Ignored American History
(Formerly titled Little Known American History)
(This article last revised 7-4-2013)
America is not the Democratic Republic that Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and most of the other Founders intended and envisioned. In fact, their vision and legacy has nearly been destroyed by the forces of greed and self-interest who have cunningly sold Americans a misleading, false American Dream.
By now it should be obvious that America has been put in grave jeopardy especially during the last 30 years, because some very greedy Americans have ignored or not learned the lessons of history, and consequently history has repeated itself in some terrible ways.
Now it is important that Americans become aware of the lessons of history, particularly with regard to the economy, and especially with regard to how the Founding Fathers felt about religion. For while not all the Founding Fathers agreed about economics, nearly all of them agreed about the need to establish freedom of religion and freedom from Theocracy.
The Founding Fathers knew that most of the history of Christianity revealed gross violations of the most basic, essential, universal, core principles and teachings of the Christ Jesus of Nazareth. And they knew that most of those violations were justified by theocratic doctrines.
They knew the history of the oppressive, tyrannical Theocracy that had plunged Europe into the Dark Ages; the history of the bloody Crusades and the cruel Inquisition; the history of the imperialist theocratic Churches of Europe and the tradition of “Christian" kings and queens ruling by “Divine Right”; and the history of persecution and oppression perpetrated by the puritanical and theocratic religious leaders of New England.
You see, the values of most Founding Fathers were spiritually universal, and while they honored the Golden Rule, they knew it reflected the Universal Divine Imperative that is common to all religions. Of course, many of them were or had been Christians, but more of them identified with Deism, which is belief in God but rejecting superstition and theocratic dogma, and many were Freemasons who realized that all faiths must be respected and that there is a higher universal good. That is why the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution refers to God in generic, universal terms like Creator and Nature's God. (See Quotes of the Founding Fathers Regarding Religion.)
Accordingly, most of the Founding Fathers not only wanted the people to have freedom to practice whatever religion they chose. They also wanted to establish freedom from religious bigotry, and especially freedom from theocratic imposition of religion into government.
In Article 6 and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution they intended to ensure that there would be no religious requirement for office, and that no particular religion or religious sect or denomination could dominate or rule — because they knew we cannot have real freedom of religion unless government respects and treats all religions as equal under the law.
Thomas Jefferson summed it up by this statement: "Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and state."
In 1779 Thomas Jefferson introduced a Bill for the Establishment of Religious Freedom which guaranteed that “All men shall be free to profess their opinions in matters of religion.” In his autobiography, Jefferson specifically stated that the bill “meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Muslim, the Hindu, and infidel of every denomination.” Such statements were among many Jefferson made to express his belief that religion was to be a universal right, and they are consistent with his explanation that the freedom of religion clause in the Constitution was to establish a “wall of separation between church and state.”
This is important because certain leaders of the theocratic "Christian Right" in America have been and still are making false claims about the intent of the Founding Fathers, and they have misled many people into believing that the U.S. was meant to be a Christian Theocracy. That has been a problem since the 1600s and sporadically ever since. In modern times it has been a problem since the 1950s when theocratic evangelist Billy Graham tried to get President Eisenhower to state that “America is a Christian nation under God,” ignoring the clear intent of the Founding Fathers.
Even though President Eisenhower was pushed hard by Graham and other Christian evangelists and proselytizers, Eisenhower at least stuck to the Founder’s precedent of being generic referring to God when he had the phrases “under God” inserted into in the pledge of allegiance and “in God we trust” put on U.S. coins. It was a compromise of sorts, but it merely acknowledged that the Founders had used generic terms like “Nature’s God” and the “Creator” and avoided endorsing any particular religion. Eisenhower fortunately recognized why the Founders understood that we cannot have religious freedom unless all religions are treated as equal by government, showing no favoritism.
Despite that, Graham continued his theocratic efforts, made a compact with Richard Nixon, secretly endorsed Nixon over John F. Kennedy for president, and met with a large group of evangelical Christian clergy to coax them to endorse Nixon too (even though that violated the U.S. Constitution and IRS tax codes). Then Graham and other theocratic evangelists like Francis Schaeffer kept pushing, and they politicized some influential television evangelists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Thus the “Moral Majority” and the “religious right” or “Christian Right” was revived and energized to influence politics and government.
