Imigration And Discrimination In The 1920s Essay, Research Paper
Imigration and Discrimination in the 1920s
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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
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
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.