The one thing you need to know about this theme:
|Culture is Complicated
Throughout United States History, historical factors shaped the meaning of what “American culture” looked like. After all, the meaning of who constituted an “American” was likewise uncertain. Cultural traits are created and recreated over time as new people, technology, ideas, and symbols permeate the national conscience. To say that at any point in U.S. History there was a singular national “culture” is dismissive of the rich social and political fabric of our history.
This theme focuses on the how and why national, regional, and group cultures developed and changed as well as how culture has shaped government policy and the economy.
In what ways do creative expression, demographic change, personal beliefs, and innovation shape American culture and policies?
|First Great Awakening
|"New Light" vs. "Old Light"
|Three Sisters of Agriculture
|Trial of John Peter Zenger
|Hamilton's Financial Plan
|Alien and Sedition Acts
|Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions
|Hudson River School
|Ralph Waldo Emerson
|Henry David Thoreau
|Noah Webster's American Dictionary
|American Temperance Society
|Cult of Domesticity
|Elizabeth Cady Stanton
|Seneca Falls Convention
|"Declaration of Sentiments"
|"Positive Good" Thesis
|American Colonization Society
|American Antislavery Society
|William Lloyd Garrison's The Liberator
|Frederick Douglass' The North Star
|Denmark Vesey's Rebellion
|Nat Turner's Rebellion
|David Walker's Appeal
|Irish Potato Famine
|F. Scott Fitzgerland
|Zora Neale Hurston
|Universal Negro Improvement Association
|Scopes Monkey Trial
|Darwin's Theory of Evolution
|Sacco and Vanzetti
|Ku Klux Clan
|Immigration Act of 1924
|Second Red Scare
|Rock and Roll
|Birth Control Pill
|Students for a Democratic Society
|Hawks v. Doves
|Black Panther Party
|Black Party Movement
|Democratic National Convention Riot
|Kent State University Shooting
The AP U.S. History curriculum does not specifically lay out thematic objectives for this time period relating to American and Regional Culture. However, students should know that Native American tribes had varying regional cultures, and should be aware of the differences among those cultures. Asking for the differences between pre-Columbian tribes (or tribes in the early colonial period) is a fair SAQ prompt.
In the colonial period, the variety of European colonial groups from England, France, Spain, and the Netherlands -paired with scores of Native American tribes and cultural traditions- contributed to what the curriculum refers to as a “degree of pluralism” in the Americas. Pluralism essentially means that there exist- simultaneously- many social, political, economic, racial, and gender dynamics that exert and fight for authority or autonomy.
The largest degree of cultural separation existed between the collective European colonial powers and the various Native American tribes they encountered. In the early part of the colonial period, English settlers like those at Jamestown relied on intellectual exchanges with local tribes for survival. For example, native crops like the Three Sisters of Agriculture were instrumental in recovering the starving population of Jamestown. Over time, however, the increased European population in North America led to disease and warfare that devastated tribal populations and led to a shift in the power dynamic in colonized areas.
Increasingly, European colonizers focused on what they perceived to be the inherent sinfulness and backwardness of Native American lifestyles and employed increasingly persistent methods of Christianizing the local populations. In mid-17th century New England, Puritans established Praying Towns for converting Native Americans in a segregated environment, where ministers could monitor their actions and converts could live in community with each other away from the temptations of their old lives.
In the 1730s and 1740s, the First Great Awakening enhanced cultural exchange through camp revivals and “fire and brimstone” preaching. Ministers like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield increasingly emphasized the sinfulness of man and the requirement of each individual to turn to God for salvation. These “New Light” ministers sometimes resorted to more theatrical means to convey their message, creating a divide between themselves and “Old Light” ministers who preferred more conventional or traditional methods.
The methods and message of the First Great Awakening borrowed from a very different kind of cultural movement occurring near the same time - the Enlightenment. While not inherently religious, Enlightenment writing often emphasized the role of the individual within greater social circles. This emphasis on individualism is heavily apparent in Edwards’ and Whitefield’s sermons.
