Law and the Great Plains: Essays on the Legal History of the Heartland

By John R. Wunder | Go to book overview

3
German Victims and American Oppressors: The Cultural Background and Legacy of Meyer v. Nebraska

Paul Finkelman

In a post-holocaust age it seems odd to talk about Germans as victims. Yet, during and after World War I German Americans were the targets of official harassment, political suppression, police brutality, and mob violence. These actions led to a number of cases that helped shape the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Bill of Rights. In this early history Meyer v. Nebraska1 looms large for two reasons. First, it was the immediate prelude to the beginning of the incorporation of the Bill of Rights through the Fourteenth Amendment. 2 Second, in an age when civil liberties were under assault from all sides, Meyer stands out as the most significant civil liberties victory of the World War I period. To understand this case, we must first examine the repression of German Americans and other immigrants in the United States from the late nineteenth century until the mid-1920s.


GERMANS AND RADICALISM: PRELUDE TO REPRESSION

The repression was rooted in the hostility to foreigners that reemerged in the late nineteenth century as nativist organizations, such as the American Protective Association, began agitating for an end to non-Anglo-Saxon immigration. 3 Part of this hostility was tied to the rise of the prohibitionist

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