In the early 1920s, the Second Klan was on the other side of the culture war between Victorians and Moderns that I have been describing in recent weeks. In fact, the rise of the Second Klan was more about national identity and this cultural and moral breakdown than it was about race.
The Second Klan appealed to Old Americans descended from the founding stock – White Anglo-Saxon Protestants – who lived in small towns and rural areas in the South, Midwest and West and who supported Prohibition and traditional moral values. This is why the Klan is so reviled while gangsters who killed far more people than the Klan ever did are romanticized in shows like Boardwalk Empire.
The following excerpt comes from Nathan Miller’s book New World Coming: The 1920s and the Making of Modern America:
“Nose up like a clumsy bird settling into its nest, the small gilded biplane bounced several times before rolling to a stop on a grassy meadow outside Kokomo in central Indiana. It was late in the afternoon of July 23, 1923, two weeks before Calvin Coolidge became president. As the propeller ticked over, a solidly built man, hooded in a purple silk robe with gold piping and mystic symbols, jumped out the rear cockpit to the ground. A huge crowd, many wearing the flowing white robes of the Ku Klux Klan and estimated at some 100,000 people, watched as an official delegation filed out to greet him.
“Kigy,” he said.
“Istub,” they solemnly replied.
David C. Stephenson, an ex-soldier, itinerant Texas printer, and newly anointed Grand Dragon of Indiana, was escorted to a mound in the middle of the field – called the “mount” – and flung back his hood. Men and women cheered and applauded and bobbed up and down to get a look at “the new Messiah.” Previous speakers had already exhorted them to smite the devil and there had been allusions to the “Prince, the Sermon on the Mount and the Nativity.” Some of the multitude raised their arms to him and shouted prayers of thanksgiving. Parents hoisted their children up on their shoulders so they could have a better view. With an imperious gesture, Stephenson signaled for silence and began to speak …
The gathering was a tri-state Konklave of Klan members from Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois, but for several days, bumper-to-bumper lines of cars had poured into Kokomo from every point of the compass. Some were draped in flags and decorated with placards: “America for Americans”; “The Pope Will Never Rule America”; “Trade With Klansmen Not Jews.” Kokomo had become the focus for those who saw themselves as the custodians of the Cross and Flag – the front line in the defense against evil, diversity and modernism. The meeting was the nearest thing to a national convention ever held by the Klan …
Under the leadership of Evans and Stephenson, the Klan boosted its membership to five million and offered a broader base than merely being anti-black, anti-Catholic, and anti-Jew. It tapped into inchoate grievances of the underclass against big business and economic exploitation. Echoing the old Populist platform of the 1890s, it was now strongly pro-farmer, pro-working class and anti-Wall Street. The Klan was the champion of Prohibition, guardian of the purity of Christian women, and opponent of international Jewish bankers, who, it was charged, had started the war for their own profit.
The typical Klansman lived in a small town or rural area in the South or Midwest. As the influence of the organization spread, it attracted displaced sharecroppers and tenant farmers who had taken jobs on the factory production lines of Detroit and in the mills of Cleveland. …
“We are a movement of the plain people, very weak in the matter of culture, intellectual support, and trained leadership.” Imperial Wizard Evans declared in explaining the growth of the Klan. “One by one all our traditional moral standards went by the boards, or were so disregarded that they ceased to be binding. The sacredness of our Sabbath, of our homes, of chastity, and fidelity, and finally even of our right to teach our own children in our own schools fundamental facts and truths were torn away from us. Those who maintained the old standards did so only in the face of constant ridicule.”
No wonder the Klan is so hated.
There really was a culture war and the Klan was on the losing side. Traditional moral values really were under attack by Jews and Modernists. America’s national identity was also being transformed. The Klansmen were not wrong that this would have enormous implications for future generations.
I’ve seen some people in the comments trying to argue that everything was fine in the Roaring Twenties because of the triumph of immigration restriction in 1921 and 1924, eugenic sterilization laws and segregation. This ignores the fact that the opponents of all these things and of the Second Klan were still rising and gaining ground in this era. Henry Ford, for example, eventually had to suspend publication of The Dearborn Independent because of opposition from Jews. The Second Klan also faced implacable opposition from mainline Protestantism and the media.
The Second Klan was supported by lay Protestants and was opposed by the Protestant establishment which had been backing away from explicit support for Anglo-Saxon ethnic nationalism since around 1910. This rift between lay Protestants and elite Protestants emerged in the 1910s and 1920s and would grow enormously in the 20th century as the mainline churches lost millions of members.