For the AP exam, there are several Enlightenment thinkers students should generally familiarize themselves with, although it is doubtful that a question will directly ask about one of them in particular. More likely, students can use them as evidence in a prompt about the Enlightenment more generally.
|In his “Two Treatises of Government,” Locke put forward the idea of “natural rights” that belong to all people - life, liberty, and property. These inalienable rights would eventually set the foundation for the “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” found in the Declaration of Independence.
|Newton’s mathematical work in the Scientific Revolution invented calculus, allowing astronomists to predict planetary trajectory. His book, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, revolutionized the world of physics by laying out Newton’s Three Laws of Motion. Both achievements undermined the authority of the church.
|In his book, The Social Contract, Rousseau argued that humans in a society willingly give up their absolute freedom to live in a more organized and orderly society. In exchange, however, the government constructed by such a society must derive its power from the consent of the governed.
|The “Father of Modern Economics” wrote in The Wealth of Nations that markets are controlled by invisible forces and the law of supply and demand. In an attack on mercantilism, Smith advocated for what is now known as laissez-faire policies and a capitalist system based on profit as the driving factor.
Over time, the British colonies began to perceive themselves as more English - a process known as Anglicization. Despite regional economic differences, the system of salutary neglect led to increasing numbers of autonomous political communities based on the same concept of Republicanism. Throughout the British colonies, representative legislative bodies worked within the confines of their respective charters to meet the needs of the local populations.
This seemingly homogeneous culture was not without fissures, though. In 1735, the Trial of John Peter Zenger tested the growing print culture against growing Enlightenment ideals. Accused of libel against the governor in New York, Zenger was acquitted on the basis that the information printed in his paper - while perhaps scandalous - was, in fact, true. Though certainly not anywhere close to the issues that would spring up thirty years later, the Zenger case laid the foundation for colonists to stand up to royal officials and laid claim to a case for freedom of speech.
While the period between the French and Indian War and the American Revolution is certainly wrought with a considerable amount of questioning about cultural and political identity in the colonies, the curriculum chooses to more closely align that portion of this period with the theme of “America in the World.” This makes sense, given the intricate interplay between the colonies and England, as well as the alliances between France and various Native American tribes during the period.
The topic “American and Regional Culture” picks up again following the American Revolution with the formation of a distinctive national culture during George Washington’s presidency. Broadly, cultural divisions on a national level emerged as debates centered around issues of politics and slavery.
Within Washington’s cabinet, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson presented battling visions for the United States’ future. Hamilton saw the United States as a nation whose destiny lay in manufacturing and international trade, whereas Jefferson envisioned a land of sprawling agriculture run by yeoman farmers. That is not to say that these visions could never coexist side-by-side. However, in a political battle for attention, favor, and financial backing, one must always present his or her option as paramount to others. Ultimately, Washington backed Hamilton’s Financial Plan, which consisted of three major tenets: a Bank of the United States, the consolidation of states’ debts, and a tariff on imports.
Rallying support for the two cabinet leaders led to the emergence of political factions - Federalists who supported Hamilton and Democratic-Republicans who supported Jefferson. Despite the warnings of Washington in his “Farewell Address,” these factions became institutionalized political parties in the Election of 1800.
For the Bank of U.S.
For assumption of state debt
For excise tax
Against the Bank of U.S.
Against assumption of state debt
Against excise tax
In the late 18th century, the war between Britain and France heightened tensions between the Federalists and Democratic-Republican factions, who (despite American neutrality) saw each other as enacting policies to favor one side or the other in the conflict. This tension came to a head during the (Federalist) presidency of John Adams when he signed the Alien and Sedition Acts (1798), which stifled speech critical of the government and led to deportations of some foreigners.
Seen as an overt attempt to squash Democratic-Republican voices, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson responded with the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions. The resolutions stated an agreed premise that the federal government had only the rights guaranteed to it in the Constitution - no more. Thus, the states could nullify or refuse to enforce the Alien and Sedition Acts.
