How did the policies of the American government encourage isolation? The Growth of Isolationism

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How did the policies of the American government encourage isolation?
The Growth of Isolationism.

The First World War had a strong effect on many Americans. It forced them to look at their relations with the rest of the world and look at their own society. The result was a move to isolation. This was seen in:

  • The rejection of the League of Nations.

  • Changes in immigration policies.

  • Trade policies.

Tariffs against foreign goods.

Isolation also meant limiting foreign trade. Action was taken to make sure that foreign good could not compete with home-produced goods on the US market. In 1922 Congress introduced the Ford-McCumber Tariff (tax). A tariff was placed on foreign goods coming into the USA. This made them more expensive than the same American products and so ‘protected’ American industry. However, foreign governments retaliated by putting high tariffs on American goods exported abroad, which made them harder to sell.

Restricting Immigration.

Between 1901 and 1910, over 9,000,000 immigrants entered the USA. This number fell by more than a half to 4,000,000 between 1921 and 1930. This was for several reasons:

  • Partly the result of war and increased nationalism in the USA.

  • There was also an increasing fear that new immigrants, especially from poor countries, would provide cheap labour. This would take jobs from Americans.

  • There was further fear that immigrants might bring with them political ideas, such as Communism, which was against the US spirit of democracy.

  • Religious prejudice. The majority of Americans were Protestant. New immigrants were often Catholic or Jewish.

  • Racial prejudice. White English-speaking Americans looked down on ethnic groups speaking different languages and with different cultures.

Various laws were introduced which kept down the number of immigrants.

1917 Immigration Law

All foreigners wishing to enter America had to take a Literacy test. They had to prove that they could read a short passage in English before they would be allowed in the country. Many people from poorer countries could not afford to learn English and failed the test.

1921 Immigration quota

This limited the maximum number of immigrants allowed into the USA to 375,000 each year. The act also limited the number of people emigrating to the USA from any country to no more than 3% of the people from the same country already living in the USA. This ‘quota’ system worked in the favour of people from western and northern Europe because they had large numbers of immigrant American citizens. It was to ensure that the majority were WASPs – White Anglo-Saxon Protestants.

1929 Immigration Act

This limited the number of immigrants each year to 150,000 and stopped any people from Asia.

  1. What did the First World War force may American to do?

  2. Explain what is meant by the word “isolation”.

  3. Give three ways that America proved she was turning to isolationism?

  4. What is a tariff?

  5. Explain how the Ford-McCumber Tariff was supposed to protect American industry?

  6. How did foreign countries react to the Ford-McCumber tariff?

  7. Do you think that the Ford McCumber tariff was a good idea? Explain your answer.

  8. Complete the table below.


Number of immigrants that entered America



  1. Complete the diagram below.

Partly the result of the First World War and an increased feeling of nationalism in the USA.

The number of immigrants entering America halved by 1930 because…

  1. What did the 1917 Immigration Law force all foreigners wanting to enter the USA to do?

  2. Which immigrants would this prevent from entering America?

  3. What did the 1921 Immigration Quota do to the number of immigrants allowed into America each year?

  4. Which group of people did this Quota favour? Explain your answer.

  5. Who were WASPs?

  6. What two things did the 1929 Immigration Act do?

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