restricted access 8. The Election of 1922, the Ku Klux Klan, and Governor Walter Pierce, 1921-27
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145 Chapter 8 The Election of 1922, the Ku Klux Klan, and Governor Walter Pierce, 1921-27 The 1920s was Oregon’s Republican decade. In ten years, Democrats won major offices only twice: Governor Walter Pierce and U.S. Rep. Elton Watkins in the 3rd District in 1922. Republicans won every other major federal and state elected office in the 1920s, keeping firm control of the legislature. Over the decade (with 28% of voters registered as Democrats) Democratic presidential candidates didn’t carry a single county. No Oregon governor’s race has sparked as much controversy as the 1922 campaign. Democrat Walter Pierce scored a record 34,000-vote victory over Gov. Ben Olcott. Pierce’s acceptance of the endorsement and support of Oregon’s rejuvenated Ku Klux Klan is what made the contest so controversial. The Klan in Oregon The Ku Klux Klan was the single most powerful force in Oregon politics from 1922 to 1924. The Klan dominated and set much of the 1923 legislative agenda and a majority of lawmakers were either Klansmen or sympathizers. Oregonians are often amazed that an organization like the Ku Klux Klan, historically associated with racial violence and with fomenting religious and racial hatred, could have taken hold in Oregon. In three years the Oregon Klan grew so quickly that it easily controlled many local school boards, some city and county governments, and the Republican Party of Oregon. The Klan also enjoyed a following among many Protestant church congregations. Most politicians either joined the Klan or sought its support and only a handful had the courage to criticize the Klan. How did the Klan, in such a short time, become so influential in Oregon? The chief explanation rests with the prevailing economic, social, and political order of the post-Great War world. The Great War lasted for 51 months in Europe and wrought profound changes. Russia, originally an Allied Power along with Great Britain and France, 146 chapter 8 withdrew from the fighting in November 1917. The country was in convulsions as the Bolshevik Revolution spread throughout the land. Russia plunged into a five-year civil war. When the fighting stopped, Vladimir Lenin’s Communist forces were in control of the government and most of the country. Preoccupied with their part in the Great War from 1917 to 1918, Americans paid little attention to Russia. But when the war ended, Americans took more interest in Russia’s internal strife. After all, a revolution was underway in the world’s largest country with a whole new political, economic, and social order evolving . Lenin’s Russia was anti-capitalist, anti-Western, and anti-democratic. The United States perceived Marxist Russia as a threat to democratic, freedom-loving peoples everywhere. The U.S. government refused to allow Americans to trade with Russia; nor would it grant diplomatic recognition to the new government in Moscow. American policy isolated Russia, treating it as an outcast nation. As the Bolsheviks tightened their hold on Russia, American opinion makers became concerned that Marxists were preparing to infiltrate the United States. Many Americans thought that Lenin’s goal was to promote class warfare in the United States, too. Americans equated organized labor agitation in this country with the Russian plan to spread Communism everywhere. By 1919, many Americans were in an anti-Bolshevik frenzy. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer’s infamous Red Raids of 1919-20 were part of this festering hysteria. When labor strikes and bombings occurred in various corners of the United States, many believed Russian Communists were responsible. At home, the war had produced its own social tensions. When the country threw itself into war production in 1917, its factories and mines needed large numbers of new workers. In large northern cities like Chicago, Detroit, and New York, the demand for labor drew hundreds of thousands of rural folk northward. During 1917-19 huge numbers of southern Negroes flocked to these urban centers, seeking the higher wages and job opportunities these cities afforded. With the influx of so many Negroes, social tensions grew. The growth of cities and suburbs came at the expense of small towns and rural life. Old roots were being ripped out of familiar ground as people moved away, severing ties with family, friends, and community. These city-bound people experienced a kind of loneliness and isolation they had never known. Where was America headed? Why were traditional roles and values under such strain? For many there was a deep anxiety that something was...


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