American Life in the Roaring ‘20s
I. Seeing Red
After World War I, America turned inward, away from the world, andstarted a policy of
“isolationism.” Americans denounced“radical” foreign ideas and “un-American”lifestyles.
The “Red Scare” of 1919-20 resulted in Attorney GeneralA. Mitchell Palmer (“Fighting
Quaker”) using a series ofraids to round up and arrest about 6,000 suspected
In December of 1919, 249 alleged alien radicals were deported on the Buford.
The Red Scare severely cut back free speech for a period, since thehysteria caused
many people to want to eliminate any Communists andtheir ideas.
Some states made it illegal to merely advocate the violent overthrow of
government for social change.
In 1921, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were convicted ofmurdering a
Massachusetts paymaster and his guard. The two accused wereItalians, atheists,
anarchists, and draft dodgers, and the courts mayhave been prejudiced against them.
In this time period, anti-foreignism (or “nativism”) was high.
Liberals and radicals rallied around the two men, but they were executed.
II. Hooded Hoodlums of the KKK
The new Ku Klux Klan was anti-foreign, anti-Catholic, anti-black,anti-Jewish, anti-
pacifist, anti-Communist, anti-internationalist,anti-revolutionist, anti-bootlegger, anti-
gambling, anti-adultery, andanti-birth control.
More simply, it was pro-White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) and anti-everything else.
At its peak in the 1920s, it claimed 5 million members, mostly from the South, but it also
featured a reign of hooded horror.
The KKK employed the same tactics of fear, lynchings, and intimidation.
It was stopped not by the exposure of its horrible racism, but by its money
III. Stemming the Foreign Flood
In 1920-21, some 800,000 European “New Immigrants”(mostly from the southeastern
Europe regions) came to the U.S. andCongress passed the Emergency Quota Act of
1921, in which newcomersfrom Europe were restricted at any year to a quota, which was
set at 3%of the people of their nationality who lived in the U.S. in 1910.
*This policy still really favored the Slavs and the southeasternEuropeans in comparison
to other groups. So, a new policy wassought…* A replacement law was found in the
Immigration Act of 1924, which cutthe quota down to 2% and the origins base was
shifted to that of 1890,when few southeastern Europeans lived in America.* This change
clearly had racial undertones beneath it (New Immigrants out, Old Immigrants in).* This
act also slammed the door against Japanese immigrants.* By 1931, for the first time in
history, more people left America than came here.