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 single 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, 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 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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