Social Isolationism and Intolerance

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For an overview and debate see John D. Clare and also BBC Bitesize.

Key concepts:

  • The Melting Pot
  • WASPs
  • Nativism
  • Xenophobia
  • American Legion
  • Socialism
  • Bolshevism
  • Anarchism
  • Luigi Galleani (1861-1931)
  • Anarchist bombings of 1919
  • A. Mitchell Palmer and the Palmer Raids, 1919-20
  • The Red Scare 1919-20
  • 1917 Immigration Act (introduced Literacy Tests)
  • 1921 Emergency Quota Act (setting quota to 3% of 1910 numbers)
  • 1924 National Origins Act (Reed-Johnson Act, reduced those entering from eastern hemisphere to 2% of those already in country from same origin in 1890 – and setting the maximum number to 154,000)
  • 1927 Quota on Japanese & Chinese Immigration (150,000)

 

Memory word:
PQRST – Prejudice, Quotas, Red Scare, Sacco & Vanzetti and Trade Unions
Key questions

    • How did attitudes towards immigration change 1919-29?
    • Why and how was immigration restricted in the years after the First World War?
    • What was the Red Scare?
    • How was racism against Italians, Russians and East Europeans related to the red scare?

 
PREJUDICE: How did attitudes towards immigration change? Why and how was immigration restricted in the years after the First World War?

Read:
Walsh, pp. 198-200;
SHP, 46-49;
Edexcel, pp. 164-165.

 
The background to the surge in xenophobia and nativism that swept America in 1919 was formed by the mass immigration that meant America’s population grew by an astonishing 40% between 1900 and 1920. At the same time, the end of the war brought the end of industrial growth and unemployment. From 1913 to 1919, the cost of living rose 75 percent while police wages, for example, had risen only 18 percent. In addition to the immigrants from abroad, the war years had seen ‘The Great Migration North’ of African-Americans coming to work in war industries. Blacks were not admitted to the unions and when union members went on strike, black workers were often there to take their place. The result was rioting, particularly in the Chicago Stock Yards in 1919.

 

QUOTAS
Quotas were imposed upon immigration as America tried to close its borders. There were three key acts followed by another in 1927. Their goal was to cut down immigration into the country, and in particular, to make it difficult for immigrants coming from Eastern and Southern Europe, most affected by war and revolution. Effectively, the acts made it difficult for all but WASPS to enter the country:

  • 1917 Immigration Act (introduced Literacy Tests)
  • 1921 Emergency Quota Act (setting quota to 3% of 1910 numbers)
  • 1924 National Origins Act (Reed-Johnson Act, reduced those entering from eastern hemisphere to 2% of those already in country from same origin in 1890 – and setting the maximum number to 154,000)
  • 1927 Quota on Japanese & Chinese Immigration (150,000)

 

RED SCARE: What was it?

The Red Scare was a fear of Bolshevik Revolution which gripped the country from 1919 to 1920, in which many Americans came to believe the Communist Revolution that had occurred in Russia in November 1917 would be repeated in America.

The Red Scare is also explained by a surge in patriotism following the end of the war. Organisations like the American Legion formed by returning soldiers, which urged the government to pass laws against immigrants and communists and the International Workers of the World (IWW). High unemployment both fuelled fear of unrest and xenophobia towards new workers coming from abroad. In Seattle, a general strike in February 1919 involving 60,000 workers gained a lot of publicity. The press described it as an attempt by un-American forces to subvert American institutions. There was an even worse reaction to the Boston Police Strike of September 1919. Press reaction both locally and nationally described the police strike as Bolshevik-inspired and directed at the destruction of civil society. The strikers were called “deserters” and “agents of Lenin.” Police Commissioner Edwin Curtis refused to re-hire the striking policemen and was supported in this by Massachusettes governor Calvin Coolidge, whose reactionary stance thrust him into national prominence and helped him win the race to become the Republican Party’s Vice Presidential nominee during the 1920 Presidential election. (When Warren Harding died in office in 1923, Coolidge would become president and would gain re-election in 1924.)

Sock_it_hard

Fears grew after two bomb attacks in April and June 1919 and further bomb attack outside J. P. Morgan’s Bank on Wall Street in September 1920 which killed 30 people. Attention came to focus on the Communist Party of the USA (CPUSA) which was formed in 1919 after a split form the older Socialist Party of America (formed in 1901) when the latter refused to join the Communist International (COMINTERN) led by the Bolsheviks in Russia. Also suspected were organisations that were not affiliated with Communism, such as the International Workers of the World (IWW) and the American Federation of Labour (AFL). Newspapers and radio fanned the flames of the fear but its initial proponents came from within the government – the Attorney General A. Mitchel Palmer the Bureau of Investigation, led by J. Edgar Hoover who raided these organisations. Thousands of CPUSA members were deported as a result of the raids.

For a brief description of the Palmer raids, see my page on A. Mitchell Palmer and the Palmer Raids, 1919-20, which also looks at the role of J. Edgar Hoover.

There is an excellent but brief video about the Red Scare on you tube.

 

SACCO and VANZETTI: How was racism against Italians, Russians and East Europeans related to the red scare?

Read:
Walsh, pp. 198-200;
SHP, pp. 44-45;
Edexcel pp. 166-7.

 
Part of the explanation for the relationship between the Red Scare and xenophobia was the fact that the leading anarchist, Luigi Galleani (1861-1931), was of course Italian. His followers had been bomb scare of 1919, so it was perhaps unsurprising that suspicion would fall on two Italian anarchists for an armed robbery committed at a shoe factory in May 1920. The Sacco and Vanzetti case is explained on BBC bitesize and on the videos below.

     
    The Sacco and Vanzetti Trial – Documentary.

 

TRADE UNIONS and left wing political parties

The relationship between the Red Scare and racial minorities is complex. Trade Unions demanded that immigration be stopped in order to protect American jobs for American workers. At the same time, left wing political groups like the International Workers of the World (IWW), the American Socialist Party and the American Communist Party, were accused of promoting revolution. The General Strike in Seattle in 1919, which involved 60,000 workers, and was co-ordinated by the IWW and the American Federation of Labour (AFL), an umbrella group of Trade Unions. Police wages were even lower than the earnings of most inexperienced factory workers. The Boston Police Force appealed to the American Federation of Labour to help them form a union and they conducted a strike in 1919. In all, one-fifth of the nation’s workers went on strike during that year. Politicians like A. Mitchell Palmer used these events as evidence of foreign-inspired left-wing sedition and possible revolution. The Trade Unions who demanded protection for American workers were at the same time accused of being vehicles for foreign-inspired communist propaganda and revolution. The net result was a culture of hostility to foreigners that was promoted from above from the government and from below by the Trade Unions.

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