Textbook Review:

The American Pageant

by David M. Kennedy, Lizabeth Cohen and Thomas  A. Bailey

Textbook Page


p. 730 “A new Ku Klux Klan, spawned by the postwar reaction, mushroomed fearsomely in the early 1920s. . . . In short, the besheeted Klan betokened an extremist, ultraconservative uprising against many of the forces of diversity and modernity that were transforming American culture.”


The Ku Klux Klan was a blight on American liberty—especially for blacks and Catholics. The Klansmen were not conservative or liberal, but racist and totalitarian in their thinking.  Bailey, however, is quick to label them as “ultraconservative” even though they opposed the liberty and freedom advocated by Harding and Coolidge.  To the extent that racism was political, the Democrats tended to be the party of racism, and refused to condemn the Klan in their 1924 convention.  On race, the Republican platforms in 1924 and 1928 advocated a federal anti-lynching law.  And Oscar DePriest, the first black to be elected to Congress since Reconstruction, came to Washington after the 1928 election as a Republican.


p. 730 “Isolationist America of the 1920s, ingrown and provincial, had little use for the immigrants who began to flood into the country again as peace settled soothingly on the war-torn world.”


Bailey prepares to describe the Immigration Act of 1924, which restricted the numbers of immigrants (especially from eastern Europe) who could come to America. Bailey sees this as part of the “isolationist America of the 1920s, ingrown and provincial.” True, Harding as Coolidge did sign on to immigration restriction, but many progressives helped lead the movement—especially progressives who were eugenicists. The American Eugenics Society listed immigration restriction as one of their top three goals (see Chip Berlet, Eyes Right, 220-21). Among those involved were Margaret Sanger, who wanted birth control widespread because she wanted fewer blacks and immigrants multiplying their numbers.  Prominent scientist Henry Fairfield Osborn, the head of the American Museum of Natural History, was an active eugenicist and member of the Immigration Restriction League. Oliver Wendell Holmes, the progressive Supreme Court justice, endorsed a decision in 1928 that would involuntarily sterilize feeble-minded people. The movement to restrict immigration in the U.S. was broad, and Bailey leaves out the progressives.

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