Presentation on theme: "Americans had trouble adjusting from the patriotic fervor of wartime to the economic and social stresses of postwar uncertainties."— Presentation transcript:
Americans had trouble adjusting from the patriotic fervor of wartime to the economic and social stresses of postwar uncertainties.
4 million Americans had been taken from civilian life and the domestic economy. All of a sudden they were back home and out of uniform. Not all the returning soldiers could find jobs straight away, but many who did took employment away from women and African Americans, who had thrived on war work.
The business boom of wartime went flat as factory orders for war production fell off. With European farm products back on the market, US farmers suffered from falling prices. In the cities consumers went on a buying spree which led to inflation and a short boom in 1920 which did not last. In 1921, business plunged into a recession and 10% of the American workforce was unemployed.
The revolution in Russia evolved into a Communist government (Bolsheviks) led by Lenin. Russia was renamed the USSR – the Union of Soviet Socialists Republic Americans began to fear Communism in the US.
The anti-German hysteria of the war years turned suddenly into anti-Communist hysteria known as the Red Scare. Concerns about the communist threat grew in 1919 when the Soviet govt announced the formation of Comintern, whose purpose was to spread revolution around the world. The American Communist party began its life in 1919, there were other radical groups dominated by immigrants from Europe.
Radicals were blamed for a series of bombings in the spring of 1919. The post office intercepted a series of parcel bombs intended for politicians and leading businessmen. Two months later 8 bombs exploded in eight cities within minutes of each other which suggested a nationwide conspiracy. Bombs became a new form of terrorism and Americans were nervous.
Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer was a target of the radicals. He saw the bombings as attacks on the US by anarchists and Communists. Palmer established a special office under J. Edgar Hoover to gather information on radicals. Over 6000 people were arrested, based on limited criminal evidence. Most of the subjects were foreign born and 500 of them, including the outspoken radical Emma Goldman, were deported.
The bombings caused many middle class Americans to fight back against radicalism. The idea of “100 Percent Americanism” was reinforced. Antiradical newspapers began to see every strike, riot or protest as some kind of radical threat. Race riots, one newspaper claimed were the work of “armed revolutionaries running rampant through our cities” 30 states enacted peace time sedition laws imposing harsh penalties on those who promoted revolution.
The Palmer raids had been intended to uncover huge caches of weapons and explosives; they netted a total of 3 pistols and no dynamite. The ferocity of the Red Scare soon abated but its effects lingered well into the 1920’s. The scare faded almost as quickly as it arose. Palmer warned of huge riots on May Day 1920, but they never took place. His loss of credibility coupled with rising concerns about civil liberties, caused the hysteria to recede.
During the war, unions made a lot of important gains. The end of the war meant an end to labor peace, may strikes took place some of them violent. Workers wanted to keep their new benefits and prices were rising. Union membership and influence declined as the Govt. moved against the Unions and strikes.
The first major strike of 1919 was in Seattle in February. 60,000 unionists joined shipyard workers in a peaceful strike for higher pay. Troops were called out, but there was no violence. In Boston, in September, police went on strike to protest the firing of a few officers who tried to unionize. Mass.Governor Coolidge sent in the National Guard to break the strike. Also in Sept. workers for the US Steel Corporation struck. State and federal troops were called out and after considerable violence, the strike was broken in 1920.
In 1919, the steel mills used bribery, threats and intimidation, and the press to break the strike. Asserting that the walk out had already failed, this advertisement, written in eight languages, associated union leadership with "aliens" and the "un-American teachings of radical strike agitators."
The migration of African Americans to northern cities during the war increased racial tensions. There was an increase in the number of “lynchings” of Black Americans as anti-black feeling increased. During the war, race riots erupted, the largest in East St Louis in 1917. 25 race riots broke out in the summer of 1919. Palmer blamed the problems on Communist and called it the “Red Summer”.
The worst riot was in Chicago, where 38 people were killed and 537 were injured. A black teenager swimming in Lake Michigan in July drifted towards a white beach. Whites stoned him unconscious and he drowned. Angry blacks gathered in crowds and marched into white neighborhoods to retaliate. Whites formed even larger crowds and roamed into black neighborhoods shooting, stabbing and beating passersby, destroying homes and properties.
For more than a week, Chicago was virtually at war. 15 whites and 23 blacks died, over 1000 people were left homeless. The Chicago riot was not the only racial violence during the summer of 1919. Over 120 people died in such racial outbreaks in a space of three months. The 1919 riots were different from previous riots in one respect; they did not just involve white people attacking blacks, they also involved blacks fighting back.
A White gang looking for African Americans during the race riots.
The man was on his way to work and was pursued by an angry mob. The policeman is seen keeping the crowd at bay until help arrives.