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Immigrants Of The 1920S Essay, Research Paper
Beginning in the early nineteenth century there were massive waves of
immigration. These “new” immigrants were largely from Italy, Russia, and
Ireland. There was a mixed reaction to these incoming 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 until the election of 1928.
If there was one man who signally 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
infiltrated 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, combating 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 credibility was
shattered after in a last minute attempt to gain the 1920 presidential
nomination, he made predictions about a May Day radical uprising, the nation
prepared itself, but on May 1st 1920 all was peaceful. While the raids had
stopped, the hostilities towards immigrants still remained prevalent.
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
again them by labeling the strikes as attempts 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 prohibition was aided by America’s antagonism for immigrants.
Protestants and “old-stock” Americans attempted to link alcohol with
Catholic-Irish and Italian immigrants. They were viewed as immoral and
corrupt for their vice. Prohibition 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,” especially 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.
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