At the moment in which the United States’s presence on the world stage became more critical, they pulled back and pursued a policy of isolationism.
American Isolationism in the 1920s
The United States had always been an open country. Born from immigration, for a long time, it put little to no barrier to the arrival of new people. Besides, in the beginning, the booming economy was hungry for workers, who were welcome wherever they came from. A policy of expansion over a large continent created the idea that there was no shortage of space.
But at the beginning of the 1900s, things started to change. A new American culture had emerged, and as it started to consolidate itself, it also began to fear that new influxes of different peoples and cultures could disrupt it.
In this climate, WWI broke out.At the moment in which the United States's presence on the world stage became more critical, they pulled back and pursued a policy of isolationism #AmericanHistory Click To Tweet
The US initially stayed out of it, mostly because the public opinion didn’t care for the European war. But as the conflict proceeded, it became ever more clear that the consequences may touch the US too.
Besides, even at home, things were changing. The German community was very numerous and economically powerful. Entire cities, like Cincinnati, were basically German colonies. An anti-German feeling, fueled by the Prohibition campaign, arose in throughout the country.
When the news came out that Germany was considering an alliance with Mexico, with the promise that Mexico would regain its lost lands in case of a victory of the Central Powers, the entire United States feared that all these foreigners might pry over America.
It is then to protect themselves that the United States finally entered the Great War in 1917.
The League of Nations
The United States found themselves involved in the conflict more than they may have bargained for. Their military power gave a great advantage to the Allies (besides, all of the European nations had been at war for three years at this point), which gained them a place at the Treaty of Versailles table.
But at the same time, the US involvement in the huge loans to different nations to sustain the war reparations, started to weigh on the country’s economy, especially when it started to lose its boom.
President Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations didn’t meet his country’s favours. The public opinion and a part of the Congress were not willing to become entangled in the thorny post-war situation in Europe, which was unstable at best. Many thought that although the war was over, grievances among nations were not, and some supposed that war was not really over. Nobody wanted to be part of that kind of mess.
Eventually, the US was among the first nations to refuse to join the League. And for the next twenty years, the US basically kept to itself, away from any European matter.
The Immigration Act of 1924
After the Great War, the immigration situation of the US became busy on both its shores.
From war-destroyed Europe arrived throngs of people in search of a new life. Many of these new immigrants came from South Europe, which had long been less industrialised and advanced than the North; and from the East, where people fled from the new Soviet Union.
These groups of people were very different from the second- and third-generation immigrants already present in the US. The worries of these consolidated ethnic groups added to the fear of the native-stock Americans, worried that their culture could be swarmed by different cultures, languages and religions.
Meanwhile, on the other shore, the incoming of immigrants from Asia was also increasing.
China knew a terrible famine in the early 1920s, a time of political unrest and civil war, which weakened the ancient warlord’s system but didn’t create a new one. In this situation of total confusion, Japan tried to conquer a part of the land.
In these circumstances, many Chinese fled the country toward the land that for at least a century had welcomed them: the United States.
The incoming of so many new immigrants strengthens the perception of an invasion and an attack on the true American way of life. The KKK capitalised on these fears, as did the Prohibition movements.
In the growing uncertainty, the Congress finally passed a first emergency law in 1921, which put a maximum incoming quota on all nationalities. Then, in 1924, the draconian Immigration Law was passed, which effectively barred entrance to the United States to most immigrants.
For decades, the doors of American were closed.
Andy Crown Net – US Isolationism in the 1920s
Norwich University – Isolationism and U.S. Foreign Policy After World War I
Facing History and Ourselves – Internal Strife in China
Perrish, Michael E., Anxious Decades: America in Prosperity and Depression, 1920-1941. W.W. Norton & Co. Inc., New York, 1992