In addition to divisions over politics, debates over slavery in the Early Republic similarly tended to fall along sectional lines. The first abolitionist society in the United States was founded by Quakers in Pennsylvania in 1775. By the election of George Washington in 1789, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire outlawed slavery. By 1800, New York and Vermont joined the ranks. Conversely, in the same period, land previously claimed by the colonies of Virginia and North Carolina became the slave states of Kentucky and Tennessee. According to the 1800 census, of the nearly one million black individuals in the United States, only about 10% were free people of color.
As Americans differed over political ideologies and beliefs over the role of slavery in society, they were drawn together by common symbols and reflections of nationhood. Before the American Revolution, flags were primarily used for seafaring vessels as a way of denoting one’s country of origin. During the pre-revolutionary period, sailors and revolutionaries increasingly adopted the use of flags onshore for use in their cause of resistance. In the years following the American Revolution, the U.S. flag underwent a series of changes but was not widely used outside of military purposes until after the Civil War.
The paintings of John Trumbull preserved images of national unity and success. In addition to painting portraits of America’s early leaders like Alexander Hamilton and George Washington, Trumbull created scenes like the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the victory at Yorktown. Many of his paintings remain prominently displayed in the White House and U.S. Capitol rotunda.
In the period after 1800, American art, architecture, and literature continued in attempts to frame a collective cultural experience for Americans. The Hudson River School crafted landscape paintings as an outgrowth of the Romantic movement that was highly nationalistic in their praise of American natural beauty and critical of industrialization. The Romantic movement also influenced architectural styles like the Federal-style of Jefferson’s Rotunda.
Romanticism inspired the intellectual and literary movement of Transcendentalism, which combined aspects of individual self-sufficiency with an almost religious reverence for the natural world to argue against materialism, corrupt government, and organized religion. The Transcendentalist movement produced some of the United States’ first uniquely “American” literature, and some of the key figures are worth noting individually for the AP exam.
|Ralph Waldo Emerson
|In his book, Nature (1836), Emerson explains that the laws of nature (of which his definitions are complex) are moral, and therefore should be the foundation for all ethical and religious decisions. Furthermore, he advocates for a combination of rational thought and spirituality when approaching nature to gain a better understanding of God and the world.
|Henry David Thoreau
|Living in seclusion at Walden Pond for just over two years, Thoreau chronicled his spiritual journey and manual for self-reliant individualism in the book, Walden (1854). Thoreau is also widely known for his essay, “On Civil Disobedience,” written after spending a night in jail for refusing to pay a poll tax in protest of the expansion of slavery during the Mexican-American War.
|Fuller was a Transcendentalist writer and (from 1840-1842) editor of the Transcendentalist magazine, The Dial. Her book, Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845), was a feminist piece that criticized the concept of the Cult of Domesticity, arguing that women deserved political and educational equality.
|Melville’s famous book, Moby Dick (1851), criticized what he perceived to be an almost blind optimism of the Transcendentalist movement. After attempting revenge on the white whale, Captain Ahab’s ship and crew are destroyed, including himself.
|Hawthorne was also a critic of the Transcendentalist movement. His most famous book, The Scarlet Letter (1850), lambasted the very New England religious tradition that Transcendentalists like Emerson came from (although generations removed). A criticism of the strict Puritan social and religious code, Hawthorne’s work reminds readers that the individualism sought by Transcendentalist thinkers was not reflective of “traditional” American values.
The ability to enjoy these new genres of art and literature sprang from an increase in literacy and public education. Often contextualized within the age of “Jacksonian Democracy,” the general logic was that the United States should be invested in creating an educated public so that the growing class of American voters would be well-informed ones.
Reformers like Horace Mann - the “Father of American Education” and Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education - called for free public schooling taught by well-trained teachers. His insistence on teacher training led to the growth of common schools (teacher training schools) throughout the United States. Mann also insisted that public schools should be free of religious affiliation and open to students of all ethnic backgrounds. Within these schools, students used tools like Noah Webster’s American Dictionary (first published in 1806) and Webster’s Blue-Black Speller to standardize literacy and create a common American English.
