1910–1940: Seeking Stability

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>In large and small ways the dynamism and creative destruction of the capitalist economy in the years before World War I generated efforts to create more stable social and economic conditions.  Mobilization for the war would bring domestic tensions to a boil.  As a colony of Great Britain, Canada participated in the war from the beginning, however, the in the U.S. public and elite opinion was deeply divided.  The declaration of war in 1917 marked a deep political and social crisis in the U.S. that brought unprecedented industrial conflict and government repression of labor unions and political dissidents.

Although the power of corporate leaders was unrivaled in the 1920s, the political climate in the U.S. turned against the dynamic social and cultural elements of the previous decades.  Voters in the U.S. amended the Constitution to prohibit the production and sale of alcoholic beverages, and restrictive legislation sought to stop the flow of southern and eastern European immigrants. The racist and anti-Catholic Ku Klux Klan was particularly popular among white Protestants in the Midwest.  Immigration to Canada continued, however, as the country promoted its western provinces to Europeans weary of war.

As the boom economy of the 1920s gave way to the global depression of the 1930s, the notion that modern industrialism was unstable by its very nature became more widely accepted. In the U.S. and Canada, reform politics redefined the purposes and expectations of government.  At the same time the vitality of urban popular culture helped to foster a shift in the way North Americans thought about ordinary people. A new generation of writers and artists made common people a legitimate subject of art and literature. The celebration of workers and farmers was a particularly strong concern of those who hoped for fundamental changes in the economic system. But while radicals thrust images of “The People” into mainstream culture, advertisers and their business clients championed the role of common people as consumers.