America is the most powerful country in the world and prides itself in being a ‘melting pot’ of different cultures but has that always been true of America. I would like to argue that during the 1920’s America became less tolerant of anything
Un-American. I would like to mention immigration policy, the Ku Klux Klan, political hysteria and Religious intolerance.
Before 1917 America had an ‘open door’ policy toward immigration but thousands of immigrants were pouring in from eastern European, Asian, and African countries which the WASPS (White Anglo Saxon Protestants), who had power at the time, didn’t want in America. After 1917 a literacy test was introduced so all immigrants had to be able to read and write in English to be allowed in to the country which discriminated against non English speaking countries and poorer countries where people couldn’t afford to learn English, and so the ‘open door’ began to close.
In 1921 the amount of immigrants was still a major problem to the WASPS and the immigration quota act was introduced that only allowed three hundred and fifty seven thousand immigrants into the USA each year. It also stated the amount of people emigrating from a particular country should not exceed three percent of the number of people from that country already living in America in 1910. This system also discriminated against countries undesirable to the WASPS since they had the smallest population already living in America in 1910.
The ‘open door’ closed further in 1924 when the amount of immigrants allowed into America was reduced to two percent of the population in 1890 and in 1929 when the total number of immigrants from any country was reduced to one hundred and fifty thousand people from any country to be allowed into America per year. The purpose of these laws was to protect the interests of the WASPS already in America who held power at the time but feared losing it to opposing groups such as Jews, Catholics, Blacks, Communists and anarchists.
Another way America was becoming more intolerant during the 1920’s was through the Ku Klux Klan, an organisation founded by a Texan dentist named Hiram Wesley Evans and its main aim was to protect white supremacy and the interests of the WASPS. During the 1920’s when racial and political intolerance was at a peak membership rocketed to 5 million. The Klan was strongest in the southern states, which had previously been the slave states, and hatred for the blacks was heightened as whites and blacks were now competing for jobs, houses and land.
The clan put its views across using extreme violence, for instance, should a black man get a job over a white man the white man would have a word with the Klan, the Klan would pay the black man a visit and the next day the black man would resign so the white man could have the job, in other cases the Klan would organise lynchings where mobs would roam the streets looking for a disliked ethnic minority person to beat up and possibly kill. Membership of the Klan was limited to American WASPS and no other ethnic groups could join.
Another aspect of American intolerance was fear of revolution or ‘Red scare.’ In 1920 approximately 150,000 Americans had communist or anarchist views which represented 0.1 percent of the population of America but many Americans feared communist or anarchist revolution more than anything else. Communism and anarchy were feared so as: communist and anarchist extremists were seen to arrange trade union demonstrations which were described by the papers as communist demonstrations, an anarchist shot president McKinley dead twenty years previously, Russia had become a communist country in 1917 and the Palmer incident of 1920.
In June 1920 an unidentified man left a bomb outside the house of the attorney general, A Mitchell Palmer which resulted in the death of the bomber. The attack was presumed to be a communist assassination attempt due to a copy of a communist newspaper being found in the vicinity of the blast, which may have been discarded there innocently or planted by Palmer to use the attack to stir up hatred for communists who were regarded as a threat to the American constitution and the WASPS in general. The attack resulted in A Mitchell Palmer heading raids on communists and anarchists that resulted in six thousand arrests and only two prosecutions for firearms offences.
Another cause of political intolerance in the 1920’s was the case of Sacco and Vanzetti. Sacco and Vanzetti were charged with a wages robbery in which two guards were shot dead. Sacco and Vanzetti were both recent immigrants from Italy, neither spoke very good English, both were carrying loaded guns when arrested (although this is no crime in the USA even today) and most importantly both harboured anarchist views. Both men were put on trial with a highly biased Judge and a jury made up of WASPS, who in general disliked Anarchists and anything un-American. The evidence for the defence of Sacco and Vanzetti far outweighed the evidence against them and the prosecution even used the fact that Sacco was carrying an anarchist leaflet at the time of arrest against them. Even though Sacco and Vanzetti were probably innocent the jury found them guilty and the pair were executed on the twenty fourth of August 1927.
The final aspect of American intolerance in the 1920’s I am going to write about is religious intolerance. Throughout the 1920’s church attendance across America was falling, especially on the urban areas. This worried many religious Americans and some of the more extreme people founded revivalist groups with the aim of getting American people back into the church.
A prime example of an extreme revivalist and probably one of the most famous was ‘Sister’ Aimee Semple McPherson. Sister Aimee was head of the ‘Four square gospel alliance’ and she often led services of over five thousand people dressed as an angel and beating time to the hymns on a tambourine. Sister Aimee used the frenzy created during her sermons to make the incurable think they were cured and walk out of wheelchairs and leave crutches behind. Sister Aimee became a millionaire from collections taken during her services.
Many Americans also became intolerant to non-American religious views such as Darwin’s theory of evolution. Darwin’s theory of evolution says that humans evolved from apes over millions of years and the bible states that the world was created in 4004 BC by god in six days. Darwin’s theory had caused great controversy in the mid-nineteenth century and was generally accepted across the board but as intolerance grew in the 1920’s people began to doubt this theory and the old arguments flared up again.
In 1924 strong fundamentalists (who were against Darwin’s theory) set up the anti-evolution league with the aim of making it illegal to teach the theory of evolution. Even though the idea seems somewhat farfetched the anti evolution league succeeded in six states. In Dayton, Tennessee two teachers, Johnny Scopes and his college decided to put the new law to test and for Johnny Scopes to teach the theory of evolution to his class and his college to sue him for breach of the law. Johnny Scopes taught his class the theory of evolution and was subsequently arrested and put on trial.
The two sides hijacked the trial and it became Christian fundamentalism on trail rather than Johnny Scopes. Benefactors from both sides of the argument hired two of the best lawyers in America to fight the ‘Monkey trial’ (as the press called it). During the trial the defence lawyer questioned the prosecution lawyer on flaws in the biblical theory he couldn’t explain to which the prosecution lawyer replied, “I am not satisfied by any evidence I have seen.” The questioning continued like this until the press began making fun of the prosecution lawyer and the judge put a stop to it. Johnny Scopes was found guilty of breaking the law and fined one hundred dollars.
These are the main reasons for which I believe the United States of America was becoming more intolerant during the 1920’s. I particularly believe the American immigration policy, the Ku Klux Klan and the Red Scare contributed greatly to the views of many Americans and all the intolerance was down to the selfishness of the WASPS who wanted to protect their own supremacy, wealth, beliefs and interests.