Category: American History
Autor: jon1269 18 March 2010
Words: 1835 | Pages: 8
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Running Head: THE POLITICAL CLIMATE OF THE 1950S
The Political Climate of the 1950s
Natasha C. Stewart
Robin Greenberg M.A.
April 11, 2005
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With the dropping of the Atomic bomb that ended WWII and the beginning of the Cold War, there was an irony of stability and turmoil in the United States. The start of the 1950s brought about many changes, from the Red Scare and threat of the possible spread of communism in America, to changes in political movements, civil rights movements, and another possible war, there were many significant events and people during this time.
Joseph R. McCarthy was a Republican Senator from Wisconsin with an enormous political agenda. With the fear of communism ignited by the Cold war, McCarthy and his supporters began to instill in the American people the fear that communism was taking root in the United States. In February 1950, McCarthy announced at a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia that he had obtained a list of card-carrying American Communists in the State Department (Davidson et al., 2002). For the next several months, often referred to as the Red Scare, McCarthy led a committee that investigated various government agencies and questioned a large number of people about their political associations. It was later found that the McCarthyâ€™s charges were unsubstantiated, but the effects of this â€œwitch huntâ€ would impact the United States even after the charges had settled. One the first impacts of McCarthyism was the win of Republican candidate Dwight Eisenhower in the 1952 presidential election. The McCarthy campaign, which has accused many democrats including Harry S. Truman of taking a liberal stance on communism, hurt many democrats in the election. The infringement of civil right on the American People was yet another impact of McCarthyism. By 1952, 32 states had laws requiring teachers to take oaths of loyalty and government loyalty boards were wanted to now personal details of their employees such
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as what newspaper they subscribed to and what music they owned (Davidson et al. 2002). It was not until hearings against those thought to have communist association were aired on ABC and the public had the opportunity to see the badgering and mockery of these proceedings that the McCarthyâ€™s popularity fell quickly and the Red Scare receded as well.
The Eisenhower presidency pursued dynamic conservatism or modern republicanism in his new term. In his own words, Eisenhower declared â€œI will be conservative when it comes to money matter and liberal when it comes to human beings. Eisenhower was determined to cut and balance the budget, allow for government support of big businesses, and return federal functions back to local and state governments (Schultz, S. 1999). At the same time he increased social security, unemployment insurance, and the minimum wage. During his first term he also supported such projects as the Highway Act which allowed for highways to be constructed between suburban areas and major cities. The point where Eisenhowerâ€™s modern republicanism began to falter was with his support of the Farm Policy which proposed lowering support payments to farmers so that they would not overproduce. Unfortunately farmers made up the majority of the Republican voting block, Democrats took a strong hold in both the House and Senate and Modern Republicanism did not go much beyond the Eisenhower presidency (Davidson et al. 2002).
Consumerism also incurred changes during the Eisenhower presidency. With the war bringing America out of the depression and the beginning of an era of prosperity, Americans began to embrace materialism. Corporations like General Motors, Ford, and
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Chrysler, known as the â€œBig Threeâ€ auto manufacturers epitomized the corporate culture of the 1950s (Davidson et al. 2002). The variety of cars and the features they possessed
had Americans buying cars in record numbers. Know as the culture of mobility, drive in burger joints, shopping centers, roadside motels, became a new part of American culture. The move of Americans from the cities into the suburbs also became a large part of the culture of mobility. The suburbs grew so fast that by the 1960s half of all Americans lived there (Davidson et al. 2002). With the growth in suburbia there also came the need for housing in places that had not been as populated. William Levitt began mass productions of single family homes in an effort to â€œproduce lots of things at low prices.â€ A community of 17,000 in the New York City suburb of Hempstead was constructed in 1947 and Levittâ€™s housing development grew from there. The rate at which American were purchasing all types of material goods showed the economic rebound after WW II.
The flourishing economy and rapid consumerism, led to an era of consensus. This agreement of culture and politics meant that Americans opposed communism and embraced middle class American ideals and the American way of life. With the availability of economic prosperity, middle class America began to all look the same. They all had the same car, same house, lived in the same areas and were basically enjoying the stability the post WWII brought to the United States. The government emitted a sense of that national affairs were in order and there was no need for American to worry. So Americans began to have babies, take advantage of the booming economy, buy houses and move into covenanted neighborhoods. But some worried that the conformity led to a lack of diversity and a dismal monotony (Davidson et al. 2002). That would all soon change.
