The War at Home

Domestic Discontent with the War

“Old-stock” Americans and Irish Americans opposed U.S. entry into World War I, but Woodrow Wilson made appeals to gain their support.

Learning Objectives

Explain why Irish Americans were adamantly against aiding the British in the war and how Woodrow Wilson harnessed the moralism of the “old stock” to support it

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • “Old-stock” Americans were typically white, Protestant, and at first, staunch opponents of America entering World War I.
  • Woodrow Wilson persuaded many old-stock Americans to join the war effort by arguing that the  German  “Huns” were threatening American civilization and by calling for a religious-like crusade on behalf of world peace.
  • Irish-American Catholics were the most vocal opponents of the war because they vehemently opposed providing any form of aid to Britain, which had executed the Republican leaders of the 1916  Easter Rising  in Dublin. In Ireland, Republicans were those who wanted the country to be a sovereign republic free of British rule.
  • In response to Irish-American Catholics, Wilson crafted war aims that were distinct from Britain’s and that primarily focused on reconstructing the postwar world in a Liberal Democratic fashion.

Key Terms

  • Old Stock: A group consisting of Protestant denominations (Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Disciples of Christ, Congregational, and some Lutheran groups) that loudly denounced the war at first; it was God’s punishment for sin, they said.
  • Easter Rising: An insurrection in Ireland during Easter Week in April 1916. The rising was mounted by Irish Republicans with the aims of ending British rule and establishing the Irish Republic at a time when the British Empire was heavily engaged in World War I. It was the most significant uprising in Ireland since the rebellion of 1798.

Support for America’s entry into World War I was not unanimous. A number of groups on the home front opposed joining the conflict in Europe for different reasons, most of which could be traced to their political or religious beliefs. Among these dissenters, some of the loudest protests came from so-called “old-stock” Americans, as well as from Americans of Irish descent.

Old-Stock Americans

The dominant voice in American politics at the time of World War I was that of old-stock Americans, who were white and primarily Protestant Christians. Old-stock moralism  was aggressively focused on banishing from the face of the Earth things perceived to be sources of evil (for example, saloons were targeted through acts such as Prohibition, a legal ban on selling and consuming alcohol). The largest Protestant denominations—including Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Disciples of Christ, Congregational, and some Lutheran groups—loudly denounced the war at first, arguing that it was God’s punishment for sin.


“Come on in, America, the Blood’s Fine!” by M.A. Kempf: This antiwar cartoon, published in June 1917, depicts three women (England, France, and Germany) being embraced by War in a sea of blood and corpses. Antiwar sentiment was still strong in the United States, despite growing calls for an end to neutrality.

The intensely religious son of a prominent theologian, Woodrow Wilson had established himself as a believer in the role of Christian morality in public affairs. “America was born a Christian nation,” he stated in a 1911 speech. “America was born to exemplify that devotion to the elements of righteousness which derived from the revelations of Holy Scripture.” Wilson, therefore, knew religion could be utilized in American foreign policy and recognized that a depiction of German militarism as morally evil would prompt old-stock Americans to throw enormous weight behind the war effort. He harnessed this moralism with verbal attacks on the “Huns”—a derogatory term for Germans—threatening civilization, and through his calls for an almost religious crusade for peace. In his April 2, 1917, address to Congress requesting a declaration of war against Germany, Wilson ended by saying, “America is privileged to spend her blood and her might for the principles that gave her birth and happiness and the peace which she has treasured. God helping her, she can do no other.”


“Destroy This Mad Brute!”: Some characterizations of the Germans as “Huns” were racist and manipulative in their attempt to persuade Americans that the war against Germany was moral. “DESTROY THIS MAD BRUTE – Enlist U.S. Army” is the caption of this World War I propaganda poster for enlistment in the US Army. A dribbling, mustachioed ape wielding a club bearing the German word “kultur” and wearing a pickelhaube helmet with the word “militarism” is walking onto the shore of America while holding a half-naked woman in his grasp (possibly meant to depict Liberty). This is a U.S. version of an earlier British poster with the same image. Dated ca 1917.

Irish Americans

The most effective domestic  opponents of the war were Irish-American Catholics, who had little interest in mainland Europe, but were adamantly opposed to aiding the British Empire because of its long-standing refusal to grant independence to Ireland. The April 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin was crushed within a week by the occupying British military government, and the Irish Republican leaders were subsequently executed by firing squad. This series of events resonated deeply with Irish Americans, who dominated the Democratic Party in many large cities.

