. The question of exports is central here. “If the high tariffs lead, by retaliation, to the closing of certain outlets, if the rise in the value of the dollar loses customers for American products, that does not halt a spindle in the immense cotton factories of New England or Carolina. But the farmer cannot regard these developments with the same tranquility. The result is that, farther away from Europe, more ignorant of European affairs, he is nevertheless more sensitive to fluctuations in the European markets.” Henri Hauser, in L’Amérique vivante.

1925 “The business of the American people is business. The man who builds a factory builds a temple. The man who works there worships there.” President Calvin Coolidge

c. 1925 “To keep America growing we must keep Americans working, and to keep Americans working we must keep them wanting; wanting more than the bare necessities; wanting the luxuries and frills that make life so much more worthwhile, and installment selling makes it easier to keep Americans wanting.” Automobile dealer, on the spread of buying on credit, which accounted for about 75% of all car purchases in the middle of the 1920s.

1927 There are certain things that most people believe. The moment your copy is linked to one of those beliefs, more than half your battle is won.” Advertising agency executive.

1928 “‘Leven cent cotton, forty cent meat, How in the world can a poor man eat?” From Eleven Cent Cotton, a song telling of the problems of poor farmers.

1929 “We are a happy people - the statistics prove it. We have more cars, more bathtubs, oil furnaces, silk stockings, bank accounts, than any other people on earth” US President Herbert Hoover, March 1929