The rise of democratic and individualistic beliefs, paired with increasing materialism caused by the Market Revolution, led to the Second Great Awakening at the end of the 18th century. Similar to the First Great Awakening, the Second Great Awakening consisted of revivals led by charismatic ministers like Charles Finney, who preached Hellfire and Brimstone sermons.
Whereas the First Great Awakening led to the splintering of Protestant faiths into more denominations (which also occurred to an extent during the Second Great Awakening), the Second Great Awakening had three major effects. The curriculum lays these effects explicitly, so if an exam has an “effects of the Second Great Awakening” prompt, the documents will likely fall loosely into these three categories. The effects of the Second Great Awakening were social reforms, moral reforms, and the inspiration of utopian and other religious movements.
The Second Great Awakening led to the emergence of new organizations aimed at eliminating a series of social ills. The most obvious and widespread of these was the Temperance Movement. In 1826, Lyman Beecher founded the American Temperance Society with the goal of convincing Americans to take a pledge of abstinence from alcohol. The society gained relative national success in a campaign of reminding Americans about the moral perils of drinking, as well as the ill-effects on women and children. Temperance leaders faced backlash, however, from Irish and German immigrants, who viewed alcohol consumption as core to their cultural beliefs (and sometimes religious ceremonies).
Another social issue competing for the public’s attention was asylum reform. Dorothea Dix lobbied state governments for funding to create asylums for the mentally ill, who were often treated as common criminals and kept in appalling conditions in prisons. After some success at the state level, Dix appealed to the federal government for support. She was granted a land endowment by Congress, but the bill was vetoed by President Pierce in 1854. Following this setback, she traveled to Europe to continue work until the outbreak of the Civil War.
Women were essential to both the temperance and asylum reform movements. Throughout the early to mid-19th century, women partook in various social reforms in addition to their domestic lives, often contributing to more than one social effort. This is especially unsurprising as religious calls from the Second Great Awakening often advocated for individuals to take a more proactive role as missionaries in their own communities.
It is unsurprising, then, that this social reform would stretch to the roles of women themselves. During this period, women lived under the ideal of the Cult of Domesticity - the idea that a woman’s job was to stay home and care for her husband and children as the moral center of the family. As women strayed from this ideal to become reformers, even some ministers balked at their lack of adherence to strict gender norms.
As noted above, Margaret Fuller’s 1845 book, Woman in the Nineteenth Century, called for equality among women in at least the spheres of education and politics. While some women, especially those wanting to become teachers, achieved a degree of educational mobility, many were left behind. In 1848, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton organized the Seneca Falls Convention. At the convention, some attendees signed a “Declaration of Sentiments,” which used the language of the Declaration of Independence to dramatize the hypocrisy of gender discrimination in the United States.
As Americans continued toward the goal of Manifest Destiny and incorporated new Western lands into the United States, the issue of slavery increased tensions among sectional lines. This disagreement, which began as early as the first arrival of enslaved individuals in 1619, became increasingly tied to moral arguments during the Antebellum Era.
In 1820, the Missouri Compromise established a clear lane for Southern territories and states to spread the institution of slavery into the West. Whereas Southern politicians once referred to slavery as a “necessary evil,” by 1837, John C. Calhoun took on the new stance that slavery constituted a “positive good.” The institution, enslavers argued, benefitted enslaved individuals by providing a pathway to civilization and Christianity. Despite this paternalistic argument, growing abolitionist societies of that era continued to push for emancipation.
The American Colonization Society (1817) offered freed slaves the opportunity to emigrate to the colony of Liberia, rather than remain in the United States. Despite rampant discrimination, many free blacks refused to leave the country that they viewed as their home. The American Antislavery Society (1833) formed with the goal of immediate emancipation of all slaves. The organization sent petitions to Congress (which went mostly unread), published newsletters and pamphlets, and held lectures for usually uninformed or unsympathetic Northern audiences on the atrocities of slavery.
