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The 1920s in the US History



The 1920s in the US History

Immigration Act of 1924

On May 26, Congress passed the Immigration Act (or the Johnson-Reed Act). It lowered the level of immigrant admission from 3% that was adopted in 1921. This federal law put a limitation on the annual number of immigrants, who were to be admitted to the country, at the level of 2% of the total population of people from that country, who had already been living in the United States according to the annual census of 1890 (Smith, 1924). We shall look upon the reasons for such a step to be taken, the different views on it, and the prehistory of such a decision.

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The United States is often called a melting pot. It houses representatives of many nationalities, as well as its native residents, and creates a strong integral nation out of them. Nevertheless, unprecedented levels of immigration from Europe and other parts of the world have caused anxiety and public support for immigration restrictions. During World War I, the immigration level decreased, but it rose again after the War. In 1920, more than 430 000 people wanted to immigrate to the United States; in 1921, this number rose to 805 000. Many thought that immigration restriction was the only way to protect the American recourses. Immigrants were thought to take the work from the Native Americans, but they seldom adopted the country’s religion and ideals.

The first law concerning immigration restriction was passed in 1917. This law introduced a literacy test for all immigrants aged over 16 years; in this test, they were supposed to confirm their reading comprehension of the language. This law also increased the tax, which immigrants were supposed to pay after their arrival. In addition, this law banned immigration for people from some Asian territories. However, the tax and the test were not enough to lower the number of immigrants significantly. Republican Senator William P. Dillingham introduced an effective means for that purpose. He suggested setting the immigration quotas, which would allow only 350 00 immigrants to enter the United States each year. The American Federation of Labor, because of fear that immigrants would be used as strikebreakers, increased its pressure on Congress for passing the immigration restrictions. Nevertheless, President Wilson, who opposed such strict measures, vetoed the restrictive act. The next President Warren Harding, however, did pass this act. The 1921 Quota Act decreased the number of immigrants from Europe to a quarter of the pre-War quantity; it was now set at the level of about 600 000 people annually. Great Britain and Germany were the countries, for the citizens of which the biggest number of visas was fixed.

When the debate over immigration limitation was renewed in 1924, the quota system was still thought to be the most effective mean in dealing with the immigration problem, but it had to be adjusted. Though there were some opponents of changing the allowed quantity of immigrants, the proponents of a strict immigration restriction were in the majority.

Immigration Act of 1924

The new Act has lowered the number of visas available to immigrants even more; it is now set at the level of approximately 150 000 people annually. Another change that this new law has introduced was that, while previously the quota was measured by the number of people born outside the United States, now the origins of all the Americans were taken into consideration, now the quota included people of British origin, whose families had been residents of the United States for generations. As a result, there are no more visas available for people from the British Isles and Western Europe, but less for those from other parts of the world.

The year of the census, which is taken into consideration has been changed also; now, it is 1890 instead of 1910.

Another novelty of the law was that Asians were denied United States visas. This included all Asian countries, even Japan, which signed the Gentlemen’s Agreement on the immigration of Japanese people to the United States. In Japan, this decision is most probably met with immense discontent and anger. Such a turn of events will inevitably lead to increased tension between the two countries, but the intentions of the Congress are clear – they aim to preserve the racial composition of our country as it is today (Ayers, 2009).

An important point about this Immigration Act is that it does not say anything about immigrants from Mexico and Canada. Consequently, it is easy to predict that, apart from approximately 150 000 immigrants annually that are allowed under the new Immigration Act, the actual number of immigrants to our country will be much bigger because people from Canada and Mexico will add up to the abovementioned number.

The proponents of the immigration restrictions have some strong reasons for their views. The first reason is that the American recourses are not inexhaustible. The current population will not stay within the number it is today; it will grow, and this growth will require more resources. Americans live a good life, have decent jobs, but with time more and more means will be required to maintain this positive tendency. Surely, people from other countries seek entry into the US in the belief that they will find a better life here. The reality is as follows: our country cannot support everyone who wants to live in it; we have rich but still limited resources. The point here is that we should Americanize what we have now and preserve our resources for our growing population (Smith, 1924).

The point that is often emphasized by the immigration restriction proponents is that such restriction is by no means a question of politics. It is not a question of whether we like one country more and another less. They argue that it is a question of maintaining what is ours. One could think that it is a disputable point, as the new Act oppresses some countries, it does not treat all nations equally: it gives more to one, less to some, and nothing to other.

While proponents of the Act may think it is not a political question, it might arouse concerns in the governments of the countries that have received lower quotas or have not received quotas at all. This could cause tension in international relations. Nevertheless, this aspect of the new Immigration Act will be objectively analyzed only when we receive some reaction from other countries. Today, we cannot predict what strategies they will choose in dealing with this situation; the possible scenario varies from outright hostility to neutral acceptance.

Another notion that is to be taken into consideration concerning the new Immigration act is the ‘Red Scare’. The war is over, but radical views still exist. It is no secret that Americans have certain concerns about political tendencies in Russia and some other eastern European countries. It is quite rational to fear that, if people with radically different views and ideals come to America, they will try to change our country, bring something dramatically different from what we are used to. No doubt, this will harm both our country as a whole and the average American in particular. Surely, we want to avoid such a chain of consequences, this might become the ground for the decision to lower the immigration rates for people from the East of Europe in the future. In addition, in this respect, it is most likely that the majority of our citizens will support this decision.


The newly passed Immigration Act touched upon many aspects. For some Americans, it was about preserving what is American for Americans and future generations; for others, it was a way of securing the political system and views of our country from different and hostile influences and ideals. Still, for others, it might be a way of showing our preferences concerning other countries. For sure, this Act will lower the number of immigrants, who will come to our country in the future. At the same time, this Act might provoke different reactions from authoritative structures of other countries. Nevertheless, this Act will not probably fail in its main task, which is to make sure that Americans will not be pushed from their jobs and homes by people from Russia, Poland, China, or anywhere else.

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