Ken Burns Classroom

Conflicting Viewpoints over Immigration and Alcohol

Lesson Objectives: (Students will…)

  • Discuss Americans’ concerns over immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and identify how these concerns became linked with the use of alcohol;
  • Identify different viewpoints over immigration and alcohol and formulate arguments from different perspectives;
  • Analyze and evaluate proposed legislation aimed at limiting the use of alcohol and limiting the German cultural influence on Americans;
  • Debate the merits of the proposed prohibition legislation.

Materials Needed

  • Computers with internet access or an interactive whiteboard

Overview: In this lesson, students will discuss the issues presented in the three video segments presented in the materials section and identify differing viewpoints about immigration and alcohol in the 19th and 20th centuries. From here, they will formulate arguments for debate on how to address the growing concerns over German influence and the prohibition of alcohol.

Students’ research should be thorough and complete, as it will help build their group’s arguments for the role-play activity in Part 2 of the lesson.

Part 1: Differing Perspectives and Conflicting Viewpoints over Immigration and Alcohol

Set up this activity by first reviewing with students the different positions on alcohol and immigration that existed in the early 20th century. Create a chart like the one below on the front board. Ask students to place a “positive” (+) or a “negative” (-) in the blank boxes to indicate each group’s position on alcohol and immigration.

Views on Immigration Views on Alcohol
Progressives and reformers
German Americans and immigrants
Anti-Saloon League (Prohibitionists)
Native-born Americans

Tell students that they are now going to explore these points of view in greater depth to prepare for a debate on alcohol legislation. Distribute the student handout “Differing Perspectives and Conflicting Viewpoints over Immigration and Alcohol” to all students and review the directions. Have students discuss the questions in small groups and organize their discussions on the graphic organizer handout.

Debrief the activity by asking students if any of their discussions presented different information than what was indicated in the chart at the beginning of the activity. What factors stood out as important or significant to them?

Part two: Debating Anti-Alcohol Legislation

Students will review several pieces of legislation proposed between 1914 and 1924 to limit or prohibit drinking alcohol in the United States, as well as legislation limiting immigration and curbing the influence of German culture in America. At the time, German culture was strongly associated with beer brewing and saloons.

Remind students of the effectiveness of the Anti-Saloon League in combining Americans’ antagonism toward the saloon with a call for Prohibition. As America moved closer to entering World War I, the League was able to target Germany, German culture, and the German- American Alliance as an “enemy of the state,” furthering the cause of a national Prohibition amendment.

  1. Divide the class into five groups, each representing one of the following interest groups:
    • German Americans
    • Native-born Americans
    • Anti-Saloon League
    • Progressives
    • Wilson Administration officials
  2. Distribute the student handout “Proposed Legislation to Defend America” to all students and review the directions.
  3. Provide time for students to review the legislation and prepare their statements
  4. Conduct one round of debate for each proposed bill with the following procedure:
    • Read the description of the bill aloud.
    • Each group announces its position and its reasons.
    • General discussion (5 minutes) allowing opportunities for rebuttal and further discussion.
    • Class vote supporting or rejecting the bill. Students should vote as individuals and not in a block according to their role-play group.

Extensions/Adaptations (optional)

  • Have students write an essay addressing the essential question, “How did anti-immigrant sentiment in the late 19th and early 20th centuries contribute to the enactment of Prohibition?” In their essays, students should include a summary of general immigration to the United States during the second half of the 19th century, the growing anti-immigration sentiment among Americans, Progressives’ attempts to reform the lives of immigrants, Anti- Saloon League’s efforts to use anti-immigration and anti-German sentiment to promote the national prohibition on alcohol.
  • Ask students to reflect on anti-immigrant feelings in America today. What are these feelings based on? How have various groups used anti-immigrant sentiment to promote other agendas?

Related Academic Subjects/Standards

This lesson fits the following academic standards as set by the Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) (http://www.mcrel.org/standards-benchmarks/)

United States History

Standard 17: Understands massive immigration after 1870 and how new social patterns, conflicts, and ideas of national unity developed amid growing cultural diversity.

  • Benchmark 1: Understands challenges immigrants faced in society in the late 19th century (e.g., experiences of new immigrants from 1870 to 1900, reasons for hostility toward the new immigrants, restrictive measures against immigrants, the tension between American ideals and reality).
  • Benchmark 4: Understands the challenges diverse people encountered in late 19th century American society (e.g., the role of new laws and the federal judiciary in instituting racial inequality; arguments and methods by which various minority groups sought to acquire equal rights and opportunities; experiences of African American families who migrated from the South to New York City in the 1890s).

Standard 20: Understands how Progressives and others addressed problems of industrial capitalism, urbanization, and political corruption.