Two leading abolitionist publications emerged within this period as well - William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator and Frederick Douglass’ The North Star. Garrison made known his radical stance that enslaved people should be freed immediately with no compensation to enslavers. He and Douglass joined together for lecture circuits, which eventually led to the publication of Douglass’ biography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.
At the same time, however, the rights of black individuals in the United States decreased during this period. The decrease was due, in part, to rebellions like those led by Denmark Vesey (1822) and Nat Turner (1831), which led to the deaths of Southern whites. Additionally, the publication of David Walker’s Appeal (1829) put many Southerners on edge, as Walker spared no words in calling out the hypocrisy of Christian enslavers while simultaneously justifying the use of violence in revolting against slavery, should an enslaved individual choose to do so.
The Second Great Awakening also led to the emergence of new utopian communities based on socialist ideals and the hope of creating a perfect human society. The Shakers were a utopian community founded on the religious premise that their leader, Mother Ann, represented the beginning of the millennium (the period following the return of Jesus in the Bible). The Shaker community practiced gender equality but did not allow for sexual relationships. As a substitute for the casual pleasures of the world, Shakers focused on farming, carpentry, and dancing.
The Oneida Community, led by John Humphrey Noyes, focused on the concept of perfection and life free from sin. Those deemed to have reached a state of perfection could engage in a form of communal marriage and communal child-rearing. Despite this system of “free love” marriage, unplanned children were infrequent. Once the community had enough resources to have children, they practiced a form of eugenics called “stirpiculture,” where parents considered to have the most positive breeding traits would be chosen to reproduce.
Brook Farm was a utopian society unlike the Shakers and Oneida in the sense that it had no religious affiliation. Brook Farm attracted thinkers like Transcendentalists, who used the manual labor of subsistence farming to fuel their intellectual pursuits.
The longest-lasting of the religious societies of the Antebellum Era was the Latter-Day Saints or Mormon Church. Founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith, the Mormon church emphasized patriarchy and self-discipline. The church faced persecution in the East, and eventually settled in Nauvoo, Illinois, where families began practicing polygamy. Shortly thereafter, Smith was arrested and killed by an anti-Mormon mob. Brigham Young took over as leader of the church and led the church to Salt Lake City, Utah.
Until this point, we have focused primarily on the development of culture as it emerged from initial interactions with Native Americans and various competing European nations in the colonial period to national debates and unifying symbols in the 19th century. In the mid-19th century, however, a substantial wave of international migrants created ethnic communities that introduced new cultural customs to the United States and led to a backlash against immigrants.
From roughly the 1820s to the 1840s, Irish and German immigrants made their way to the United States as part of “Old” immigration. For Irish immigrants, the biggest push factor was the Irish Potato Famine, in which roughly one million people died of starvation. German immigrants came in search of religious and political freedom.
For both groups, the pull factor was economic opportunity. Irish immigrants worked as both farmers and industrial workers in cities like New York and Chicago. German immigrants usually settled in farming areas of the North and Midwest, like Pennsylvania. When possible, Catholic families sent their children to parochial schools, which would preserve religious customs in education.
Response to this wave of immigration came largely in the form of anti-Catholic nativism. Native-born Protestants, fearing economic insecurity and touting the general superiority of Protestantism, formed the Know-Nothing Party in the 1840s. By 1854, the Know-Nothings organized more formally as the American Party and garnered some political success until increased sectionalism and the formation of the Republican Party caused its demise.
The AP U.S. History curriculum does not specifically lay out thematic objectives for this time period relating to American and Regional Culture. However, students should generally be able to discuss the ways that industrialization and “New” Immigration led to changes in American and Regional Culture.
World War I contributed to migration on unprecedented scales. Following the Selective Service Act (1917), millions of men left their homes to serve in the war effort. Meanwhile, millions of other American men and women left their homes to contribute to wartime industries in cities across the United States. As the war ended, the settling of these migration patterns led to new forms of art and literature that expressed changing attitudes about the United States and one’s role as an American.
