The Great Fear of the Period of America 1920’s-1030’s
”Uncle Sam may be swallowed by the Foreigners”
The United States of America joined World War I in 1917 and because of which it emerged as one of three world powers and led Germany to its defeat. By 1920, USA loaned money to the post-war countries for economic and political stability. However, after a while, itself started facing the financial crisis, and thus, wanted its money back and as a result, Europe faced the costs.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, Europe became overcrowded, lacked prospect and employability and suffered from political and religious tyranny due to which millions of Europeans migrated to the USA to achieve the so-called “American Dream”. (A phrase by American historian James Truslow Adams used in 1931 which refers that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement”). The best depiction of the American dream is engraved on the statue of Liberty’s pedestal which is actually the last stanza of Emma Lazarus song (1883):
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore;
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
”Give me your tired and poor people,
The crowds of poor people who want a better life, the poor who live in your overcrowded cities,
Send the homeless who have suffered from storms and war to me,
I promise them a bright new future of freedom.”
This Great Migration also occurred as a result of “Open Door Policy”. (it was an America Foreign Policy, proposed by the U.S Secretary of State, Henry Clay in 1899 and 1900s. European nations that had trading privileges with China, which was in decline and they divided it into “Spheres of Influence” (an act of influencing another country’s development without a formal authority). America had the feared that its economic interest would be endangered. So, in this policy the US asked that all foreign powers have equal opportunity to trade, a way to maintain its “Sphere of Influence”) due to which America was considered as a land of opportunity and chance to start a new life and after the end of civil war in 1865, the American economy flourished rapidly, So, America was also in need of extra helping hands.
This migration made the America the “Melting Pot” society (A metaphor coined by Israel Zangwill, an immigrant, who encouraged newcomers to conform to the American Culture. It implies that people from different origins, culture, and countries all come together and begin to merge and mix and create one big new culture”).
Between the 1880-1920 more than 15 million “New Immigrants” (people who come to live permanently in a foreign country) entered America. They were mostly from Southern, Central and Eastern Europe and also from Russia, Poland, Italy, China and Japan.
Prior to their entry, several other communities were already there in America. Among them, WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) were the first immigrant group came from Britain, Ireland, Germany and Scandinavia in late 17th and early 18th centuries and referred as the Old Immigrants. They were English speakers, fair skinned, well-educated and Protestants and have an upper hand in best jobs, finances, industries and political power. Apart from them were the native American Indians (Indians who lived in difficulties across America in 1917) and Black African Americans (people who were brought to America as slaves). But due to an increasing number of new immigrants, America started to face economical fears that resulted in the change of attitude of natives towards immigrants and they become hostile. Historians have argued that there were six factors:
Firstly, ”Racism” which Immigrants faced mostly from WASP who consisted 60% of the American society. They viewed the other Immigrants with different languages, cultures and religion as ”inferior members of lesser races” or ”lesser beings with limited brain”. They were also labelled as untrustables, troublemakers and ”undesirable immigrants” as they were creating the feeling of foreigner takeover and threaten the American way of life which was actually WASP’s way of life. In addition, the major threat for American society, according to WASP were African Americans, who were slaves. Even though slavery ended in 1865 but still was prevalent and WASP freely denied Black’s equal rights. Joseph Le Conte (1888) argued:
”The Negro race is incapable of racial or intellectual development.”
– Nation Origin Act (1924)
Because of this prejudiced imagination, in 1924, immigrants were restricted to enter America by Federal Law, later substituted by the Emergency Quota Act (1921) and immigration act (1929) respectively. Which limited the number of immigrants and was intended to preserve the WASP’s ”Superiority”.
Impact of World War I (WW I) was another predominant factor which caused the tension related to employment, industrial issues and housing increased, followed by the Great Depression. (it was an economic downturn in the industrialised Western World during 1929-1939. America was the first to suffer due to the Civil War but later almost every country of the world become its victim and suffered from severe unemployment, inflation and drastic declines in output).
