Culture at Twilight: The National German-American Alliance, 1901-1918

By Charles Thomas Johnson | Go to book overview

Chapter 7

Conclusion: Ethnicity and American Democracy

In writing the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson incorporated Enlightenment thought concerning the relationship between government and citizens. Jefferson took those ideas one step further, creating a treatise that included democratic values and the idea that all people should benefit from the fullness of American life. This democratic vision served as a catalyst for many of the millions of immigrants that arrived in the United States between 1820—1920. Yet upon arrival these people often faced hardship and sometimes persecution similar to that which they left behind. The promise of American democracy was not necessarily there for the taking, especially during times of economic and political unrest.

It was the second and third generations of these immigrant families that began to enjoy the fruits of their parents' labors. Citizens by birth, they looked upon the United States as a land of endless opportunity. For many this vision became a reality. This progress was especially true for members of the National German-American Alliance, the majority of whom were from the middle and upper-middle classes— people who had “made it” in terms of economics, education and status.

Opportunity, however, had its price as the nation underwent a transition from an Anglo-agrarian society to a multi-ethnic industrial one that sought to cast all people within its “melting pot.” Many believed that the freedom promised in America included the right to preserve distinct and different ways of life so long as one obeyed the law and acted in a responsible manner. Unfor tunately, such exercise of freedom at times ran into trouble. At the dawn of the twentieth century a number of factors—large-scale immigration from Europe and an increase from Asia, stresses brought on by industrialization, the rise to

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