For men returning home from war, disillusionment with the experiences of battle and the government’s role in killing millions of people led to what Gertrude Stein called the “Lost Generation.” This group of writers, including Ernest Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, and F. Scott Fitzgerald criticized what they perceived to be excessive materialism and emotional bankruptness of a nation that rushed into a “Return to Normalcy” after losing millions of its people.
For many African Americans in the South, contributing to the war meant taking part in what is now called the Great Migration - the movement of African Americans to Northern cities for industrial work. At the onset of the “Roaring Twenties,” African Americans living in densely-populated Northern cities contributed to a new artistic and civil rights movement called the Harlem Renaissance.
Just as the European Renaissance ushered in a period of revival and renewal, the Harlem Renaissance embraced revitalized forms of African American art and music and shaped them for popular audiences. Significantly, these popular black art forms were a key vehicle to portraying the realities of life for African Americans in the United States, including the atrocities of Jim Crow. Here we will break down the most important aspects of the Harlem Renaissance that students need to know for the AP exam:
Blues and Jazz. As a musical genre, blues originated from usually one singer and a guitar playing a “blue” (or non-standard) scale. In the 1920s, many of the most popular blues singers were women, including the “Empress of Blues,” Bessie Smith. Jazz emerged as a mixture of several musical styles, including blues and ragtime. Musician Louis Armstrong was especially famous for his distinctive singing voice and impeccable skill on the trumpet.
Musicians like Smith and Armstrong faced widespread discrimination, however, in attempting to break into white clubs, recording studios, and radio stations. Even when they did play in bands of mixed racial backgrounds (often as the main attraction), they were paid less than their white counterparts. African American songs and artists that made it in front of white audiences did play a role in extending messages of black culture and the black experience. A song like “Strange Fruit,” for example, vividly explains lynching to a crowd that may not fully understand the extent of that atrocity.
Writers of the Harlem Renaissance similarly conveyed the struggles of African Americans in the North and South. Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) explains the intricate play of forces including race, gender, labor, and inter-generational conflict within the black community before and after the Civil War. Now a critically-acclaimed writer, Hurston died in 1960 with so little money that she was buried in an unmarked grave until 1973. Poet Langston Hughes was considerably more successful, publishing famous works such as “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” (1921), “I, Too” (1926), and “Let America be America Again.”
While the Harlem Renaissance functioned most obviously as an artistic revival for African Americans, it was also very clearly a movement for civil rights. Black artists often spared no words in calling out white hypocrisy and atrocities (past and present) against the African American community. The movement also stirred up early forms of black nationalism - the idea that African Americans should join together to support their people and have self-determination for their community.
In the 1920s, black nationalism came most obviously in the form of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). After witnessing the racial discrimination faced by African Americans following the Great Migration, Garvey was convinced that peaceful integration could not work. He established UNIA in 1917, with the message of going “Back to Africa” - where black Americans could practice their customs.
Garvey faced opposition from other leaders in the African American community like W.E.B. DuBois and A. Philip Randolph, as well as other leaders of the NAACP. Additionally, the federal government went after him for mail fraud, indicting him in 1922. Garvey was deported to Jamaica, where he served out his term. While there, his movement and organization largely fell apart.
The end of World War I also led to considerable controversies as wartime technology and mobilization shifted the way Americans perceived the roles of religion, gender, and immigration.
As a “rule of thumb” in U.S. History, any time there is a modern innovation, there is also religious backlash. This trend is noticeable with the Enlightenment and First Great Awakening, Market Revolution and Second Great Awakening, and Gilded Age industrialization and Social Gospel Movement. In the 1920s, the primary battle was between fundamentalists and modernists. Fundamentalists believed that the Bible was literally (or fundamentally) true, whereas modernists believed that there was room for interpretation or scientific truth in the Bible.
This battle came to a head with the Scopes Monkey Trial. In 1925, the state of Tennessee passed the Butler Act, making it illegal to teach Darwin’s Theory of Evolution in school. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) placed an advertisement in the local paper asking for a teacher to step up and risk being sued to test the validity of the law - John Scopes agreed. William Jennings Bryan, who advocated for the Butler Act, to begin with, took on the role of prosecuting Scopes for the state of Tennessee. Scopes was found guilty and fined $100, but the verdict was later overturned on a technicality. The Butler Act was not repealed until 1967.
