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The 1920s Terms


The process by which immigrants assimilate to the social and cultural customs of the United States.

Financial Bubble, Stock Market Bubble, Bubble

A market phenomenon in which overly optimistic traders bid up prices for assets to a level far beyond their intrinsic value. Bubbles lead to spectacular short-term profits but eventually burst, causing a rapid decline in asset values. The trouble is that it is difficult or impossible to distinguish a bubble from a normal bull market until after the bubble has burst. In retrospect, it seems clear that the booming stock market of the 1920s was a classic bubble, which burst with devastating effect in the Great Crash of 1929.

Financier, Financiers

A large-scale investor or major player in the stock market.

Fundamentalist Christianity, Fundamentalists

A branch of American Protestantism that arose in the early twentieth century in opposition to modernist cultural changes. Fundamentalists emphasize rigid adherence to traditional biblical teachings and conservative social mores, and insist upon a literalist rather than metaphorical reading of the Bible.


From a French term meaning "let the people do as they please," laissez-faire is the philosophy that government should not intervene to regulate the affairs of the free market economy. Laissez-faire ideology was powerful in late nineteenth-century America, then after a period of stronger government regulation experienced a resurgence in the 1920s.

Political Economy

The aspect of social science or philosophy that deals with the optimal interaction between the capitalist marketplace and the democratic political system.


Reconstruction was the government-led effort to transform Southern society following the Civil War. With the South under military occupation, Reconstruction governments sought to ensure civil rights for formerly enslaved blacks. The North abandoned Reconstruction after 1876, allowing southern whites to regain power and reimpose a social system based on white supremacy.

The historical time period after the Civil War and before the withdrawal of federal troops from the South. Reconstruction is usually dated from 1865-1877, but it technically ended earlier in several southern states where conservative white "Redemptionist" rule took hold after the state had already been readmitted to the union and whites had organized to prevent blacks from voting or exercising their other newfound rights. During Reconstruction, the government passed a series of laws establishing the criteria by which the former Confederacy could reenter the Union. When the Congressional (or "Radical") phase of Reconstruction commenced in 1867, the criteria became more stringent and states had to accept several new federal requirements for readmission. The Radical Republican Congress sought to safeguard the rights and liberties of African-Americans, and for a time, it succeeded at least in part. Black men held public office at the local, state, and federal levels. Black communities established their own churches, schools, and associations. The South as a whole received some of its first public hospitals and public schools. Reconstruction did not last longer than a decade in most places, but it was a critically important time that would be remembered for generations by blacks and whites alike (though usually in very different ways).


Public officials charged with enforcing laws designed to regulate the conduct of private businesses. During the Progressive Era, Congress passed a wide variety of new regulations on economic activity; during the 1920s, many of the officials appointed to enforce those regulations were philosophically opposed to government regulation of business and therefore chose to enforce the laws quite loosely.

Reparations, Reparation

Reparations are payments made by a defeated nation in war to compensate its conqueror for costs incurred in the conflict. When Germany surrendered to end World War I, the Allies demanded that Germany pay them heavy reparations as a condition of peace. The high cost of reparations ruined Germany's economy, leading to economic collapse and the rise of Adolf Hitler.

Repatriation, Repatriated, Repatriate

The return of an immigrant to his country of origin. Many of the so-called New Immigrants of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries did not settle permanently in the United States, but rather stayed long enough to earn a significant quantity of money then repatriated to their homelands.

Retrenchment, Retrenchments

Cutting back on expenses during times of economic difficulty. A business pursuing retrenchment would cut production and lay off employees; an individual pursuing retrenchment would cut back on consumer spending.

Speakeasies, Speakeasy

Illegal, underground saloons that operated during the Prohibition era when sale and consumption of alcohol was illegal in the United States.

Traditionalist, Traditionalists

A person who holds traditional, conservative views and opposes radical social and cultural changes.

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