American Life in the "Roaring Twenties"
Fear of Russia ran high even after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, which spawned a communist party in America. The "red scare" of 1919-1920 resulted in a nationwide crusade against those whose Americanism was suspect. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer was chosen to round up immigrants who were in question. In 1919-1920, a number of states passed criminal syndicalism laws that made the advocacy of violence to secure social change unlawful. Traditional American ideals of free speech were restricted. Antiredism and antiforeignism were reflected in the criminal case of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. The two men were convicted in 1921 of the murder of a Massachusetts paymaster and his guard. Although given a trial, the jury and judge were prejudiced against the men because they were Italians, atheists, anarchists, and draft dodgers. Despite criticism from liberals and radicals all over the world, the men were electrocuted in 1927. Hooded Hoodlums of the KKK
The Ku Klux Klan (Knights of the Invisible Empire) grew quickly in the early 1920s. The Klan was antiforeign, anti-Catholic, anti-black, anti-Jewish, antipacifist, anti-Communist, anti-internationalist, antievolutionist, antibootlegger, antigambling, antiadultery, and anti-birth control. It was pro-Anglo-Saxon, pro-"native" American, and pro-Protestant. The Klan spread rapidly, especially in the Midwest and the South, claiming 5 million members. It collapsed in the late 1920s after a congressional investigation exposed the internal embezzling by Klan officials. The KKK was an alarming manifestation of the intolerance and prejudice plaguing people anxious about the dizzying pace of social change in the 1920s. Stemming the Foreign Blood
Isolationist Americans of the 1920s felt they had no use for immigrants. The "New Immigration" of the 1920s caused Congress to pass the Emergency Quota Act of 1921, restricting newcomers from Europe in any given year to a definite quota, which was at 3% of the people of their nationality who had been living in the United States in 1910. The Immigration Act of 1924 replaced the Quota Act of 1921, cutting quotas for foreigners from 3% to 2%. Different countries were only allowed to send an allotted number of its citizens to America every year. Japanese were outright banned from coming to America. Canadians and Latin Americans, whose proximity made them easy to attract for jobs when times were good and just as easy to send back home when times were not, were exempt from the act. The quota system caused immigration to dwindle.
The Immigration Act of 1924 marked the end of an era of unrestricted immigration to the United States. Many of the most recent arrivals lived in isolated enclaves with their own houses of worship, newspapers, and theaters. The Prohibition "Experiment"
The 18th Amendment, passed in 1919, banned alcohol. Prohibition, supported by churches and women, was one the last peculiar spasms of the progressive reform movement. It was popular in the South, where white southerners were eager to keep stimulants out of the hands of blacks, and in the West, where alcohol was associated with crime and corruption. Prohibitionists were naïve in that Federal authorities had never been able to enforce a law where the majority of the people were hostile to it. Prohibition might have started off better if there had been a larger number of enforcement officials. "Speakeasies" replaced saloons. Prohibition caused bank savings to increase and absenteeism in industry to decrease. The Golden Age of Gangsterism
The large profits of illegal alcohol led to bribery of police. Violent wars broke out in the big cities between rival gangs, who sought control of the booze market. Chicago was the most spectacular example of lawlessness. "Scarface" Al Capone, a murderous booze distributor, began 6 years of gang warfare that generated millions of dollars. Capone was...
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