Fundamentalists similarly took offense to changing gender roles in the 1920s. Emboldened by wartime service and the passage of the 19th Amendment, American women took on new ideas of socialization and dress. Flappers wore dresses of brighter colors, shorter hemlines, and flashier materials. They also wore their hair in shorter styles called a “bob,” which attracted considerable criticism from conservative men who referred to the Biblical principle of long hair as a sign of modesty. Women also increasingly went out without chaperones, smoked in public, and flirted openly with men in public - all considered taboo before World War I.
It is important to note that this lifestyle was an ideal for women. Purchasing new clothing, going out dancing, and keeping up with new trends was expensive. Most women kept up with the flapper look in certain aspects, but most American women were not running around living out The Great Gatsby.
The 1920s also created an atmosphere of toleration (at least during Prohibition) for LGBTQ+ communities in urban centers like New York City. In night clubs and speakeasies (already suspect to police interference), transgender performers found outlets for their artistic expression, and LGBTQ+ patrons could socialize in a comfortable atmosphere. In entertainment, LGBTQ+ themes and entertainers were visible until the introduction of the Hays Code in 1930.
The post-war era was not equally positive for all groups, though. Following the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the United States increased nativist resentment against immigrants from southern and eastern European nations. This Red Scare, from 1917 to 1920, led to the targeting of immigrants for little other than their national origin. From 1919 to 1920, a series of investigations called Palmer Raids allowed the Justice Department to ransack the homes and businesses of thousands of suspected radicals. In 1921, Italian immigrants Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were convicted of murder, despite any real evidence of the crime.
The 1920s also saw a resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan that, in addition to persecuting African Americans, sought to protect the “American” way of life by attacking non-Protestant immigrants. The federal government also made strides toward protecting the “American” way of life with the Immigration Act of 1924, which created a quota system allowing two percent of persons from any given country to come into the United States from their overall number as of the 1890 census.
After World War II, the United States experienced a period of relative cultural conformity. For white Americans, the GI Bill provided benefits like healthcare, low-interest loans, and education that allowed economic mobility and the ability to move to the suburbs - typically referred to as Levittowns. White flight movement to these cookie-cutter communities, paired with a baby boom in the post-war years, also contributed to increased consumer spending on commercial goods - which also tended to conform across racial lines due to a boom in advertising spending.
Another reason for this sense of conformity in the post-war era was the Second Red Scare. Unresolved issues from the Potsdam Conference led to tension between the United States and the Soviet Union that launched both nations into a Cold War. By failing to conform to standards of patriotism and capitalist spending, Americans could draw suspicion of their community or the government.
Not all Americans conformed to these standards, though. As is typical of this trend, challenges to mass culture came from artists, scholars, and young people. In the 1950s, the Beat Movement symbolized this spirit of anti-conformity. Writers like Jack Kerouac in his book On the Road (1957) symbolized the alienation felt by a younger generation in search of real satisfaction apart from material goods.
Young Americans also rebelled in inter-generational divides through Rock and Roll music, which was the first genre of music truly tailored to teenagers. Despite its roots in the African American community (a mixture of blues, jazz, gospel, and swing), the white artists like Elvis Presley who capitalized (unfairly) on Rock and Roll also gave a voice to marginalized rural whites and made them dominant consumers of the music market.
As the Vietnam War escalated, so did challenges to social norms by younger generations of Americans. Less convinced of the immediate threat of Communism as their parents’ generation, teens and college-age students of the Vietnam War era engaged in a variety of counterculture movements to express their disillusionment with a government and society seen as not meeting their needs.
In the 1960s and 1970s, members of the counterculture movement became known as Hippies - “hip” coming from the earlier Beat generation. Hippies often wore long hair and casual, colorful clothing. They tended to favor a simplistic life, criticizing materialism and the repression of individualism. A key aspect of Hippie culture was folk and rock music. Some of the more popular artists included the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and The Rolling Stones. In 1969, this style of music became almost synonymous with the Hippie movement with the Woodstock music festival.
