Palmer Raids (1919-20)

Palmer raids
Figure 1.--The photograph here of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer with a young admirer was apparently taken before an Anarchisdt bomber blew off the froint porch of his house. Palmer had been fairly constrained in his dealing with radicals unil this attack. He ordered a major crack-down known to history as the Palmer Raids. Popular at the onset, the public soon became disenchanted. He had been considered as a contender for the 1920 Democratic nomination, but public disenchatment with the raids tarnished his reputation.

The Labor movement gradually gained strength in the late-19th century. Government action and court rulings generally sided with the corporations and against the unions. Large numbers of Europeans immigrated to the United States in the late-19th and early-20th century. This included individuals who were willing to take violent action to resolve the inequities in American life. Movemets including Anarchists and Communists were influential in the labor movement. Not all those willing to use violence were immigrants, but they certanly were a major proportion. Violent groups staged attacks, usually bombings, that scared many Americans. After World War I, fear of the Soviet Union added to the concern. The U.S. Department of Justice took action against suspected subversives. The most notable were the Palmer Raids (1919-20).

Immigration

Large numbers of Europeans immigrated to the United States in the late-19th and early-20th century. No assessment of America would be complete without considering the immigrants that played such an important role in the American saga. All American except for Native Americans have immigrated from other countries. Most of the early immigrants came from the British Isles. Immigrants followed from every European country. Immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Italy, Svandinavia, and Africa played key roles. Blacks brought from Africa as slaves also played an important role. Immigration was primarily from Western Europe. This was initially because of cultural and commercial ties to Europe, but later American immigration laws restricted immigration to Europeans. Even so, important immigration also occurred from China and Japan and in more recent years from Mexico and other Latin American countries. The Federal Government changed immigration laws in the 1960s to proviode a more open immigration mix.

Labor Movement

The Labor movement gradually gained strength in the late-19th century. Government action anfd court rulings generally sided with the corporations and against the unions. The American labor movement traces its history to the post-Civil War Era. America was a still largely agricultural country in the mid 19th century, but considerable industrial development had occurred in the Northeast and this was significantly stimulated by the Civil War (1861-65). The first American labor union was the the National Labor Union (NLU) founded in 1866. The most powerful early union was the Knights of Labor. It achieved considerable power, but was destoyed in the aftermath of the Haymarket Riot (1886). Industrialists backed by the courts and the goverment showed n ability to break unions. Ths occured in both the Homstead and Pullman strikes diring 1892. Public opinion seemed to assciate the industrial unions with more radical groups like Anarchists and the IWW. Gradually after World War I, labor unions in most Western European countries and America won collective bargaining rights. In America this was one of the achievements of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. The Depression put workers at great disadvantge because there were so many unemployed seeking jobs. One of the pillars of the New Deal was the The National Labor Relations Act (1935).

Violent Groups

Among the immigrants were inviduals who willing to take violent action to resolve the inequities in American life. The European labor movement had been radicvalized to aeater etent than imn America. Emigration brought somw of those radicalized workers to America. This included Anarchists and Communists who became influential in the American labor movement . Not all those willing to use violence were immigrants, but they certanly were a major proportion.

World War I (1914-18)

The United States remained neutral when war broke out in Europe. The United States attempted to mediate without success. Presiden Wilson when Germany resumed unrestricted submarimne warfare asked Congress for a declaration of war (April 1917). Congress quickly authorized the draft (conscription) to build an army needed for the War. Two months later, Congress passed the Espionage Act (June 1917). The law criminalized actions found to be interference in foreign policy and espionage. Modern observers would define many of the sactioins today as dissent, such as the publication of material critical of the Government. The Act authorized fines and prison terms of up to 20 years for obstructed the military draft or encouraging "disloyalty". Opposition to the War centered on Socialist and Anarchist groups. Except for the Civil war, America had never instituted conscription. Many Europeans emigrated to America to escape the conscription that was common in Europe. Noted Anarchist, Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, spoke out against the draft. The Government raided Goldman's offices at Mother Earth. They seized files and subscription lists. They also raided Berkman's journal The Blast. Congress also passed several laws aimed at immigration, anti-anarchist, and sedition. These incuded the Sedition Act of 1918 and the Anarchist Exclusion Act. These laws sought to criminalize speech--the advocacy of the violent overthrow of the government or desertion from the armed forces, resistance to the draft, or membership in anarchist or revolutionary organizations. Violaters could be deported. In addition, German Americans came under wide-spread attack and the Government did little to protect them.

Red Scare

The concern over subversives that developed during World War I continued after the end of the War. The focus changed, however, from Germans to Reds. A factor here was the Russian Revolution and the seizure of of power by the Bolsheviks. Lenin and the Bolsheviks began to seize control of foreign Communist parties. They were frankly surprised that the Revolution had succeeded in backward Russia rather than an industrialized country as Marxist docrine predicted. The primary concern in America was Communists and Anarchists, but Socialiists also came under suspcion. The terror bombings scared many Americans. After World War I, fear of the Soviet Union was not irrational. The Bolsheviks began to support these parties and they staged uprisings in Berlin, Budapest, and Bavaria. The Red Scare was the reaction in America. There were about 70,000 professed Communists in America. Palmer saw them and the Anarchists as responsible for a range of social ills, especially the bombings. Congress was also affected. They refused to seat a Socialist candidate elected from Wisconsin--Victor Berger. The term "Red Scare" is a loaded one. It suggests an irrational response to a danger that did not exist. It has become popular because historians with a generally liberal outlooks and the benefit of history have come to see the reaction as irrational. Without attempting to justify policies taken and the clearly illegal actions taken, concern over radicalism was not altogrther unjustified or irrational. The question of what policy options were apprpriate is a very different one.

A. Mitchell Palmer (1872-1936)

Alexander Mitchell Palmer was born (1872). He attended Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. He pursued law and was admitted to the bar (1893). He entered politics as a Democrat. He was affilisted with the progressive wing of the Democratiuc Party, supporting women's suffrage and trade unions. He served in Congress (1909-15). He was a striong supporter of Govenor Wilson in his 1912 presidential campaign. Wilson appointed Palmer as attorney general (1919). He was shocked by the Russian Revolution. He concluded that Communist operatives were active in the United States and plotting the overthrow the government. He was convinced that Communism was "eating its way into the homes of the American workman." Palmer published an article, "The Case Against the Reds". He charged that "tongues of revolutionary heat were licking the alters of the churches, leaping into the belfry of the school bell, crawling into the sacred corners of American homes, seeking to replace marriage vows with libertine laws, burning up the foundations of society." Palmer concluded that intensified Goverment actions were needed against subversive groups. His view were only strengthened with the the discovery of 38 bombs sent to prominsnt politicians and the Italian Anarchist who blasted off the porch on Palmer's Washington home. Palmer recruited John Edgar Hoover as a special assistant and used the Espionage Act (1917) and the Sedition Act (1918) to launch a campaign to neutalize radicals and left-wing organizations.

Social Turmoil

The German request for an armoisdtice eded World War I (November 1918). The following year proved to be one of the most turbulent in American history. GIs returned from France looking foir jobs. There was a wave of strikes. Many immigrants joined labor unions. American business had to adjust to the end of the War. An unprecedented number of strikes occurred in 1919, about 3,000. Americans had widely different attitudes toward unions. While enbraced by immigrant families, other many Americans had more varied attitudes. Some saw them as working to improve working conditions and wages. Others saw hem as little different than Ansarchists and Communists. Two Amendments were approved, Prohibition and Woman Suffrage. Southern blacks had begun the Great Migration. The dredful Chicago race riot erupted. The Fu Epidemic killed millions world wide. And added to sall this were terror bombings.