Since then the leaders of the Christian Right have achieved many of their political goals, and they have been particularly successful during the last 30 years since they rose to political prominence with President Ronald Reagan.
The leaders of the Christian Right have been instrumental in electing extreme right-wing partisans in many political offices, from local school boards to state legislatures to the U.S. Congress, and to the presidency twice. Unfortunately, while some of their efforts are surely well meaning, too often their words have been misleading and deceptive, and their actions have been hypocritical -- ignoring the core message of Jesus of Nazareth, pushing the misguided theocratic doctrines of men, and ignoring the intent of the Founding Fathers.
In fact, they have succeeded in impacting the whole country from our public schools to the national political arena, to the extent that during the 2008 presidential election campaigns being a Christian became a de facto litmus test for being a viable candidate for the presidency.
Now it is crucial that Americans realize that this is forbidden theocratic intrusion, and it is not only unfair and even offensive to American Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and all other Americans who have other faiths, it is essentially in violation of the Constitution, and in direct violation of the intent of the Founding Fathers.
The American Revolution of 1776
The Founding Fathers did their best to create and ensure freedom, equality and democracy. But while they planted the seed of democracy and liberty, it has not yet grown into the tree it is destined to become.
That is largely because the U.S. Government has its roots in European Empires, particularly the British Empire, and the U.S. economic system was carried over from Europe as well. The influence of the earlier Roman Empire is also evident, particularly in the U.S. legal system and in technology.
When it came to democratic political ideals, though, Thomas Jefferson's views appealed to most people, because even wealthy and powerful Americans wanted to be free of monarchy as they had known it under the theocratic King of England, the Head of the Church of England.
However, Jefferson’s criticism of the slave trade was deleted from the Declaration of Independence due to the demands of less conscientious slave owners. Then, later, his advocacy for the emancipation for slaves was rejected, as were his ideas about economics.
Jefferson had sharp disagreements about economics and politics with Alexander Hamilton, a banker who was the first Secretary of the Treasury and was the leader of the right-wing Federalists. Hamilton had economic goals to which Jefferson strongly objected.
Jefferson warned that "banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies," and he warned of the danger of private banks and corporations having too much power. He even warned that unscrupulously run banks could "deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless."
Unfortunately, in the economic area Hamilton’s views prevailed over Jefferson’s, and when Jefferson failed to succeed George Washington as president, President John Adams and the Federalists led by Hamilton made sure that the financial power of banks and corporations was perpetuated and steadily grew. So Jefferson retreated to his home in Virginia.
In 1800, however, Jefferson prevailed over Adams in their presidential campaign against each other. Hamilton, despite disliking both men, preferred Jefferson over Adams in that race. But, Jefferson would have won over either of the two leading Federalists (Adams and Hamilton), because most people saw Jefferson as a more fair, moderate, democratic people's advocate. And the interesting thing about it is that the ideological partisan political conflict of those days was very much like what we have today.
Hamilton aligned himself with right-wing, theocratic preachers who accused Jefferson of being “against religion,” and claimed his campaign was a “rebellion against God.” Hamilton claimed that he was promoting Christian values, but he sided with the rich to the detriment of the poor. In fact, he fought to make America a "Meritocracy" because he believed that the most wealthy men were entitled to rule -- an elitist notion Jefferson despised.
Thus, Hamilton made many enemies (including even his more moderate fellow Federalist, John Adams, who believed in God but like Jefferson was against Theocracy). But Jefferson was the most critical of Hamilton and other hardline right-wing Federalists, because he felt they threatened democracy.
Jefferson advocated a government representative of the common man, and he equated Hamiltonian Federalism with aristocratic "Royalism." (And, by the way, Jefferson’s view was reflected later in the 1930s by the great democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who saw his rich opponents as "Economic Royalists.")