Young people, especially women, who participated in the counterculture movement also rejected many of the sexual norms of their parents’ generation. In a new wave of the sexual revolution, young women increasingly used the Birth Control Pill (approved by the FDA in 1960). Young men and women of the Hippie movement also sometimes lived together in communes - collective communities sharing all possessions. These environments tended to skew traditional gender roles as participants also shared responsibilities for survival and care.
Some, but not all, Hippies took part in political activities. As the Vietnam War escalated, young Americans participated in anti-war protests that increased in frequency and sometimes led to violence. Groups like Students for a Democratic Society (founded in 1960) took a broad approach of criticizing not only the Vietnam War but other injustices in American society like poverty and racism. The linking of social justice issues such as these became the core of a new political movement called the New Left.
As the war in Vietnam continued, divisions grew between Hawks (those who supported the war) and Doves (those who did not support the war). Tensions ran especially high as these divisions often occurred within single households. Older generations who lived through the early Cold War and experienced the fear of Soviet infiltration of bombings daily felt that Domino Theory was a justifiable cause for war. Younger generations - those actually fighting the war - saw it in very different terms. In addition to the specific discomforts of fighting in Vietnam, Doves argued against the racial disparities inherent in the draft and fighting methods used against enemy troops.
Young Americans often learned about these injustices and social issues in their college classrooms. In addition to traditional coursework, professors staged teach-ins at universities across the United States. In protest against academic censorship, professors at the University of Michigan taught classes all night about the draft and the realities of the Vietnam War in March 1965.
Some groups, however, rejected liberal policies under the argument that leaders did too little to actively transform the disparities and immoral policies they identified. The Black Panther Party, for example, advocated for a form of black nationalism that focused on community uplift and fighting brutality with force if necessary. As part of the greater Black Power Movement, African Americans of the late 1960s and 1970s largely subscribed to the dogma of “Black is beautiful” and advocated for the transformation of stereotypes about black culture.
Those who refused selective service also fell into this category of liberals disenchanted by their leadership. Conscientious objectors to war (which have existed in every American war) increased during the conflict in Vietnam. Others like, famously, Muhammad Ali refused military service in protest of the war’s aims and the disproportionate draft rate of people of color. At a press conference in 1967, he remarked that whereas Jim Crow was responsible for the mistreatment of millions of African Americans in the U.S., “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong.”
As the war escalated, so did the protests. In 1968, violent riots broke out at an anti-war protest outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. At Kent State University in 1970, four students were killed by the Ohio National Guard during a protest against the bombing of Cambodia under the Nixon administration.
Media coverage of these events, as well as the war itself, led to decreased confidence in the government’s ability to handle both domestic and foreign affairs. Additionally, the federal government faced considerable scandals that contributed to a credibility gap - or perception between what is said and what is true. In 1969,
Although anti-communist foreign policy faced little domestic opposition in previous years, the Vietnam War inspired sizable and passionate anti-war protests that became more numerous as the war escalated and sometimes led to violence. In 1969, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh broke the story exposing the cover-up of the Mai Lai Massacre where U.S. troops deliberately murdered up to 500 South Vietnamese civilians. The New York Times continued exposing government lies and inconsistencies with the publication of the Pentagon Papers, beginning in 1971.
By the end of the 1970s, the growth of a religiously conservative movement in response to the New Left emerged accompanied by greater political activism. Organizations like Focus on the Family advocated for traditional gender norms and a nuclear family model. As Ronald Reagan ran for the presidency, he garnered support from the Moral Majority - a political action committee dedicated to evangelical Christian values in opposition to LGBTQ+ rights and radical feminism.
The AP U.S. History curriculum does not specifically lay out thematic objectives for this time period relating to American and Regional Culture. However, students should generally be able to discuss the ways that foreign conflict and/or technology have shaped American and Regional Culture, and be able to connect that to other time periods.
Evaluate the extent to which opposition to existing policies and values developed and changed from 1945-1980.