The promise of cheap or free land, higher wages, better housing and assisted passage schemes which had grabbed the Immigrant’s attention. It was also described in the American’s Declaration of Independence that ”all men are created equal and have been granted by their creator the same rights” implies equality but in reality, it was opposite. After 1892, before entry to America, Immigrants had to go through a strict medical check-up and if successful granted with landing card. Beside this, other obstacles such as language barrier, poverty, racial prejudice and failure to get well-paid jobs prevented Immigrants from becoming apart of American civilisation. Furthermore, they were held responsible for wages differences and working conditions.
There was another common suspicion that as new immigrants are poorly educated so they are spreading diseases and slum housing, gambling, alcoholism and increasing crime rates. Consequently, Government started to implement more restriction on immigration. One such restricting laws was that ”Convicts, polygamists (men with more than one wife), prostitutes, people with serious diseases and people with financial issues would not be allowed to enter in America. In Addition, literacy tests were introduced especially for Asian immigrants.
Despite all this strictness, Americans were still paranoid and rejecting the idea of American ”Melting Pot” and felt that the American cities were more like a “Salad Bowl” as they kept their languages and customs.
The arrival of the New Immigrants led another political idea called Nativism (a political idea suggesting an established population of a country should have the superior right over the newcomers) (Fetzer, 2000). Nativists demanded that the government should take steps to protect the core of American society’s principles. In fact, these concerns were so strong that they demand a return to the Isolationism society (desire to isolate themselves politically from Europe or Asia). They claimed that the participation in World War I had only brought bloodshed and other countries problems in then own country. An American William Aspen (1918) said.
”American must be kept pure and not turned into a second-rate power by second-rate people”
. This racist belief targeted Germans (previously among the WASP’s superiority group, Austrian (German main ally in WWI) and Irish Immigrants (who supported the republican rebels) who were considered as a great threat to American morale in WASP’s view. Therefore, with regard of isolationist policy US Senate refused to sign the treaty of Versailles (the treaty that ended the state war between Germany and Allied powers) as a punishment for Germany and joining The League of Nation (1920) (a forum for resolving International disputes). Both refusals clearly state that American aimed to stop any immigrants who might influences their culture and society negatively. Legislation had been passed since the 1880s, such as federal immigration act (1882) (1812) (1917) Chinese Exclusion Act (1882), Gentleman’s Agreement (1907) and Alien Land Law (1913) suggesting that Open Door Policy was just a drama.
World War 1 also caused divisions on religious belief as many immigrants who came to America were Catholic or Jewish, while old immigrants were Protestants. Christian religion had been a cornerstone of American society. The harshest criticism against these Immigrants came from natives due to ”Americanization” campaigns (efforts to a make immigrant into good Americans through work, education and social reforms). Henry Ford was the leading man of these movements. He said:
“These men of many nations must be taught American ways, the English language and the right way to live.”
These so-called liberal and broad-minded Americans were even afraid of physical appearances of these New Immigrants. They were, poorly clothed and disfigured because of malnutrition and many fled from their countries due to worsening circumstances. ”In Strangers in the Land ”book (1955), John Higham said:
“By Western European standards, the masses of Southern and Eastern Europe were educationally deficient, socially backward and bizarre in appearance.”
By the 1920s, many immigrants were forced to live in cities such as Chicago, Boston and New York in 1917, the first communist state, led by the Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin because of the Russian revolution. Soviet Russian started to spread communist revolution throughout the world over capitalism ideology. America was a capitalist country, so this revolution added up in the WASP worries. After the world war I, it was estimated that about four million of workers went on the strikes many WASPs believed that communist was hiding among immigrants and was plotting a revolution against USA communist regime are causing these strikes.
Their fears increased in 1919 when many police officers went on strike in Boston and the blame was put on the immigrants. Therefore, these new immigrants were seeming to be a real threat to American democracy. miserable and slum conditioned ghettos and to make a living with poorly paid jobs. These settled together and separated from native-born Americans.