The U.S. After the War
World War I stimulated growth in the U.S. economy.
The entrance of women and blacks into the workforce added more than
one million to the ranks of working Americans, and factory output
increased tremendously. After the war, the boom continued, in part
because there was great demand for American goods from war-torn
The war also affected the demographics of the country.
It is estimated that 500,000 southern blacks moved north during
the war, most of them settling in cities to work industrial jobs.
As urban black populations increased, so did racial strife. In 1917,
a white mob in Illinois lit black homes on fire and shot the fleeing
inhabitants, killing nearly forty. Weeks later, the NAACP organized
a silent march down Fifth Avenue in New York to protest racial violence.
The end of the war did not mean the end of racial tension. In 1919,
eighty-three blacks were victims of lynching. That year, race riots
exploded in twenty-five cities, most notably Chicago, where a thirteen-day
riot in July left fifteen whites and twenty-three blacks dead, hundreds
injured, and more than a thousand homeless.
After World War I, anti-German hysteria turned into anti-Russian
hysteria in response to the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, which
brought a communist regime to power. Although fewer than 100,000
Americans were members of the nation’s communist parties, many Americans
feared that communist influence went deeper, and had infiltrated
the working class, immigrant communities, and labor unions.
In 1919, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer assigned J.
Edgar Hoover to head a new Intelligence Division to root
out subversives. Hoover arrested hundreds of suspected radicals
and deported many “undesirable” aliens, especially those of Eastern
European background. In 1920, in a coordinated operation, police
and federal marshals raided the homes of suspected radicals and
the headquarters of radical organizations in thirty-two cities. These Palmer
Raids resulted in more than 4,000 arrests, 550 deportations,
and uncountable violations of civil rights.
The central event of the postwar Red Scare, the
Palmer Raids of January 2, 1920, resulted in more than 4,000 arrests
and more than 550 deportations of suspected radicals.
The End of the Progressive Agenda
World War I slowed the advance of progressive reform but
did not stop it. Progressive forces continued to operate during
the war, pressing for further domestic reform. One prominent movement
was the drive for prohibition. During the war, prohibition forces pointed
to the German names of America’s breweries and argued that German
beer would undermine American morality. Prohibitionists therefore
presented the Eighteenth Amendment, which prohibited
the manufacture, transport, or sale of alcohol, as a war measure. This
Amendment was passed in 1917 and ratified in 1919.
The women’s suffrage movement made great strides during
the war, largely because of the important role women played on the
home front, filling men’s jobs and promoting the war effort. Congress
passed the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women
the vote, in 1919, and the states ratified the Amendment in 1920.
Despite this major advance, however, women were forced to vacate
their jobs and resume their traditional roles when men returned
from war. Women would have to wait for advances in social status
to catch up to the legal advances they made in 1920.
Opposition to the War
Many American citizens of widely differing backgrounds
refused to support the war. Some were German immigrants, some were
members of pacifist religions, and others simply objected to the
war on moral and intellectual grounds. Antiwar writings increased
as journalists dissected and criticized pro-war reasoning. Intellectuals
condemned the war in political magazines, while socialist publications
denounced the war as a contest for global market dominance. As the
war began, the government did all it could to counter and quiet these
Concerned by the antiwar campaigns, Wilson and his advisers
worked hard to promote the war. His administration enlisted the
help of famous movie stars to urge Americans to aid the war effort
and conducted government bond drives to finance the war. In 1917,
the federal government established the Committee on Public Information.
This committee functioned primarily as a propaganda agency that
discredited all critics of the government and set up guidelines
for self-censorship. The committee also enlisted the help of artists, journalists,
and authors to publicize the war through speeches, posters, articles,
and films. These pro-war efforts helped generate and intensify the
public’s mistrust and hatred of Germany and the Central Powers.
The patriotic—but often intolerant—sentiments inspired
by such propaganda spilled over into public policy as well. The Espionage
Act, passed in 1917, enumerated a vague list of anti-war
activities warranting fines or imprisonment. The 1918 Sedition
Amendment to the Espionage Act provided for punishment of
anyone using “disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language”
in regard to the government, flag, or military. Government officials
invoked these measures to suppress dissent and justify the arrest
of roughly 1,500 people during the war. Eugene Debs,
a prominent socialist and five-time presidential candidate, was
imprisoned in 1918 for denouncing the government’s aggressive tactics
under the Sedition Amendment (he was released in 1921). The Espionage
Act was also used to bar a number of periodicals from circulation
by mail. The Supreme Court upheld these laws when they were challenged
until well after the war had ended, most notably in Schenk
v. U.S. (1919), in which the Court ruled that speech could
be restricted when free speech presented a “clear and present danger.”
The Espionage Act and the Sedition Amendment
were used to stamp out anti-war ideology and activism during World