First Red Scare
WWI also saw anti-immigrant sentiment, called Nativism, that continued and worsened in 1919 and the 1920s.
The First Red Scare began in June 1919 when an anarchist sent bombs through the mail to various government leaders, including to Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer’s house. Palmer then began the infamous Palmer Raids with the help of the newly created FBI, led by J. Edgar Hoover.
They investigated, arrested, and deported those of communist, socialist, or anarchist sentiments, including famous labor activists like Emma Goldman. This was a sad denial of constitutional rights and civil liberties, but given the spread of communism in Russia and the fear of spreading social unrest at home, Palmer and many Americans thought it was necessary.
Another famous example of this nativist hysteria was the trial of Sacco & Vanzetti, Italian anarchists who were convicted during a highly problematic trial of murder during a robbery and then killed via the electric chair. Many people all over the world at the time protested their executions and saw the case as an example of xenophobia and nativism gone too far.
This fear of immigrants would eventually lead to laws restricting immigration into the US. Immigration to America had peaked before and around WWI, with roughly 20 million immigrants coming between 1890 and 1924. In response and because of nativism, the US government passed the Emergency Quota Act (1922), which, for the first time in US history, established numerical limits on US immigration.
The number of immigrants allowed in from non-Western Hemisphere countries annually was limited to 3% of the number of residents from that same country living in the United States in 1910. This was clearly intended to reduce immigration from newer sources of immigration like Southern and Eastern Europe, especially Jews.
This act was then made permanent and much stricter in 1924 with the National Origins Act of 1924 that reduced the percentage to 2% and moved back the reference date to 1890, when the US was even more Anglo-Saxon and full of white, Protestant immigrants from Northern and Western countries. Both laws were thus designed to keep out so-called undesirable immigrants from places in Southern and Eastern Europe.
Keep in mind that pretty much all Asians were still excluded from immigration because of the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882), the Gentlemen’s Agreement with Japan (1907), and the Immigration Act of 1917 that established the Asiatic Barred Zone and literacy tests for new immigrants. None of the above laws applied to Latin America; however, which continued to be a source of important manpower through the 1920s.
One result of the new immigration and migration occurring during WWI and during the 1920s was the growth of new forms of art and literature that showcased ethnic and regional identities. For example, many movie stars, such as Charlie Chaplin, were immigrants, and Jewish Americans were frequently involved in early film production studios.
🎥 Watch: AP US History - the Roaring 20s
Jazz and the Harlem Renaissance
On the musical front, jazz and the blues spread from New Orleans and became popular throughout the country during the 1920s with performers such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. Okies moving from drought-stricken farms in the West brought country music to California.
One of the most famous examples was the Harlem Renaissance, a flowering of art, music, and literature in the African American community based in Harlem, New York, which itself was a product of the Great Migration. Working with themes of African heritage and resiliency against racial oppression, the Harlem Renaissance produced amazing new poetry (Langston Hughes), novels (Zora Neal Hurston), dance, (Josephine Baker), and drama (Paul Robeson).
The 1920s were a period of immense technological and social change, and this did not happen without controversy, of course. Americans argued about the roles of women, the merits of the modern lifestyle, science vs. religion, and race, all in addition to the previously mentioned issues of immigration. Plus, prohibition was technically in place, although widely ignored.
Changes for Women
First, and driven partly by changes in women’s ability to work outside the home and the effects of Progressivism (see the 19th Amendment), women were asserting themselves in new ways in the 1920s. They were voting, smoking, dancing, drinking, dressing how they wanted, and controlling more of their sex lives.
Alice Paul, who had helped to pass the 19th Amendment with her picketing and hunger strikes, pushed for the Equal Rights Amendment to the constitution. This new, modern woman was exemplified by the flapper, who wore short hair, short skirts, and challenged societal norms about dance, sex, and smoking.
Another oft-debated aspect of modernism was its emphasis on rational explanations over and against religious ones. In one of the most famous events of the 1920s, the Scopes Monkey Trial in Tennessee was seen as a showdown between science (defended by Clarence Darrow) and religion (defended by William Jennings Bryan) over the issue of teaching evolution in public schools.
The trial demonstrated the variety of ways the US was growing and fracturing since it showed a divide between cosmopolitan urban people who embraced new ideas and traditionalist rural people who sought to preserve traditional values.
Some writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby) and Ernest Hemingway (The Sun Also Rises) famously rebelled against the consumerism and optimism of the time, especially since some of them had served in WWI and were thus pessimistic about human progress. Others left the US altogether and joined other writers in Paris searching for meaning in a modern world in what was called the Lost Generation.
In 1917, Congress passed the 18th Amendment prohibiting the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages. The Volstead Act, which implemented prohibition, banned most commercial production and distribution of beverages containing more than one half of 1 percent of alcohol by volume. (exceptions for medicinal and religious uses. Production for private use was also allowed)
Rural areas became totally dry and there was a sharp drop in drinking among the lower classes in the cities who could not afford the cost of the bootleg liquor. Among the middle class and wealthy, drinking became fashionable. Bootleggers supplied whiskey, which was quickly replaced with lighter spirits such as beer and wine. They smuggled them from Canada or made them in their garages or basements.
Rival groups of gangsters including a Chicago gang headed by Al Capone fought for control of the lucrative bootlegging trade.Organized crime became big business. The millions made from the sale of illegal booze allowed the gangs to expand other illegal activities: prostitution, gambling and narcotics.
In 1933, the 21st Amendment repealing the 18th was ratified and millions celebrated the new year by toasting the end of Prohibition.
The Return of the KKK
Race relations—beyond the previously mentioned immigration issues—continued to be an issue in the 1920s. Jim Crow racism down South and the success of the film Birth of a Nation resulted in the Second KKK, which, much like the first KKK, targeted African Americans for racial terrorism. The KKK of the 1920s also targeted Jewish people, immigrants, and Catholics.
In response to this racism and Jim Crow segregation, some African Americans sought to leave the US altogether and return “Back to Africa” in the words of Marcus Garvey, who celebrated Black culture and advocated for Black separatism by moving African Americans to Africa (often Liberia). Awkwardly enough, this intersected with KKK notions of segregation, and Garvey controversially worked with the KKK on occasion.
Presidency of Warren Harding
Harding basically signed every law that the Republican Congress passed
a reduction in the income tax
an increase in tariff rates.
establishment of the Bureau of the Budget with procedures for all government expenditures to be placed in a single budget for Congress to review and vote on.
His presidency was marked by scandals and corruption similar to those that had occurred under an earlier postwar president, Ulysses S. Grant.
In 1924, Congress discovered that his Secretary of the Interior had accepted bribes for granting oil leases near Teapot Dome, Wyoming.
His attorney general took bribes for agreeing not to prosecute certain criminal subjects.
Shortly before the scandals were uncovered publicly, Harding died suddenly while traveling in the West.
Presidency of Calvin Coolidge
Coolidge believed that it was his job to preside benignly and not govern the nation. He was nicknamed “Silent Cal”. Coolidge believed in limited government that stood aside while business conducted its own affairs. Little was accomplished in the White House except keeping a close watch on the budget. He chose not to run for a second term.
🎥 Watch: AP US History - 1920s and 1930s