How Were the 1920s a Reactionary Period in American History?

The 1920s, also known as the “Roaring Twenties,” was a decade of significant change in American society. This period was characterized by economic growth, technological advancements, and cultural shifts.

However, beneath the surface, the 1920s were also a reactionary period in American history. In this article, we will explore how the 1920s were a response to previous social and political movements and how they shaped America’s future.

The Red Scare

One of the most notable events that contributed to the reactionary nature of the 1920s was the Red Scare. The Red Scare was a period of intense fear and suspicion of communism that swept across America after World War I.

The fear was fueled by a series of bombings in 1919 that Targeted government officials and business leaders. This led to a wave of arrests and deportations of suspected communists or radicals.

The Red Scare had a profound effect on American society. Many people became more conservative and began to support anti-communist policies. The government passed laws such as the Espionage Act and Sedition Act, which made it illegal to criticize or speak out against the government or military.

The Rise of Nativism

Another significant factor that contributed to the reactionary nature of the 1920s was nativism. Nativism is an ideology that favors native-born citizens over immigrants or foreigners. During this time, many Americans believed that immigrants were taking jobs away from native-born citizens.

The Immigration Act of 1924 restricted immigration from certain countries based on quotas. This law was designed to limit immigration from southern and eastern Europe, which many Americans believed posed a threat to American culture.

The Prohibition Era

The Prohibition Era was another example of how the 1920s were a reactionary period in American history. The Prohibition Era was a time when the production and sale of alcohol were illegal in the United States. This movement was driven by religious groups who believed that alcohol consumption was immoral.

The Prohibition Era had unintended consequences. It led to an increase in organized crime as bootleggers and speakeasies emerged to meet the demand for alcohol. It also led to a decline in tax revenue, which was needed to fund government programs.

The Women’s Suffrage Movement

The Women’s Suffrage Movement, which culminated in the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, was a significant social and political movement that challenged traditional gender roles and paved the way for future feminist movements.

However, not everyone supported women’s suffrage.

Many people believed that women should not be allowed to vote or participate in politics. Some even argued that women’s suffrage would lead to moral decay and the breakdown of traditional family values.


In conclusion, while the 1920s were a time of economic prosperity and cultural change, they were also a reactionary period in American history. The Red Scare, nativism, Prohibition, and opposition to women’s suffrage are just a few examples of how previous social and political movements shaped America’s response during this decade. Understanding this period is crucial for understanding America’s past and present.