  • Benchmark 1: Understands the origins and impact of the Progressive movement (e.g., social origins of Progressives and how these contributed to the success and failure of the movement; Progressive reforms pertaining to big business and workers’ and consumers’ rights; arguments of Progressive leaders).
  • Benchmark 3: Understands how the Progressive movement influenced different groups in American society (e.g., counter-Progressive programs of labor organizations compared to social democratic programs in industrial Europe, the response of mainstream Progressives to women’s issues, the changing perception of Native American assimilation under Progressivism, the founding of the NAACP, how African American women contributed to the movement, how the International Ladies Garment Workers Union provided alternatives, the success of the Progressive movement for groups outside the mainstream).

Standard 22: Understands how the United States changed between the post-World War I years and the eve of the Great Depression.

  • Benchmark 1: Understands the major social issues of 1920s America (e.g., the emergence of the “New Woman” and challenges to Victorian values, the purpose and goals of the “New Klan,” the causes and outcome of Prohibition, the ethnic composition of immigrants and fears these changes represented, the “Red Scare,” the Sacco and Vanzetti trial).

Civics:

Standard 11: Understands the role of diversity in American life and the importance of shared values, political beliefs, and civic beliefs in an increasingly diverse American society.

  • Benchmark 1: Knows how the racial, religious, socioeconomic, regional, ethnic, and linguistic diversity of American society has influenced American politics through time.
  • Benchmark 3: Knows examples of conflicts stemming from diversity, and understands how some conflicts have been managed and why some of them have not yet been successfully resolved.

Standard 13: Understands the character of American political and social conflict and factors that tend to prevent or lower its intensity

  • Benchmark 1: Understands issues that involve conflicts among fundamental values and principles, such as the conflict between liberty and authority.
  • Benchmark 2: Knows why people may agree on values or principles in the abstract but disagree when they are applied to specific issues such as the right to life and capital punishment.

Behavioral Studies:

Standard 2: Understands various meanings of social group, general implications of group membership, and different ways that groups function.

  • Benchmark 1: Understands that while a group may act, hold beliefs, and/or present itself as a cohesive whole, individual members may hold widely varying beliefs, so the behavior of a group may not be predictable from an understanding of each of its members.
  • Benchmark 2: Understands that social organizations may serve business, political, or social purposes beyond those for which they officially exist, including unstated ones such as excluding certain categories of people from activities.

Standard 4: Understands conflict, cooperation, and interdependence among individuals, groups, and institutions.

  • Benchmark 1: Understands that conflict between people or groups may arise from competition over ideas, resources, power, and/or status.
  • Benchmark 2: Understands that social change, or the prospect of it, promotes conflict because social, economic, and political changes usually benefit some groups more than others (which is also true of the status quo).
  • Benchmark 7: Understands that even when the majority of people in a society agree on a social decision, the minority who disagree must be protected from oppression, just as the majority may need protection against unfair retaliation from the minority.

About The Authors

Greg Timmons

Greg Timmons has been a social studies teacher for over 30 years. He has written lessons for several PBS productions including The NewsHour, FRONTLINE, and various Ken Burns’s productions including The War, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea Baseball, Prohibition and The Dust Bowl.” He resides in Montana and Washington state.

Handout: Differing Perspectives and Conflicting Viewpoints over Immigration and Alcohol

Directions: In this activity, student groups will discuss the issues presented in the video segments from the Prohibition series. These questions will help students explore some of the viewpoints and attitudes on immigration and alcohol held by various groups during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As students discuss the questions, they should take notes on the graphic organizer handout.

Segment 1: The Immigrant Invasion

Discuss the following:

  • German immigrants: How did German immigrants feel about coming to America? What were their traditions, particularly those involving alcohol? Why did German beer brewers form the United States Brewers’ Association? Explain. Why did German immigrants think it was legitimate to form this organization in the capitalist America at this time?
  • Native-born Americans: Describe the social and economic reasons many native-born Americans were resentful of immigrants. Describe the general suspicion held by many native-born Americans toward immigrants in general, and German immigrants specifically. What was the general assumption many native-born Americans had about immigrants’ traditions surrounding alcohol?
  • Temperance members: How do you think temperance members felt about the German Brewers’ Association, their saloons, and the wealth they gained by selling beer?

