American History

Immigration and Discrimination in the 1920's

Beginning in the early nineteenth century there were massive waves of

immigration. These "new" immigants were largely from Italy, Russia, and

Ireland. There was a mixed reaction to these incomming foreigners. While

they provided industries with a cheap source of labor, Americans were both

afraid of, and hostile towards these new groups. They differed from the

"typical American" in language, customs, and religion. Many individuals and

industries alike played upon America's fears of immigration to further their

own goals. Leuchtenburg follows this common theme from the beginning of

World War I up untill the election of 1928.

If there was one man who singlely used America's fear of immigrants to

advance his own political goals it was Attorney General Palmer. The rise of

Communism in Russia created a fear of its spread across Europe, and to

America. Palmer tied this fear to that of immigration. He denounced labor

unions, the Socialist party, and the Communist party in America, as being

infultrated with radicals who sought to overturn America's political,

economic, and social institutions. Palmer exasperated this fear in Americans

and then presented himself as the country's savior, combatting the evils of

Communism. He mainly centered his attack on Russian immigrants. During the

infamous Palmer raids thousands of aliens were deported and even more were

arrested on little or no evidence. Their civil liberties were violated,

they were not told the reasons for their arrests, denied counsel, and not

given fair trials. What followed was an investigation of Palmer led by Louis

Post which overturned many of Palmer's actions. Palmer's cretability was

shattered after in a last minute attempt to gain the 1920 presidencial

nomination, he made predictions about a May Day radical uprising, the nation

perpared itself, but on May 1st 1920 all was peaceful. While the raids had

stopped, the hostilities towards immagrants still remained prevelent.

Immigrants were used by organized industries as a source of cheap labor.

But as labor unions began to form and push for better pay, shorter hours,

and improved working conditions industries saw that it was not as easy to

exploit these immigrants as it had been before. Like Palmer, they tied the

American's hostilities towards immigrants to the newly emerging fear of

radicalism. When workers struck, industry leaders turned public opinion

agains them by labling the strikes as attemps at radical uprising. As a

result, workers were often left with no other choice than to accept the

terms of industry management.

The fight for prohabition was aided by America's antagonism for immigrants.

Protestants and "old-stock" Americans attempted to link alchol with

Catholic-Irish and Italian immigrants. They were viewed as immoral and

corrupt for their vice. Prohabition was a means of counterattacking the

evils of the urban cities and their immigrant dwellers. In addition, the

rise of the KKK was a direct result of the hostilities harbored towards the

immigrant population. Started by native born, white, Protestants, the KKK

was afraid of "the encroachment of foreigners," expecially those who

answered to a foreign Pope as their religious authority. Playing upon these

fears, the KKK gained support and was it's members were able to politically

control parts of Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, and much of Indiana.