Learn about Life in the 1920s

The period between the 2 world wars was characterized by world-wide tensions and saw the rise of mass political movements such as communism, fascism, and national socialism.

Politicians Meeting in House of Representives

The threat of Communism, Fascism, and Socialism.


Political Events of 1920 - The Palmer raids, the Red Scare, a drive to rid the country of "reds," (communists) began under the auspices of the U.S. Dept. of Justice. On January 3, the New York Times reports that 650 are arrested.

Mussolini, the Italian Premier, challenged any country to show so favorable a development as Italy has done under the Fascist regime. Even American businessmen were praising the economic growth under Fascism. While the Fascist Party in America was promoting the benefits of Fascism to Americans and trying to lure voters, Julius H. Barnes, former head of the United States Chamber of Commerce made a response to Mussolini that highlighted the benefits of Democracy over Fascism.

A lively debate ensued in 1927 when Secretary of the Treasury Mellon recommended a reduction in taxes that favored big business over wage earners. Previous tax-reduction battles in 1921, 1924, and 1926 had benefited Mr Average Citizen in the lower income brackets.

The League of Nations (forerunner of the United Nations) first council met in Paris. President Wilson formally convoked the Council in accordance with the League provision for the summoning of the first Assembly by the President of the United States. It was to be the last official participation by the U.S. in the entire history of the League of Nations.

Then, as now, there was a major problem with illegal immigrants seeking a better life in the U.S. than their home countries and strong law enforcement efforts were made to control the problem.

The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution went into effect, prohibiting the making, selling, possession, and consumption of alcoholic beverages. Prohibition, the most flouted law in history was repealed in 1933 .

The American Socialist Party nominated Eugene V. Debs for president, and he was the first candidate to mount a campaign from jail. Beginning in september he was permitted to issue weekly public statements that were then circulated by the party. He ran on the slogan, "From the Prison to the White House," and polled 3.5 percent of the vote.


Following the end of World War I and the freedom from the war-time economy and lifestyle, U.S. politicians focused on the social and cultural issues of the day.

People wanted an end to labor problems and racial strife, less immigration, conservative politics, a return to christian values, and less government interference in their lives.

By the 1920s, many Americans had grown tired of war and constant attempts at reform, including numerous attempts to pass moral legislation. Many people longed for a simpler way of life. Warren G. Harding's policy of a "return to normalcy" was an attempt to capitalize on this populist feeling.

  • 28. Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)
  • 29. Warren G. Harding (1921-1923)
  • 30. Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929)
  • 31. Herbert Hoover (1929-1933)
1920 U.S. ELECTION -

The U.S. presidential election of 1920 was dominated by the aftermath of World War I. The wartime boom had collapsed. Diplomats and politicians were arguing over peace treaties and the question of America's entry into the League of Nations. Overseas there were wars and revolutions; at home there were strikes, riots, and a growing fear of radicals and terrorists. Disillusionment was in the air.

On June 8, 1920, the Republican National Convention meeting in Chicago nominated Warren G. Harding, an Ohio newspaper editor and United States Senator, to run for president with Calvin Coolidge, governor of Massachusetts, as his running mate.

The Democrats, meeting in San Francisco, nominated another newspaper editor from Ohio, Governor James M. Cox, as their presidential candidate, and 37 year-old Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt, a fifth cousin of the late president Teddy Roosevelt, for vice president.

The presidential election of 1920 continued the debate between the nationalistic activism of Roosevelt's presidency and the global idealism of Wilson's administration. Harding, the winner, inherited major domestic and international problems that tested his leadership.

1924 U.S. ELECTION -

The U.S. presidential election of 1924 was won by incumbent President Calvin Coolidge in a landslide as he presided over a booming economy at home and no visible crises abroad. Coolidge (Republican) won the election in a landslide, with Davis (Democrat) only winning the 11 former Confederate states and Oklahoma, and losing the popular vote by 25 percentage points. The Republicans did so well that they won in New York City, a feat that has not been repeated since.

1928 U.S. ELECTION -

The U.S. presidential election of 1928 pitted Republican Herbert Hoover against Democrat Alfred E. Smith. The Republicans were identified with the booming economy of the 1920s and Smith, a Roman Catholic, suffered politically from anti-Catholic prejudice.

The election held on November 6, 1928 was won by Republican candidate Herbert Hoover by a wide margin on pledges to continue the economic boom of the Coolidge years.


In 1900, the Labour Representation Committee was established and it changed its name to The Labour Party in 1906. After the First World War, this led to the demise of the Liberal Party as the main liberal force in British politics. The existence of the Labour Party on the left of British politics led to a slow waning of energy from the Liberal Party, ending with it taking third place in national politics. After performing poorly in the elections of 1922, 1923 and 1924, the Liberal Party was superseded by the Labour Party as the party of the left.

Following two brief spells in minority governments in 1924 and 1929-1931, the Labour Party had its first true victory after World War II in the 1945 election.

The Representation of the People Act 1918 gave suffrage to most of the adult population (men over 21, women over 30) and the Representation of the People Act 1928 gave Universal suffrage to the adult population over 21.


The Italian economy also fell into a deep slump following World War I. Anarchists were endemic, Communist and other Socialist agitators abounded among the trade unions, and many were gravely worried that a Bolshevik-style Communist revolution was imminent.

After a number of liberal governments failed to rein in these threats, King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy invited Benito Mussolini to form a government on October 29, 1922. The Fascists maintained an armed paramilitary wing, which they employed to fight Anarchists, Communists, and Socialists.


The democratic German republic, known as the Weimar Republic (1919-33), was affected by hyperinflation and other serious economic problems. Nationalist elements under a variety of movements, including the Nazi Party led by the Austrian Adolf Hitler, blamed Germany's "humiliating" status on the harshness of the post-war settlement, on faults of democracy, on Social Democrats and Communists, and on the Jews, whom it claimed possessed a financial stranglehold on Germany.

In Germany, like in the radically diminished Austria, the citizens, or at least the educated classes, remembered the pre-war years under autocratic rule as prosperous – the post-war years under democratic rule (due to the failings of Proportional Representation under the Weimar Government), however, as chaotic and economically disastrous. Social tensions after the world wide economic depression following the Stock Market Crash of 1929 aggravated the political situation. Anti-democratic parties in the Reichstag (parliament), both left-wing and right-wing, obstructed the parliamentary work, while different cabinets resorted to governing by the special emergency powers of the Weimar constitution, which enabled the President and the Cabinet, in concert, to effectively bypass the parliament.

Hitler was appointed Reichskanzler (Chancellor) on January 30, 1933.


Mohandas (later, Mahatma) Gandhi (1869-1948) who was a lawyer turned politician in the Indian National Congress party began his national campaign to rally the populace of India to use passive resistance and noncooperation against the occupying British colonialist government. Gandhi tried to unite Muslims and Hindus in obtaining independence from Great Britain using peaceful means.

As well as seeking indepence for India, Gandhi led national campaigns to ease poverty, improve women's rights, end the caste system, and increase economic self-reliance.