Here is the author’s opinion and analysis:
What about this political agenda? Condemning most immigrants as carriers of mentally deficient illnesses ready to “replace” the white race, Congress limits migration to “acceptable” racial and ethnic groups. Uncomfortable with scientific discoveries, many states adopt school curricula that conform to the Christian Bible. To eradicate “immoral behavior”, Congress and the states amend the Constitution. In the midst of these actions, tens of thousands of hooded activists marched towards Congress.
Sound extreme or familiar? These examples describe real events and policies adopted a century ago.
During the 1920s, as the nation became more urban, technologically modern, and ethnically diverse, a “culture war” raged between religious “traditionalists,” primarily Protestants in the South and Midwest, and the “cultural elites.” coastal”, grouped together in the cities of the East. Coast and Upper Midwest. Traditionalists felt beleaguered by the cultural innovations identified in radio and Hollywood, and by the influx of Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Jewish immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe. These newcomers, popular writer Madison Grant explained in “The Passing of the Great Race,” threatened to “replace” so-called Nordic Americans of British Isles and Western European descent.
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Congress responded by enacting increasingly severe quotas, and in 1924 banned nearly all immigrants except those from Western Europe. For good measure, all Asians were excluded, as the Chinese had been for decades. To help enforce the law, Congress created a new police force, the Border Patrol.
Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians have responded to Darwinism by regulating curricula. Tennessee, like many states, has banned the evolution of education in public schools. His 1925 law prohibited teachers from presenting “any theory which denies the divine creation of man” as revealed in the Bible or asserting that humans were “descended from a lower order of animals”.
For decades, anti-alcohol groups such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and the Anti-Saloon League successfully lobbied several states to limit or ban the manufacture of alcohol. These predominantly Protestant reformers identified drinking with disorderly immigrants and immorality. Moving to a national strategy, they led the 18th Amendment toward ratification in 1919 and implementation in 1920. The Prohibition Amendment, along with the enabling legislation, prohibited the production, sale, and consumption of alcohol . The “noble experiment”, as its proponents called it, was unique among constitutional amendments to restrict, rather than expand, personal liberty.
In support of these measures, and as a warning to wavering politicians, a newly revived Ku Klux Klan recruited 5 million members in the 1920s. Adding Catholics, Jews, immigrants and bootleggers to their list of enemies, more than 40,000 hooded Klansmen marched past the Capitol in 1925.
The 1920s provide a not-so-distant mirror to recent debates about the role of religion in public life, the constitutional basis for privacy and reproductive rights, the value of immigration, and whether the sex education or “critical race theory” should be taught. in schools. Some of these past policies have shaped American life for decades.
Opponents of immigration in the 1920s took views almost identical to those of, say, Donald Trump or Tucker Carlson. They warned that migration from poor countries spread disease, increased crime and threatened white supremacy. Their “replacement theory” ignored data showing that immigrants are less likely than the native-born to commit crimes or seek public assistance. Throughout American history, immigrants have spurred, not hindered, economic growth while they and their children are among the most enterprising citizens. Yet the rigid quota system remained largely intact until 1965. Today’s restrictionists openly admit their desire to roll back the clock.
Critics of prohibition correctly predicted that instead of enforcing morality, it would lead to underground drinking, foster organized crime, and encourage smuggling from Canada and Mexico. By 1933, most Americans had grown weary of the “noble experience”. Federal and state officials were particularly keen to recoup tax revenue from liquor sales. Congress and the states repealed the ban via the 21st Amendment in record time.
The public relations fiasco of the so-called Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925 dealt a blow to anti-evolution laws. When Tennessee indicted science teacher John Scopes for teaching evolution, his trial became a national sensation. Fundamentalist groups have hired William Jennings Bryan – a three-time Democratic presidential candidate – as a special prosecutor, while the American Civil Liberties Union has sponsored Clarence Darrow as a defense attorney. Hundreds of reporters and radio commentators flocked to Dayton, Tennessee, and described the trial as a grudge match between faith and science. Largely unaware of Scopes, Bryan allowed himself to be grilled as a religious expert by Darrow. Bryan came across as a moralizing fanatic unable to explain the Bible’s many textual contradictions and factual errors. Although Darrow lost the jury (Scopes’ conviction was later overturned), he persuaded most Americans that faith and science each had their place, but not in biology education.
Over the next few decades, the Supreme Court struck down most anti-evolution laws as violations of the separation of church and state. But much like dormant anti-abortion laws, many similar laws remain in effect pending rulings from a Supreme Court increasingly favorable to religious expression in public life and openly skeptical of the promise of the 14th Amendment of due process, privacy and bodily autonomy.
Michael Schaller is professor emeritus of history at the University of Arizona. He has written several books on United States history, focusing on international relations.