During Adams' presidency when Jefferson was Vice President (because he received the second-most votes in 1797), he became resentful of Adams. The two men had agreed about many things, especially about being against religious Theocracy and against aristocracy based on wealth, but they disagreed on certain things. And Jefferson no doubt resented Adams for being a Federalist and “Royalist” who like Hamilton wanted to carry on the British corporate and banking traditions.
After all, Jefferson said that “banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies.” He warned of the danger of private banks getting too big and having too much power, and he warned that they could “deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless.” Jefferson also criticized “the aristocracy of our monied corporations” and said they were in “defiance to the laws of our country.” He said they would create government “founded on banking institutions and moneyed incorporations” that would operate under a “guise and cloak.”
That is why the presidential campaign of 1800 became very heated when Jefferson sought to replace Adams as president (and succeeded). Jefferson felt Adams betrayed the original intent of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, so he felt he had to do whatever was necessary to defeat Adams and try to establish a Democratic Republic.
Jefferson fought for democratic equal rights and freedoms for the common man. That’s why Jefferson and James Madison founded and led the Democratic-Republican Party and built a nationwide network of democratic allies to combat rich Hamiltonian Federalists across the country. (And Jefferson's party later became the Democratic Party, and the Hamiltonian Federalist Party eventually became the Republican Party.)
However, even after that, the U.S. was still divided between Hamiltonian Royalists, led by merchants, bankers and others who had a strong economic relationship with the British, and Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans, who were more interested in establishing the new nation as a sovereign independent country in its own right, respected by the whole world.
James Madison, a protege of Jefferson, followed him as president in 1809, and while he was president the U.S. decided to wage The War of 1812 against the British. The Americans declared war for several reasons, including trade restrictions by Britain, the British Navy’s assertion of power on the high seas at the expense of Americans, as well as British support of American Indian tribes against American expansion.
That war was finally won in 1815 by the U.S. However, U.S. military actions against Canadians and against Native American Indians during that war was questionable and controversial, and with hindsight we can see that the Americans were wrong to invade Canada and wage war on Native America Indians. And, even though the British were right to protect Canada and support Native Americans, they were wrong in invading Bladensburg, Washington D.C., Baltimore, New York, and New Orleans.
Even so, after the Treaty of Ghent and the end of the war, all parties except Native Americans were fairly satisfied with the outcome. In fact, it was the beginning of the end of Native American sovereignty and human rights. But many Americans felt that war was as important as the Revolutionary War, and the war established the U.S. as a growing military empire, free from British dominance.
Now, even though the seed of Jeffersonian Democracy had been planted in America and started to grow during Jefferson’s presidency, it was not able to keep growing as intended. Instead, it became virtually dormant in 1823, when Jeffersonian ideals began to be even more ignored. That was most evident in the "Doctrine of Discovery," which declared that Native Americans had no rights to land and gave European Americans the right to simply take it. It more completely negated Jefferson’s policies of respect for Native American Indians and led to the forceful removal of Indians from their homelands to designated reservations. Between 1815 and about 1838 they suffered terribly and were displaced and dispossessed. Untold numbers were even either killed or died on forced marches from their homelands to reservations, some of which were many hundreds of miles away. It was a terrible shame.
Even so, America was originally at least somewhat more democratic in its leadership, at least giving all white male citizens the power of the vote. And, while Jefferson played a key role in that, he was able to do so because most of the other Founding Fathers were also considerably democratic in their political ideals.
The Brief Establishment of Real Religious Pluralism
The writings of Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Paine and Franklin were particularly adamant about religious freedom and freedom from theocracy. Their writings also show they were very wary and disapproving of religious superstition, bigotry, intolerance, hypocrisy, imposition, and persecution. They were very critical of certain right-wing Christian leaders in that regard.
Jefferson especially felt that preachers should not use their pulpit as a partisan political soap box, especially when their personal beliefs and opinions were presented as divine truth. Jefferson stood up to their political grandstanding cloaked in religion, and he rebuked their "tyrannical" aggression and imposition. And they hated him for it.
However, Jefferson was only against the "corruptions" of Christianity, and against religious bigotry and hypocrisy. Jefferson loved the actual teachings of Jesus. In fact, Jefferson wrote that: "Of all the systems of morality, ancient or modern, which have come under my observation, none appear to me so pure as that of Jesus."
Jefferson even compiled a reformed version of the gospels to rescue the philosophy of Jesus and the "pure principles which he taught," from the "corruptions and artificial vestments" which were established as "instruments of riches and power" for church patriarchs.
Jefferson correctly concluded that Jesus never claimed to be God, and he regarded some of the New Testament as having been corrupted with "palpable falsifications." (His work is called The Jefferson Bible.)
James Madison felt the same way Jefferson did about organized religious bigots. So did Benjamin Franklin, who became a Deist after educating himself and turning away from his puritanical Protestant Christian upbringing. He learned to appreciate Deism because it is the belief in the existence of God on the evidence of reason and nature, with rejection of superstition. That is why presidents George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Ethan Allen and others were Deists.
Unfortunately, with respect to religion, the Founding Fathers were not influential for very long. Their political influence was significant, but their feelings about religion were forgotten or ignored after a short time because certain theocratic Christian leaders and their sects were driven by the desire to rule, just as some are today.
That’s why Americans need to know that most of the Founding Fathers were very rational, independent, free thinkers. In their writings, they referred to God in distinctly non-Christian terms, such as Nature's God or the God of Nature, the Creator, Merciful Providence, Universal Parent, and Divine Goodness. They did not use the typical or traditional Christian references to God as Almighty or Lord. And, when they referred to the Christ Jesus, it was as a teacher and servant of God that he said he was.
Most of the Founding Fathers understood divine intent reflected in all true religions. Furthermore, many of the Founding Fathers were interested in and influenced not only by the principles of Deism, but also by Freemasonry, which is non-sectarian, pluralistic, respectful of all religions, and based on brotherly love, good will, and mutual assistance for the common good.
In fact, eight signers of the Declaration of Independence were Freemasons, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, and sixteen following presidents were also Freemasons. That is why the reverse side of the Great Seal of the United States (seen on the dollar bill) is Masonic in character and declares (in Latin) "A New Order of the Age begins," declaring the establishment of American democracy and government of, by, and for the people.
This is important to understand, because while the roots of Freemasonry are ancient, Freemasons were among the first significant organizations to foster what are called "esoteric" spiritual teachings in the 1700s, in Europe and then in America. They helped make Deism, Freemasonry, other esoteric spiritual teachings, and Eastern spiritual teachings accepted and popular, realizing the true intent of Jesus of Nazareth.
Mainstream Western philosophers of the 1700s followed that trend, and they also became fascinated with Eastern culture, religion, literature and philosophy, and that fascination began to reach its peak toward the end of the 1700s. It is what impelled the Founding Fathers to seek freedom from King George, the theocratic Head of his Church of England.
During that time, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Chinese and other Mid-Eastern and Eastern religious and spiritual philosophy became generally accessible and popular. That had a profound impact on the Western (European and American) cultural leaders by the middle of the 1800s, and it influenced such great philosophers and writers as Schopenhauer, Emerson, Thoreau, Nietzsche, Baudelaire, James, Shelley, and Whitman, among others.
In fact, a great respect for the esoteric teachings and Eastern religions grew, and their inclusive, universal spiritual approach was regarded as a refreshing and interesting alternative to the rigid, exclusive theocratic dogmatism of the "Fundamentalist Christian Right" of that time.
Pluralistic spiritual interests spread so much so that in 1893 a Parliament of Religions was held in Chicago. It was a groundbreaking event and the first of its kind, and leaders from each of the great religions presented their views on life. This created even greater appreciation for Eastern religions, which were represented by notables such as Swami Vivekenanda, who spoke about Hinduism, and Soyen Shaku, a Zen-Buddhist abbot. Shortly after that, the first Buddhist society in the West was founded.
The Consequences of Financial and Material Power vs the Spiritual Movement
Financial wealth still ruled politics in America because the spiritual movement was based on humility and was non-materialistic, non-aggressive and pacifistic. They didn't try to push or impose their beliefs on anyone, and they did not fight the "powers-that-be" because their beliefs were based on the spiritual knowledge that the meek shall ultimately inherit the earth and share and share alike, which is a universal belief held by all truly faithful, spiritual people, regardless of their religion.