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Socially, things became unstable with the start of the civil rights movement after the war. Ironically this was because of the end of the war. Before WWII, over 80% of African Americans worked as sharecroppers and farmers of cotton, but when Americans
became involved in WWII, the need for soldiers was great enough that millions of men went off to fight leaving a labor shortage at home. The widespread shortage led cotton grower in need of other means to have their cotton crops harvested, and soon cotton picking was mechanized (Davidson et al. 2002). At the end of the war this left many African Americans out of work. The prosperous economy after the war also ironically made more and more African American unemployed and in search of any type of work. They were considered unskilled and as wages rose the need for unskilled labor rapidly declined. They were left to flood the cities emptied by suburbia middle class Americans and be faced with hard-hit segregation. Associations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) led the fight against this segregation
(Davidson et al. 2002). In one the most historical cased in America History, Brown vs. Board of Education, the NAACP appealed to the Supreme Court to overthrow the
doctrine â€œseparate but equal.â€ From there the civil rights movement grew strength and led to many other movements to end segregation.
With the Cold War still in full gear and Eisenhower determined to stop the growth of communism, America announced their intentions to allow Chiang Kai-shek to attack China from Taiwan. In turn China threatened to invade Taiwan and it became possible that the use of nuclear weapons would again be needed. The predicament in Indochina also worried Eisenhower that the need to use nuclear weapons was upon them. At the end of WWII the French returned to Vietnam in an effort to regain their colonial rule
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(Davidson et al. 2002). They were met by Vietnamese forces led by communist revolutionary Ho Chi Minh. Because Eisenhower worried that if Vietnam fell to communist rule other Southeast Asian nations would follow, America provided over $1 million dollars to aid France in their effort to regain Vietnam. When Eisenhower refused to provide American involvement in as massive air raid, the French began to negotiate their terms of withdrawal. In the agreement, Ho Chi Minh agreed to pull back his armies into the northern parts of Vietnam dividing the nation into North and South Vietnam.
In an effort to help South Vietnam, Eisenhower agreed to support the South Vietnamese government and train their armies. This would later return to haunt Americans in the Vietnam War (Davidson et al. 2002).
In conclusion, the events of the 1950s were significant not only during that time, but because of the impact the events would have on the future history of America. McCarthyâ€™s â€œwitch huntâ€ that pursued American as communists, helped American learn a very valuable lesson in that it called the government to look at civil right infringements and how reckless accusations torn down the patriotism that was needed to strengthen America.
Dynamic conservatism or modern republicanism that was in practice during Eisenhowerâ€™s presidency proved good for the time of rebuilding the economy in that it brought about increases in social security, unemployment insurance, and minimum wages. It encouraged growth and travel through the Highway Act and increased the middle class as a whole, but was built on the fact that Republicans dominated the House and Senate and would approve Eisenhowerâ€™s agenda.
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Consumerism in the 1950s was most likely what had the largest impact. It gave way to dramatic changes to the American way of life that has shaped America in todayâ€™s standards. With the prevalent options of automobiles and the ability for middle class America to establish suburbia, American families no longer lived in extended homes, but instead had the opportunity to purchase single family homes and establish neighborhoods clearly dividing the country into metropolitan cities and the suburbs. The affect that was most astounding and ironic from consumerism that led to conformity was the civil rights movement.
Although it was consumerism and conformity that led to the civil right movement, it is without doubt that it is more historically significant. Even though slavery had been abolished, equality was far from typical. The events of the 1950s seemed to say that minorities would no longer tolerate an unequal America. The strategies of the civil right movement made more of a statement than ever before in history and paved a way for civil rights activists to make a real impact on desegregation and equality.
No one could have realized that what seemed as an insignificant gesture to partake in training South Vietnamese armies and Americaâ€™s involvement in Southeast Asia would one day have the impact it did on America. Although at the time when Eisenhower was trying to stop of the spread of communism it seemed the right thing to do, the repercussions of that decision and the war it eventually led to was devastating to America politically, socially, and culturally.
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Davidson, J. W., Gienapp, W. E., Heyrman, C., Lytle M. H., Stoff, M. B. (2002) Nation of Nations . The McGraw-Hill Companies.
Schultz, S. (1999) American History 102: Civil War to the Present. Retrieved April 10, 2005 from http://us.history.wisc.edu/hist102/lectures/lecture25.html.