World War I: The American Home Front--Ethnic Communities

American etbicity immigration World War I
Figure 1.--This 1917 poster was designed to appeal to Americ's new more diverse population made up of the many European immigrants that entered the country in the late-19th and early-20th century. The Government was not entirely sure how the immigrants would react to the declaration of War, especially America's large German ethnic community.

World War I marked a major turning point in America's ethnic evolution and American emmigration policy. The United States at the time of the Civil War (1861-65) was a largely Protestant country with population mostly from the British Isles and Germany and most of the populated were relatively well assimilated, except the Catholic Irish. Catholic Europeans generally declinrd to emigrate to America. The Irish came out of desperation because of the horrendous Potato Famine (1840s). This changed dramtically after the Civil War. Large numbers of Catholic Europeans from southern Europe flooded into the country as well as an exotic addition of Jews from Eastern Europe. Earlier Jewish immigrants were mostly more assimilated German Jews. Thus at the time the War broke out in Europe (1914), America was a much more diverse country than was the case of the Civil War. The proportion of immigrants was the greatest in American history. The War would be the end of massive European immigration. The outbreak of fighting sharply reduced the flow of immigrants because borders were closed and dangers acccompanies ocean voyages. After the War restrictive immigration quotas were enacted. The Europeans, especially the Germans were not convinced that such an ethnically diverse country was a real country. It was one reason some in the German leadership, includung the Kaiser, discounted the imporatnce of the United States, in sharp contrast to the British who from an eaely point saw America as key to victory, especially after the Somme (1916). The overwhelming proportion of America's new immigrants supported the American war effort, including on the battlefield. Ethnic communitie, however, varied as to their attitudes towaed the War. The Germans were the largest ethnic community and they were the ethnic group most opposed to the war. The Germans were concentrated in the Mid-West and here pacifist feling was particularly strong. They voted very strongly for President Wilson and the Democrats because he had kept America out of the War (1916). The Irish were the most-anti-British community, especially after the Easter Rising (1916). Jews were not favorbly disposed toward the Russians. Once the United States declared war (1917), there was an outbreak of anti-German feeling. The U.S. Government was worried about the loyalties of German-Americans. And the U.SS. Government was not all that sure themselves. Harsh laws were passed. Very few Belgians and French emograted to Ameruca so there was not a lot of support from immigrant grouos to enter the War. One exception was thevItalians. Exceptions were ethnic groups within the Astro-Hungain Empire or hostile to it (Czechs, Serbs, Slovaks, and Slovenes), but these were realtively smlal groups). The President's Fourteen Points were well-received by these and other groups like the Poles seeking to establish new countries out of the wreckage of the gret European empires . America's impresive public school system was doing an excellent job of assisimated the immigrants. Entry into the War and the draft accelerated the assimiltion process.


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Created: 10:08 AM 8/11/2015
Last updated: 10:08 AM 8/11/2015