Segment 2: America becomes a multiethnic, urban nation

Discuss the following:

  • Immigrants and German immigrants: Describe how immigrants in general – and German American immigrants specifically – felt they were contributing to America’s development during the late 19th and early 20th centuries as they built their “American Dream.” How did immigrants react to those Americans who thought their traditions involving alcohol were bad?
  • Native-born Americans: How did many of the native-born Americans think immigrants were affecting their America? How did the native-born from the small towns view the cities, and how did they equate cities with immigrants and the problems of immigration?
  • Progressives: What were Progressives’ feelings about the working conditions in industry and the living conditions of immigrants toward the beginning of the 20th century? How did many Progressives feel about alcohol and immigrants? What did many Progressives want to do about these issues?
  • The Anti-Saloon League: How did members of the Anti-Saloon League feel about immigrants? How were they able to use the American public’s attitude toward immigrants to their advantage?

Segment 3: The Time Is Now

Discuss the following:

  • Wilson administration: Describe the political dilemma the Wilson administration found itself in regarding “wets” and “drys” in the Democratic Party. How did this make it difficult for Wilson to take an official stand for or against Prohibition? How were certain members of his cabinet able to take a stand on Wilson’s behalf, and what was the result? How did the Wilson administration’s anti-German propaganda affect the general public’s attitude toward Germans?
  • Anti-Saloon League: How was the Anti-Saloon League able to channel anti-German sentiment to its cause? How were they able to target the brewers’ association? Describe how Wayne Wheeler and the ASL used Congress to pass legislation to promote their efforts.

Handout: Discussion Graphic Organizer: Organizing Your Discussion

Interest Group Positive or Negative View on Alcohol (or Prohibition) Key Points and Positions
German Americans
Native-born Americans
Anti-Saloon League
Progressives
Wilson Administration

 

Handout: Proposed Legislation to Defend America

Directions: Review each of the legislative proposals below. Determine whether, according to your assigned role, you believe the proposal to be very supportive, somewhat supportive, somewhat not supportive, or not at all supportive of your position on the issue of Prohibition. Being “neutral” is not an option. In the space provided, write an argument supporting your position according to the role you are playing. Be prepared to defend your position.

Hobson-Sheppard Resolution — 1914 (National Prohibition)

Official title: Hobson-Sheppard Resolution

Sponsored by:

Senator Morris Sheppard (D-TX)

Representative Richmond Hobson (D-AL)

Description: The bill describes alcohol as a “narcotic poison” that threatens “the very life of the nation.” It calls for prohibiting the manufacture for sale, transportation for sale, importation and exportation for sale, as well as selling intoxicating liquor for consumption by the general public. However, Congress has the power to allow the manufacture, sale, importation, and transportation of intoxicating liquors for sacramental, medicinal, mechanical, pharmaceutical, or scientific purposes or for use in the arts.

Circle your group’s position on this proposed bill:

Very Supportive

Somewhat Supportive

(Neutral)

Somewhat Not Not Supportive

Supportive at All

Rationale:  

 

Food and Fuel Control Bill (1917)

Official Title: “An Act to Provide Further for the National Security and Defense by Encouraging the Production, Conserving the Supply, and Controlling the Distribution of Food Products and Fuel”

Sponsored by:

Representative Asbury F. Lever (D-SC)

Description: The government wants to concentrate domestic production toward the war effort. This includes food and fuel production. Among other provisions, the bill would give the president, acting as commander in chief, the authority to ban the production of any alcoholic beverages if the materials used in their production are also used in the production of food.

Obtaining barley and other grains used in the production of beer and distilled spirits would be illegal.

Circle your group’s position on this proposed bill:

Very Supportive

Somewhat Supportive

(Neutral)

Somewhat Not Not Supportive

Supportive at All

Rationale:  

 

Repeal of the German-American Alliance Charter (1918)

Title: Repeal of “An act to incorporate the National German-American Alliance”

Sponsored by:

Senator William H. King (D-UT)

Description: The bill seeks to repeal the act entitled “An act to incorporate the National German-American Alliance” of 1907. The National German-American Alliance has been accused of acting mischievously in the interests of Germany and against the interests of the United States before and during the war. It has tried to perpetuate Germanism as a separate nationality with a separate language in the United States.

Circle your group’s position on this proposed bill:

Very Supportive

Somewhat Supportive

(Neutral)

Somewhat Not Not Supportive

Supportive at All

Rationale:  

 

National Origins Act of 1924

Official Title: National Origins Act of 1924

Sponsored by:

Rep. Albert Johnson (R-WA) Senator David Reed (R-PA)

Description: This bill supersedes the 1921 Emergency Quota Act by limiting the number of immigrants who can be admitted from any country to 2 percent of the number of people from that country who are already living in the United States according to the 1890 census. The bill also prohibits immigration of East Asians and Asian Indians. The bill would reduce the number of German immigrants from more than 50,000 to as few as 30,000.

Circle your group’s position on this proposed bill:

Very Supportive

Somewhat Supportive

(Neutral)

Somewhat Not Not Supportive

Supportive at All

Rationale: