The second Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1915 by William J. Simmons, an ex-minister and promoter of fraternal orders; its first meeting was held on Stone Mt., Ga. The new Klan had a wider program than its forerunner, for it added to "white supremacy" an intense nativism and anti-Catholicism (it was also anti-Semitic) closely related to that of the Know-Nothing movement of the middle 19th cent. Consequently its appeal was not sectional, and, aided after 1920 by the activities of professional promoters Elizabeth Tyler and Edward Y. Clarke, it spread rapidly throughout the North as well as the South. It furnished an outlet for the militant patriotism aroused by World War I, and it stressed fundamentalism in religion.
Professing itself nonpolitical, the Klan nevertheless controlled politics in many communities and in 1922, 1924, and 1926 elected many state officials and a number of Congressmen. Texas, Oklahoma, Indiana, Oregon, and Maine were particularly under its influence. Its power in the Midwest was broken during the late 1920s when David C. Stephenson, a major Klan leader there, was convicted of second-degree murder, and evidence of corruption came out that led to the indictment of the governor of Indiana and the mayor of Indianapolis, both supporters of the Klan. The Klan frequently took extralegal measures, especially against those whom it considered its enemies. As was the case with the earlier Klan, some of these measures, whether authorized by the central organization or not, were extreme.
At its peak in the mid-1920s its membership was estimated at 4 million to 5 million. Although the actual figures were probably much smaller, the Klan nevertheless declined with amazing rapidity to an estimated 30,000 by 1930. The Klan spirit, however, was a factor in breaking the Democratic hold on the South in 1928, when Alfred E. Smith, a Roman Catholic, was that party's presidential candidate. Its collapse thereafter was largely due to state laws that forbade masks and eliminated the secret element, to the bad publicity the organization received through its thugs and swindlers, and apparently from the declining interest of the members. With the depression of the 1930s, dues-paying membership of the Klan shrank to almost nothing. Meanwhile, many of its leaders had done extremely well financially from the dues and the sale of Klan paraphernalia.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.