Irish Americans did not prevent the president from being hostile to Germany, but forced the U.S. government to maintain a polite diplomatic distance from Britain and define its own war objectives, primarily restructuring the postwar world in Liberal Democratic fashion. This stance of not completely siding with British interests gave the Irish-American community reason to believe it had an implicit promise from Wilson to promote Irish independence in exchange for their support of his war policies.

The Irish Americans, therefore, were bitterly disappointed by Wilson’s refusal after his reelection to support them or the movement for Irish independence. Despite Wilson’s habit of telling big city  audiences of his Irish ancestry through two paternal grandparents from County Tyrone, and making references to “the great Irish people” during his first presidential campaign, Irish Americans realized, too late, that the president had only curried their favor for fear of losing the votes of such an important constituency within his own party.

In fact, Wilson never held America’s Irish community in any high regard. Presidential adviser Colonel Edward M. House wrote in his personal diary in 1918, “In speaking of the Irish he surprised me by saying that he did not intend to appoint another Irishman to anything; that they were untrustworthy and uncertain. He thought Tumulty [Wilson’s private secretary, Joseph Patrick Tumulty] was the only one he had come into contact with who was.”

The Progressive Stake in the War

The Progressive movement influenced U.S. policy in World War I through its ideals of morality, efficiency, and democracy.

Learning Objectives

Illustrate how Progressivism established the tone of American politics throughout World War I

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Progressive Era in the United States was a period of  reform  during which liberal Democrats sought to reduce government corruption; increase efficiency  and expertise; and bring about morality, social justice, and self-determination.
  • Initially, many Progressives were concerned that entry into World War I was based on immoral economic motivations. Progressive President Wilson helped contribute to a change in this opinion, however, when he framed U.S. entry into World War I as a moral and democratic venture.
  • Progressives contributed to the home front of World War I by leading the establishment of Americanization programs emphasizing efficiency, which proved useful in mobilizing for war.
  • In January 1918, Wilson delivered his “Fourteen Points” speech, which has been hailed as a model of U.S. Progressivism  that translated  domestic  reform into foreign policy based on free trade, open agreements, democracy, and self-determination.

Key Terms

  • League of Nations: An international diplomatic organization founded as a result of the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I. Proposed by Woodrow Wilson, its goals included disarmament, preventing war through collective security, settling disputes between countries through negotiation, and improving global quality of life. Ironically, the United States never joined the league created by its president.
  • Paris Peace Conference 1919: A meeting that set peace terms for the defeated Central Powers following World War I. Diplomats from more than 32 countries met to hammer out a series of treaties that reshaped the map of Europe with new borders and countries, imposed war guilt and stiff financial penalties on Germany, parceled out colonies, and established the League of Nations.
  • Fourteen Points: A speech given by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson to a joint session of Congress on January 8, 1918. The address was intended to assure the country that the Great War was being fought for a moral cause and for postwar peace in Europe.

The Progressive Era in the United States, from the 1890s to the 1920s, was a time of social activism and political reform in response to vast modernization. Morality, liberal democracy, and self-determination fueled Progressivism and its goals of eliminating government corruption and increasing efficiency and expertise in areas such as education and social justice.

While many historians disagree over the exact dates of the Progressive Era, most see World War I as a globalized expression of the American movement, with Wilson’s fight for the League of Nations envisioned in his ” Fourteen Points ” speech as its climax.

Progressivism and Entry into War

At the outset of World War I, Europe was ruled by a long-standing system of power brokering called the “Concert of Europe,” in which the most powerful nations ruled by a small number of empires and monarchs guided the fate of the continent through a shifting system of alliances and treaties, some of which remained secret until they were needed. This came to a bloody climax when these alliances provoked the start of World War I and drew all of the great nations of the continent into conflict with each other.

Initially, liberal Progressives in America were opposed to U.S. involvement in the conflict due to their belief that warfare always had an immoral, hidden economic motivation. Antiwar activists warned of New York bankers, profiteering munition makers, and industrialists searching for global markets to control through American involvement in the war.

Yet Progressives eventually came to believe that, in contrast to the great powers of the Concert of Europe, America possessed a superior moral position as the only great nation devoted to the principles of freedom, democracy, and self-determination, and that those ideals could be achieved in a just war. The most important proponent of this concept was President Woodrow Wilson, who in 1917 won the support of a large number of these moralists by framing World War I as, “a war to make the world safe for democracy,” and the time to fight for Progressive ideals.


Woodrow Wilson: President Woodrow Wilson, one of the most prominent Progressives, framed World War I in moral and democratic terms.

Americanization and Efficiency

During the war, Progressives strongly promoted Americanization programs designed to modernize recent immigrants and turn them into model Americans with diminishing loyalties to the “old country.” These programs often operated through the public school system, which expanded dramatically.

Although the United States entered the war in 1917, three years into the fighting, there had been very little planning or even recognition of the problems the European Allies faced in maintaining the capacity to wage war. There was a high level of confusion regarding the needs of a wartime nation in the first 12 months of America’s involvement, but then efficiency took root in a systematic mobilization of the entire population and economy that produced the soldiers, food supplies, munitions, and money needed to win the war.

The Progressive movement was well suited to this effort, as many of its core values involved efficiency in all areas of society. Reflecting the highly valued expertise necessary to generate ideas that motivated citizens and redirected the economy into a state of high production, the federal government set up a multitude of temporary agencies employing 500,000 to 1 million new workers.

Wilson’s Fourteen Points

Wilson delivered the “Fourteen Points” speech to a joint session of Congress on January 8, 1918. The address was intended to assure Americans that the Great War was being fought for moral causes, including postwar peace in Europe. Delivered 10 months before the armistice with Germany, the speech became the basis for the terms of the German surrender as negotiated at the Paris Peace Conference in


The “Fourteen Points” speech: This photo shows Woodrow Wilson delivering his speech to Congress on January 8, 1918.

Wilson’s speech translated many of the principles of Progressivism that had produced domestic reform in the United States into foreign policy encompassing free trade, open agreements, democracy, and self determination, which was the ideal of nations determining their own futures without outside political or military interference. The speech was the only explicit statement of aims by any of the nations involved in World War I and led to Wilson receiving the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to create a peaceful global community.

Americanization and Pluralism

The outbreak of war in 1914 led to the “Americanization” campaign aimed at millions of immigrants in the United States.

Learning Objectives

Describe the rationale behind the “Americanization” of immigrants by the National Americanization Committee and the Committee for Immigrants in America

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Americanization  was the process, attempted by various political and civic organizations, of assimilating immigrant  groups to a notion of the American way of life.
  • In the short term, Americanization was concerned with the political loyalty of immigrants, which was seen as crucial in a time of war. The long-term goal was to assimilate immigrants into American culture and society.
  • Numerous agencies were established during World War I to address the political loyalty of immigrants, often through each state’s Council of National Defense.  Federal  agencies such as the Bureau of Education and the U.S. Department of the Interior were also involved.
  • The National Americanization Committee, under the direction of Frances Kellor, was the most important private organization active in promoting Americanization.

Key Terms

  • National Americanization Committee: An organization, directed by Frances Kellor, that was by far the most important private organization in the movement to address the issue of the political loyalties of immigrants (whether to the United States or to their mother countries), and the subsequent tension regarding full assimilation into American society and its long-term importance to the nation.
  • Frances Kellor: (October 20, 1873–January 4, 1952) An American social reformer and political organizer who specialized in the study of women and immigrants to the United States. She served as director of the National Americanization Committee, considered the most significant private organization involved in the Americanization of immigrants.
  • Americanization: A term, used since at least 1907, that refers to the cultural process through which immigrants adopt what are considered American customs and values. “Americanization” is also a term used outside the United States to mean the influence America has on the cultures of other countries, such as their arts and entertainment, cuisine, technology, business practices, or political systems.

The outbreak of war in 1914 increased concern over the millions of immigrants to the United States, many of whom could not return to their native countries in Europe. The great majority decided to stay in America and use their savings to buy homes and help additional family members immigrate. Foreign-language use declined dramatically, with many immigrants signing up for English-language classes.

Still, the question of whether they were politically American or still harbored loyalties to their native countries brought about a widespread push for “Americanization” of immigrants, which included efforts by the government and private organizations to ensure they embraced full, long-term assimilation into American society.


Immigrants arriving at Ellis Island: Immigrants became a concern for the United States during World War I and prompted Americanization campaigns throughout the country.

Agencies and Americanization

Numerous agencies became active in promoting Americanization so that various ethnic groups among immigrants would be psychologically and politically loyal to the United States. Individual states set up programs through Councils of National Defense, while the effort also was taken up on the federal level by agencies such as the Department of the Interior, the Food Administration, and the Bureau of Education. The privately operated Committee for Immigrants in America helped fund the Division of Immigrant Education within the Bureau of Education.

The most significant private organization in this effort was the National Americanization Committee (NAC), which operated under the direction of Frances Kellor, who in 1909 served as secretary and treasurer of the New York State Immigration Commission before becoming chief investigator for New York State’s Bureau of Industries and Immigration from 1910 to 1913. She also worked as managing director of the North American Civil League for Immigrants and was involved in the American Association of Foreign Language Newspapers, which linked American advertisers and foreign-language newspapers for immigrants, and the Progressive National Committee, a political organizing group for Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressive Party.

Portrait of Frances Kellor

Frances Kellor, ca. 1910 : The National Americanization Committee, led by Kellor, was one of the most significant private organizations working toward Americanization.

In 1916, Kellor proposed combining efficiency and patriotism in the NAC’s programs. It would be more efficient, she argued, if factory workers all understood direction given in English in order to avoid accidents. Once Americanized, workers would embrace American influences such as industrial ideals and be less likely to follow strike agitators or foreign propagandists. The result would be a transformation from indifferent and ignorant residents into thoughtful voters who would make their dwellings into American homes and spread American standards of living throughout their ethnic communities. Ultimately, Kellor said, Americanization would, “unite foreign-born and native alike in enthusiastic loyalty to our national ideals of liberty and justice.”

The Anti-German Crusade

Anti-German hysteria in the United States during World War I led to restrictions on speaking German and to internment.

Learning Objectives

Illustrate how anti-German fervor played out in the forced registration, internment, and oppression of German Americans

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Many Americans were suspicious of the loyalties of  German Americans during World War I.  Theodore Roosevelt, in particular, denounced “hyphenated Americanism” in wartime.
  • German names of foods, streets, and even places were changed. Frankfurters became “hot dogs”; sauerkraut was “liberty cabbage”; and Berlin, Michigan was renamed “Marne, Michigan.”
  • At the height of wartime fears, the German language came under restriction. Nebraska and Iowa each passed laws limiting the speaking of German in schools and other public places.
  • In 1917, President Wilson passed two pieces of legislation imposing restrictions on German-born Americans. The U.S. government maintained a list of German-born aliens or citizens, and imprisoned more than 6,000 of these immigrants from 1917 to 1918 for allegedly assisting Germany’s war effort.

Key Terms

  • Meyer v. Nebraska: In the case of Meyer v. Nebraska, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a 1919 Nebraska law restricting foreign-language education violated the due process clause of the 14th amendment.
  • war bonds: War bonds were debt securities issued by the government to finance military operations during times of war. They generated capital for the government and gave civilians a feeling of involvement in their national military branches.

During World War I, many German Americans were broadly accused of being sympathetic to the German Empire without regard to their individual loyalties. Former president Theodore Roosevelt was one of the most significant voices in this national suspicion, denouncing “hyphenated Americanism” and insisting that dual loyalties were impossible to maintain in times of conflict. This wartime xenophobia spread throughout the United States in the form of community scorn and organized state and government repression.

Anti-German Fervor

Anti-German fervor during World War I resulted in the renaming of food that was of German origin or that simply sounded German. Sauerkraut became “liberty cabbage,” frankfurters were called “hot dogs,” and Salisbury steak was given a less gastronomically pleasing but more Americanized label: “meat loaf.” Streets and even some municipalities with German monikers changed, such as the renaming of the Michigan town of Berlin to “Marne” in honor of those who fought in the Allied victory at the First Battle of Marne.

In early September, Congress passed a bill requiring all German-language newspapers published in the United States to print English translations of any commentary about U.S. government policies and international relations or the state or conduct of the war. The same rule was applied regarding any other nation with which Germany was at war.

While thousands of German immigrants were forced to buy war bonds to prove their loyalty to the United States, they were rewarded with widespread xenophobia from national organizations as well as from their neighbors. The Red Cross barred individuals with German last names from joining, for fear of sabotage. The Cincinnati Public Library was asked to withdraw all German books from its shelves. In much darker examples of bigotry fueled by the war, German-born Robert Prager was dragged from a Collinsville, Illinois, jail and lynched by a mob who suspected him of spying, while a Minnesota minister was tarred and feathered when he was overheard praying in German with a dying woman.

