But even after due allowance has been made for the effects of the American stock market’s "Great Crash" in 1929 and for the policies of the United States Federal Reserve System, there can be little doubt that the deepest roots of the crisis lay in the several chronic infirmities that World War I had inflicted on the international political and economic order.
The war exacted a cruel economic and human toll from the core societies of the advanced industrialized world, including conspicuously Britain, France, and Germany.
Yet for most of the 1920s the mood of much of the country, impervious to news of accumulating international dangers and buoyed by wildly ascending stock prices as well as the congenital optimism long claimed as every American’s birthright, remained remarkably upbeat. The Great Crash in October sent stock prices plummeting and all but froze the international flow of credit. Herbert Hoover, elected just months earlier amid lavish testimonials to his peerless competence, saw his presidency shattered and his reputation forever shredded because of his inability to tame the depression monster—though, again contrary to legend, he toiled valiantly, using what tools he had and even inventing some new ones, as he struggled to get the upper hand.
By 1932, some thirteen million Americans were out of work, one out of every four able and willing workers in the country.
The overwhelming majority of black Americans still dwelled in the eleven states of the old Confederacy, the poorest and most disadvantaged people in America’s poorest and most backward region.
And well before the Great Depression, almost as soon as the Great War concluded in 1918, a severe economic crisis had beset the farm-belt.Even those horrendous numbers could not begin to take the full measure of the human misery that unemployment entailed.Given the demography of the labor force and prevailing cultural norms that kept most women—and virtually all married women—out of the wage-paying economy, a 25 percent unemployment rate meant that, for all practical purposes, every fourth household in America had no breadwinner.Each embraced a pair of episodes with lastingly transformative impacts.From 1776 to 1789 the Revolutionary War and the adoption of the Constitution brought national independence and established the basic political framework within which the nation would be governed ever after.Virtually none enjoyed such common urban amenities as electricity and indoor plumbing.Other maladies began to appear, faintly at first, but with mounting urgency as the Depression began to unfold."The primary cause of the Great Depression," reads the first sentence of President Herbert Hoover’s , "was the war of 1914–1918." And that so-called Great War, along with the Depression it spawned, was the driver that eventually produced the even greater catastrophe of World War II.Economists and historians continue to this day to debate the proximate causes of the Great Depression.It did not entirely lift until the next world war, more than twenty years later.The long-suffering countryside was home to nearly half of all Americans in the 1920s; one out of every five workers toiled on the nation’s fields and farms.