The following excerpt comes from Stanley Coben’s book Rebellion Against Victorianism: The Impetus for Cultural Change in 1920s America:
“During the nineteenth century, a large majority of American academic and literary intellectuals served as protectors of Victorian mores and ideas. By the 1920s, however, most leading American intellectuals had announced their rebellion against virtually the same conventions and concepts. This rebellion was supported by the nation’s foremost book publishers, literary and scholarly journals, and heads of philanthropic foundations.
The crucial factor in causing the intellectuals’ rebellion was a shift in their values. This led them inevitably into conflict with Americans who continued to hold and were attempting to protect the conventional ethos. Behind the shift lay an expansion of the parameters of late nineteenth century literary realism and naturalism and of Victorian science and social science. These twentieth-century trends were encouraged by the reinforcement of dissident ideas provided by increased numbers of intellectuals, an enlarged audience for such ideas, and much more money available for their creation and dissemination.
During the mid and late nineteenth century, trustees of colleges and universities in the United States almost inevitably selected as presidents men who shared the trustees’ piety and orthodox political, social, moral and religious beliefs. These presidents, in turn, chose faculty members who almost all understood that their most important duty consisted of improving the character and guiding the minds and souls of impressionable undergraduate students. As part of this task, they provided access to the accumulated higher knowledge of their academic specialties, including that scientific knowledge which appeared to confirm conventional American beliefs. …
What was this change in values and worldview that had emerged in the late 19th century and reached a critical mass in the 1920s and was clashing with Victorian values?
“A definitive statement of the intelligentsia’s values, applicable to the ideal objectives of most of the era’s finest poets, novelists, physical and biological scientists, and academic humanists and social scientists was delivered in a manifesto by the poet Ezra Pound, published in 1913 and restated by him in somewhat different phrases for over two decades thereafter:
“If an artist falsifies his report as to the nature of man, as to his own nature, as to the nature of his ideal of the perfect, as to the nature of his ideal of this, that or the other, of god, if god exists, of the life force, of the nature of good or evil, if good and bad exist, of the force with which he believes or disbelieves this, that or the other, of the degree in which he believes or disbelieves this, that or the other, of the degree in which he suffers or is made glad; if the artist falsifies his reports on these matters or on any other matter in order that he may conform to the taste of his time, to the proprieties of a sovereign, to the conveniences of a preconceived code of ethics, then that artist lies. If he lies out of deliberate will to lie, if he lies out of carelessness, out of laziness, out of cowardice, out of any sort of negligence whatsoever, he nevertheless lies and he should be punished or despised in proportion to the seriousness of his offense.”
The artist, Pound insisted, should utilize all information or technique that would help him interpret his subject accurately, no matter whom this interpretation may antagonize. A similar ethic guided social scientists during the 1920s as they described terrible deficiencies in the lives of “typical” middle-class and working-class Americans. Social scientists reported that satisfaction and happiness among some economically “primitive” peoples far exceeded that found among the American middle class or working class. A group among these social scientists demonstrated, to other social scientists at least, that Victorian racial and ethnic beliefs lacked scientific validity. They placed scholarly values above conventional proprieties in presenting the most pertinent information (mostly unfavorable about America and Americans) and the conclusive (largely negative about America) suggested by the evidence.”
In other words, Modernism: the cult of the artist, the doctrine of art for art’s sake, the autonomy of aesthetics from religion and morality and society, embracing the “primitive.”
Jews were only starting to trickle into America academia in the 1920s. Franz Boas was one of the first and was a harbinger of what was to come.
The following excerpt comes from Nathan Miller’s book New World Coming: The 1920s and the Making of Modern America:
“Upper-class Americans wrinkled their noses at the Klan’s grotesqueries, but they, too, were firmly convinced that the United States was in danger of becoming the dumping ground for Europe’s “scum.” President A. Lawrence Lowell of Harvard led the Ivy League universities in imposing quotas for Jews while the top banks, publishing houses, law firms, and corporations refused to hire them. If prejudice against Jewish students was rife, it was even stronger against faculty. The teaching staffs of Yale, Princeton, John Hopkins, and the universities of Georgia, Chicago and Texas each had one Jew. There were two each at Columbia and California and three at Harvard. There were fewer than a hundred Jews on liberal arts and sciences faculties throughout the nation in the 1920s, and not many more a decade later.”
There were only a few Jewish academics like Boas in the 1920s and they were already having a deleterious effect. By the 1950s though, the American intelligentsia had become half Jewish. America had become liberal, modernist, cosmopolitan and antiracist in the interwar years.
Note: David C. Stephenson was a piece of shit who discredited the Klan when he was convicted of abducting, raping and murdering a young White woman. The Second Klan rose in defense of traditional moral values and fell when it was hoisted on its own petard.