True servants of God, regardless of their religion, understand why the original Christians wrote: "No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need." (Acts 4:32-35) And "all the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need." (Acts 2:44-45) They understood why Jesus said, "If you would follow me, sell what you have and give to the poor."
Of course, today no one would take that literally (about selling all you have), but the point is well taken. It's about caring for one another and sharing so that no one is in need and no one goes without food, clothing and shelter. That's what a true Christian, like a true Jew or Muslim or Buddhist or Hindu, etc., is supposed to do. It's what we are ALL supposed to do, regardless of religious belief.
Unfortunately, that part of Christianity had long since vanished from the political ideology of most wealthy and powerful European and American Christians. That is because even after the Protestant Reformation Christianity perpetuated the "divine right" of kings and rich aristocrats in Europe, and that tradition carried over in America in spite of the efforts of the Founding Fathers to establish more equal rights and religious pluralism.
Unfortunately, the tradition of "divine right" was exemplified in America particularly by political and religious leaders in the South, who embraced not only the tradition of "Christian" rule by force, but the tradition of racism and oppressive slavery.
The American Civil War in the mid 1800s was in large part about the South’s demand to maintain that tradition, but they claimed they were merely fighting for "state’s rights." And after they lost the war and the Union was saved, Southern racists adopted a new form of slavery, imposing and enforcing racial segregation and apartheid, denying African Americans voting rights and many other rights. Thus white Southern aristocracy still ruled, still believing in The Big Lie, and their black servants and virtual slaves still did all their work for them.
Of course, not all slave owners were cruel, and not all were in the South. Even before the Civil War there were a few slave owners in both the North and South who were more humanitarian and relatively good to their slaves, but kept them because it was socially acceptable at the time as the cheapest way to establish and maintain large farms and plantations.
Perhaps the most notable example of that was Thomas Jefferson, who was a good example of a wealthy man who cared about all human beings, even as a slave owner. In fact, long after Jefferson’s wife died when he was 39 years old, Sally Hemmings, technically one of his slaves, became his lover. And even though he was philosophically against slavery, he curiously kept his slaves even as some of his peers set their slaves free, perhaps rationalizing that it was okay because he was a good master.
You see, Jefferson established policies relatively respectful of slaves, and again, he was also respectful of native indigenous (American "Indian") peoples. That had been evident in 1804 when, as president, Jefferson had commissioned Lewis and Clark on their Corps of Discovery to find a route to the West Coast, because he gave them specific instructions to respect the native peoples on the way. And they did.
In 1805 President Jefferson had also established the first public schools, because prior to that, only the children of the very wealthy received education and learned to read and write. Jefferson had tried even before that, in Virginia, to establish public schools, because he knew democracy could flourish only with an educated citizenry. But, he wasn’t able to get people to act to begin building a public education system until he became president. That’’s why many regard Jefferson as the greatest Founding Father, because of his pluralistic, progressive views on religion, democracy, and public education.
In fact, in a letter in 1813 to John Adams, long after they had competed for the presidency and renewed their friendship, Jefferson reminded Adams that he had tried to establish a law providing free higher education at public expense to all qualified students, regardless of their parentage or wealth. Jefferson envisioned a true aristocracy rather than a “psuedo-aristocracy” consisting of a privileged wealthy few. He saw a true aristocracy as people from all walks of life, in a society which enables all people to have equal opportunity to live up to their God-given potential. Unfortunately, the U.S. Government has consistently ignored Jefferson’s vision in that regard.
Unfortunately, even in his day, many wealthy Americans were not like Jefferson. Many of the wealthiest few were in fact racist, uncaring, callous, greedy and selfish.
In 1823 they got a "Doctrine of Discovery" officially incorporated into U.S. Indian policies in a Supreme Court ruling, declaring Indians had no rights to land and opening the door to unconscionable Westward expansion by European American immigrants and the dislocation of entire Native American nations.
The doctrine dated back to the Fifteenth Century, when it declared the "divine right" of Christians to invade and occupy the lands of Native indigenous peoples all over the world. It dehumanized indigenous peoples as "heathens and uncivilized savages" with no rights to their land.
That doctrine led to the passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which was far worse than the earlier wars against Native Americans. It led to the "Trail of Tears," because between 1831 and 1838 the U.S. Army forcefully removed Native American Indians from their homelands and moved them by forced march to reservations on land no one else wanted. Many thousands of Native Americans from the Choctaw, Muscogee-Creek, Seminole, Chickasaw and Cherokee nations died on those relocation marches, and many more suffered from exposure, disease and starvation. It was genocide, and one of the most disgraceful criminal acts the U.S. Government has ever committed.
Then Came the Railroads
The power of some of the wealthiest few Americans was greatly expanded by the invention and use of railroad trains in the late 1800s, and the U.S. Government made them much richer by simply giving them the land for the transcontinental railroad system. Railroad companies were permitted to confiscate and claim huge areas of land for railroad lines, as well as lands all around them. They were even allowed to keep the lands that they had claimed for proposed routes but were never actually used for tracks or facilities by the railroad companies.
The railroad companies were also able to hire a work force comprised mostly of Chinese workers who were originally paid less than a dollar a day and were never paid more than just a bit over a dollar a day. And all that enabled the railroad company owners to build huge fortunes.
Most of the wealthy Americans were Republicans, of course, and they were able to consolidate Republican political power all across the nation for more than six decades, through the 1920s. That enhanced the capability of the wealthy few in America to increase their wealth, power and domain, utilizing and abusing the power of the gun and all that money could buy. And the railroad companies showed little or no regard for farmers and "ordinary" people, and they were able to seize land "legally" under the doctrine of "Eminent Domain."
In the early 1900s the invention of industrial machinery and motor vehicles expanded the capabilities of the wealthy few even more. It enabled them to rule even more totally, and ruthlessly. That’s because there were no labor unions to protect workers, and there was therefore practically no Middle Class. Even though in America there was more freedom and more opportunity for advancement for people who worked very hard, it was still much like the European tradition of rule by the privileged few who were essentially served by the vast majority. And many were exploited.
As the Industrial Revolution gained full steam, factory workers who tried to organize to demand fair treatment were brutally suppressed and even beaten by hired thugs. Garment workers in "sweat shops" were cruelly oppressed and treated as slave labor. The wealthy few dominated completely, particularly in more populated areas and cities where industrialization was in full swing, and in effect everyone else worked to serve the wealthiest few people who ruled by using the power of their money.
The Good and the Bad
While the ambitious rich were taking advantage, good things were happening behind the scenes by the humble and meek.
For example, in 1925, Paramahansa Yogananda, the great spiritual teacher from India who wrote Autobiography of a Yogi, came to America and founded the Self-Realization Fellowship, a non-sectarian all-faith teaching organization. It gained considerable popularity in America (and it later flourished in the 1960s and is still growing and going strong today, teaching authentic Hatha and Raja Yoga.)
Additionally, the western esoteric spiritual tradition also found a following with new spiritual teaching schools, orders and movements in America, unobtrusively. And that was, as it still is, because those spiritual teachers do not try to recruit students, and they do not try to push their beliefs on anyone. They merely accept students who seek and desire to learn the real truth.
Furthermore, grassroots American music began to pick up the spirits of many Americans. The original “Negro Spirituals” influenced “gospel music.” In 1927 Jimmy Rodgers, the father of country music, became widely popular when he was first heard on the radio. At the same time the Carter Family became popular because they started making records in 1927 (and their music ultimately had a significant influence on folk, bluegrass and country music).
But, while that was going on mostly behind the scenes, the wealthy few ruled and lived "high on the hog" in opulent, extravagant luxury. Their increasing excesses, along with the general corruption of the times, had led to terrible income disparity between the rich and the poor during "The Roaring Twenties."
It was a time when the wealthiest few lived like aristocracy, and some of them became very corrupt. In fact, it was when the term "filthy rich" was coined, because whether they operated within the laws as politicians and their wealthy supporters, or whether they operated outside the law as organized crime leaders, it could be said that the wealth of many rich people was essentially plundered, ill-gotten booty.
Much of that corruption was because the very wealthy were enabled by Republican Presidents Harding, Coolidge and Hoover, who were in office from 1921 to 1932. They mistakenly believed that banks, stock brokerage houses, big businesses, corporations and the stock market should not be regulated by government, but should be left to their own devices.
In that respect, they were much like the modern Republican Reaganites and Bushites, who have deceptively claimed that we must "get government off our backs" and pushed for "deregulation" and "free market economy."
Then and now, right-wing Republicans have said such things because their goals are to enable big business and corporations to operate with little or no restrictions or regulations. They want the freedom and license to operate without regulation with regard to employee rights or protections or environmental protections, and they think they should just be trusted to do the right thing.
Republicans were very successful in achieving those goals in the 1920s, just as Republicans have been since 1981 under Reaganism. Consequently, in the 1920s the wealthy few had great license and free rein, so greed was unchecked, and that led to some terrible corruption, unfairness, and abuses of all the power that money could buy.
American Industrialists were enabled to adopt a European colonialist mentality that justified taking natural resources from Africa, Asia, Central and South America and other places. They were able to take and sell agricultural produce, oil and gas, manufactured products, and other items, all at huge profits.
They were able to ignore social justice and safety concerns in the U.S. and elsewhere. They provided just enough in paychecks to keep employees somewhat content and thankful to have a job, and to keep the economy going. But, without proper regulation, Industrialists tended to demean and exploit workers, and some of the products they made and some of the processes they used involving dangerous chemicals were dangerous and harmful to workers, the public, and the environment.
In the 1920s, also due to a lack of proper regulation, a very wealthy few were able to totally control and manipulate the stock market. They had not learned from the stock market crisis of 1907, when it was used for gambling (as it has been in recent decades and still is even today), and they got a lot of other people to bet their hard earned money. It was sold as an easy way to make money for nothing. Consequently, many people who were unaware that they were gambling against odds stacked against them bought shares of stocks hoping to make a profit. But, while many people did have some wins along with some losses, the wealthy few made huge profits because they bought stocks that were low and then sparked interest in the stocks, started a buying spree, and then sold as soon as the stock price rose. Thus they made huge windfall profits while leaving all the other investors with losses.
At the same time, Prohibition of alcohol in America was enforced, which created a myriad of problems. Organized criminals quickly rose up to establish a reliable supply of illegal alcohol to anyone who wanted it. There was much blood shed during the next 12 years because of battles between police and organized crime, and criminal mob bosses became very rich just like the wealthiest few who became rich "legally."
Then, inevitably and consequently, all the greed, corruption, materialistic excesses, and the growing widespread desire to make a "quick buck" and a financial "killing," led to some inevitable bad consequences.
It led to the stock market crash of 1929, when in three days the New York Stock Exchange erased over 5 billion dollars worth of share values, and before long 16 billion dollars of stock capitalization were erased. And in those days, those numbers represented far greater monetary value than they do today. And to make matters worse, banks that had invested their deposits in the stock market lost them. Bank customers tried to withdraw their money, but $140 billion of depositor money disappeared and 10,000 banks failed.
The stock market crash was beneficial for a few who saw it coming and cashed in, but it was disastrous for most Americans. It caused the Great Depression, which lasted from October 1929 to the mid 1930s. It plunged many people into poverty. In fact, about thirty percent of Americans were reduced to conditions of poverty, and even hunger and homelessness. Many workers lost their jobs and were forced to live in shacks in shanty towns (makeshift slums). They had to depend on charitable soup lines and bread lines to get anything to eat.
For three years following the crash of the stock market in 1929, things grew so bad that hundreds of thousands of the hardest hit victims began to express outrage, and there was much criticism citing the malfeasance (wrongdoing) of right-wing Republican politicians and the bankers and industrialists they served.
(Continued at Ignored America History, Part 2, which discusses how President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal saved America, why President Kennedy was killed, how conflict and violence increased dramatically following his assassination, and how the actual and real impact of Reaganism and Reaganomics then tightened the wealthy Neo-Conservative grip on America and brought Roosevelt's New Deal close to ruin during the last 30 years.)