Language was a major fear factor driving the anti-German hatred and manifested itself in legislation that attempted to isolate foreign-language practitioners. In the 1918 Babel Proclamation, the governor of Iowa prohibited all foreign languages in schools and public places. Nebraska barred instruction in any language except English, although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the ban illegal in the 1923 case of Meyer v. Nebraska. The response by German Americans was often to “Americanize” their names (e.g., changing “Schmidt” to “Smith,” or “Müller” to “Miller”) and to limit their use of the German language in
public places, especially churches.

Civilian Regulation and Internment

In anticipation of support for Germany among immigrants, President Wilson issued two sets of regulations, on April 6 and November 16, 1917, imposing restrictions on German-born male residents over the age of 14, including natives of Germany who had taken citizenship in countries other than the United States. Approximately 250,000 men were required to register at their local post offices and carry registration cards at all times, as well as report any changes of address or employment; the regulations were extended to women in April 1918.

The U.S. government investigated thousands of people under these regulations and eventually arrested approximately 6,300 “aliens.” Allegations included spying for Germany or endorsing the German war effort. Internees were held at two camps splitting the eastern and western United States along the Mississippi River: Fort Oglethorpe in Georgia and Fort Douglas in Utah. While most internees were released in June 1919, some remained in custody through March and April 1920.

Military Internees

While Germany was at war with France and Britain beginning in August 1914, America had not yet joined the conflict. Yet there were several German military vessels in U.S. ports that were ordered to leave or be detained. The crews of these ships were first held as alien internees and later as prisoners of war.

When war broke out in Europe, hundreds of men on two German cruisers, the Prinz Eitel Friedrich and the Kronprinz Wilhelm, were unwilling to face the might of the British Navy in the Atlantic and instead lived for several years on their ships in various Virginia ports and frequently enjoyed shore leave. Eventually they were given a strip of land in the Norfolk Navy Yard in Norfolk, Virginia, on which to erect accommodations.

In October 1916, the ships and their personnel were moved to the Philadelphia Navy Yard along with the structures, which became known locally as the “German Village.” Yet the village was still located at a secure U.S. military facility surrounded by barbed wire. In the spring of 1917, nine detainees escaped, prompting U.S. Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels to transfer the other 750 residents of the village to secure units at Fort McPherson in Georgia and Fort Oglethorpe, separated from the civilian internees there.

In December 1914, the German gunboat Cormoran attempted to refuel and restock its provision at the American island territory of Guam. Denied the full amount of fuel needed, the German captain optioned to remain in Guam along with the crewmen as alien detainees. Most of the crew lived on board due to a lack of housing and relations remained friendly, even though the German seamen outnumbered the island’s contingent of U.S. Marines.

As a result of German U-boat attacks on American shipping, the United States broke off diplomatic relations with Germany in February 1917. U.S. authorities in Guam imposed greater restrictions on the German detainees as relations between America and Germany worsened. Following the U.S. declaration of war against Germany in April 1917, Americans demanded, “the immediate and unconditional surrender of the ship and personnel.” The captain and crew destroyed the Cormoran with an explosion that took several German lives. The surviving 353 German sailors were shipped to the U.S. mainland as POWs on April 29, 1917.

Toward Immigration Restriction

Nativists campaigned for immigration restrictions from 1890 to 1920, proposing measures such as literacy tests and quotas.

Learning Objectives

Explain the legal and societal factors that led to the restriction of immigration

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • American  nativists  resisted  immigration, especially from southern and eastern Europe, in an attempt to preserve the status quo ethnic composition of the country. Anti-Catholic sentiment and a belief in the superiority of Nordic Europeans fueled the nativist movement.
  • Many nativists advocated the imposition of literacy tests to exclude large numbers of potential  immigrants who could neither read nor write, even in their native language.
  • The Passing of the Great Race, a 1916 book by American lawyer Madison Grant, offered a theory of Nordic superiority that influenced immigration restrictions. The bestseller came to be considered one of the most influential works of “scientific racism” through its promotion of eugenics.
  • The Immigration Act of 1924 included the  National Origins Formula that limited immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe and modified the Emergency Quota Act, considerably reducing the total number of immigrants allowed into the United States every year.

Key Terms

  • Immigration Act of 1924: A U.S. federal law limiting the annual number of immigrants admitted from any country to 2 percent of the number of people from that country already living in the United States in 1890, down from a 3 percent cap set by the Immigration Restriction Act of 1921, according to the Census of 1890.
  • Dillingham Commission: Chaired by Vermont Senator William P. Dillingham, a bipartisan Congressional committee formed in February 1907 in response to pressure from various nativist groups to study the origins and consequences of recent immigration to the United States.
  • National Origins Formula: A system of quotas, established between 1921 and 1965, that restricted immigration based on existing population proportions. Its goal was to maintain the existing ethnic composition of the United States and kept quotas low for eastern and southern Europe.

The early twentieth century in the United States saw widespread racism targeting immigrants and the emergence of a “nativist” movement demanding favored status for established citizens over new immigrants. ” Nativism ” meant opposition to immigration and support for efforts to lower the political or legal status of specific ethnic or cultural groups nativists considered contrary to American society and unable to assimilate. U.S. nativists wanted to prevent immigration from southern and eastern Europe, especially from Italy and Poland, due to anti-Catholic sentiment and Nordicism, a racist theory that considered southern Europeans and eastern Europeans inferior to people from Scandinavia, Finland, and Iceland. Eugenics, a racially based pseudo-science, also fueled anti-immigrant sentiment.

Literacy Tests and Immigration Restrictions

Between 1890 and 1920, nativists and labor unions campaigned for immigration restriction through the implementation of a mandatory literacy test that would bar admission of immigrants who could not read or write. Congress passed literacy test legislation, with proponents such as Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge arguing that it could benefit overall immigration policy. Yet in 1897, President Grover Cleveland vetoed the legislation. In his response to Congress, Cleveland stated, “The best reason that could be given for this radical restriction of immigration is the necessity of protecting our population against degeneration and saving our national peace and quiet from imported turbulence and disorder. I cannot believe that we would be protected against these evils by limiting immigration to those who can read and write in any language twenty-five words of our Constitution.”

The debate continued, though, and opponents of a literacy test called for the establishment of an immigration commission to focus on immigration as a whole. The United States Immigration Commission, also known as the “Dillingham Commission,” was established in 1907 as a bipartisan group tasked with studying immigration and its effects. The commission’s final findings in 1911, however, upheld the concerns of the nativist movement. Twenty years after Cleveland’s veto, a literacy requirement was included in the Immigration Act of 1917.

Racial and Religious Nativism

Following World War I, nativists in the 1920s focused their attention on Catholics, Jews, and southeastern Europeans, realigning their beliefs using racial and religious criteria. The racial concerns of the anti-immigration movement were closely linked to eugenics, a racial pseudo-science that had taken hold in Europe and was quickly gaining popularity in the United States. Influenced by Madison Grant’s 1916 pro-eugenics book, The Passing of the Great Race, nativists grew increasingly concerned with America’s ethnic purity and what Grant argued was the dilution of the national racial stock by an influx of new immigrants from the Mediterranean, the Balkans, and the Polish ghettos. The second Ku Klux Klan flourished in the United States by using strong nativist rhetoric filled with this racial bias.

Portrait of Madison Grant

Madison Grant: Madison Grant’s book The Passing of the Great Race was a prominent exposition of nativism. It contributed to the anti-immigration movement and consequently, to immigration quota legislation in the 1920s.

In the 1920s, a large national consensus fueled by fears of low-skilled immigrants flooding the labor market helped sharply curtail the overall inflow of newcomers accepted to the United States.

Legislation to Restrict Immigration

The widespread acceptance of racist ideology and labor concerns led to a reduction in southern and eastern European immigrants being codified in the National Origins Formula of the Emergency Quota Act of 1921, which capped new immigrants at 3 percent of the number of people in that same ethnic group already in the United States. It also limited immigrants to 357,803 for those arriving outside of the Western Hemisphere.  This was a temporary measure and was followed by a further lowering of the immigrant quota to 2 percent in the Immigration Act of 1924, which also reduced the number of immigrants to 164,687. During the late 1920s, an average of 270,000 immigrants were allowed to remain, mainly because of the exemption of Canada and Latin American countries.


Signing of the Immigration Act of 1924: This photo shows President Calvin Coolidge signing the Immigration Act of 1924 on the south lawn of the White House.

Dwindling Immigration Concerns

European-American ethnicities diminished as a political issue in the 1930s. After the Immigration Act of 1924 significantly reduced the intake of non-Nordic ethnicities, the Great Migration of African Americans out of the South displaced anti-white immigrant racism with anti-black racism. Additionally, the Great Depression raised economics over ethnic purification in the hierarchy of national concerns.