Terror Attacks

Violent groups staged attacks, usually bombings. A series of bombings began (Summer 1919). The most devestating was bombs which were exploded in eight cities (June 2). This included Washington D.C. Palmer was prepare for bed when a bomb rocked his house (June 1919). The police found a dead man on the devestated front porch. Apparently the bomb had detonated prematurly, killing the bomber. He had an Anarchist phamplet. Palmer's home was partially destroyed. Assistant Secretary of the Naby Fraklin Roosevelt lived across the street and Franklin and Elenor who were walking down the street were almost killed. The persons respnsible for many of these attacks were never identified. There is substatial reason to believe, as in the case of the man who bombed Palmer's house, that Anarchists were at least in part respondsible..

Popular Support

The bombings created substantial support for Goverment actioin against suversive groups.

Raids (1919-20)

He concluded that Communist operatives were active in the United States and plotting the overthrow the government. His view were only strengthened with the the discovery of 38 bombs sent to prominsnt politicians and the Italian Anarchist who blasted off the porch on Palmer's Washington home. Palmer recruited John Edgar Hoover as a special assistant and used the Espionage Act (1917) and the Sedition Act (1918) to launch a campaign to neutalize radicals and left-wing organizations. The Department of Justice took action against suspected subversives. The Palmer Raids were launched against radicals in 18 citiies (November 7). This was second anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. Justice Department agents acted without securing court warrants. The agents smashed union offices and the headquarters' of Communist and Socialist organizations. They focused on aliens rather than citizens, because they had fewer Constitutionak rights. Over 10,000 people were arrested. DOJ agents arrested 10,000 suspected communists and anarchists. Palmer and Hoover found no evidence of a planned revolution. Large number of these suspects were held without trial for am extended period. Most were eventually released. Another series of raids were staged resulting in 6,000 more arrests (January 1920). They were also held without trial. Mamy were members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). When Palmer announced that the communist revolution was likely to take place on 1st May, mass panic took place. In New York, five elected Socialists were expelled from the legislature.

Deportations

The best publicized raid was one that seized 249 resident aliens (December 1919). They were placed on board the Buford bound for the Soviet Union. Those deported included Emma Goldman, the noted feminist anarchist who published Mother Earth. She met with Lenin. As critical as she was of America, she was horified with how the Bolsherviks dealt with fellow Anarchists. She fled the Sioviet Union and spent the rest of her life attempting to get back to the United states.

May Revolution

Palmer announced that the Communist revolution was likely to take place on May Day (May 1). He made this claim without ant substantial evidence. May 1 was becoming in Europe a kind of international lsabor day, promoted by Socialists sand Communists. Tis created a sensation and panic in some big cities. New York expelled five elected Socialists from the legislature. When the May Revolution failed to occur, Palmer's reputation was badly damaged. And public attitudes towards Palmer began to change. The public reaction had been muted if not supportive. He began to be criticised for disregarding people's civil liberties.

The Ku Klux Klan

The Ku Klux Klan was a violent terror group organized in the South to supress liberated blacks after the Civil War. It was lsargelky suppresed by the Federal Governmen. There was a Klan revival after world War I. Black soldiers returning from France had new ideas about race relatiions ad equality. The Grerat Migration was bringoing blacks north. This was the beginning of the shift in black Americans from a rural souther populsation to an urban nprthern population. This caused conflicts with whites, espoecially immigrant whites competing for jobs. A vicious rsace riot occurred in Chicago (1919). Many flocked to the Klan. Indiana rather than Misssisspi became a strong point for the Klan. The focus was on blacks, but Catholics and Jews were also targets of Klan night riders.

Election of 1920

Palmer began to attract support for the 1920 Democratic nomimation for president. He was one of the leading candidates. When the May Revolution failed to materialize, the charge surfaced thsat he had concocted a Red Scare to help win the Democratic nomination. He lost the nomination to newspaper publisher and Governor James M. Cox. He supported Al Smith (1928) and Franklin D. Roosevelt (1932) in their campaigns, he was never again an important voice in the Democratic Party which had a striong immigrant constituency.

Impact

The impact of the Palmer raids is difficult to assess in terms of dealing with subversives and a radicals. It is true that some of the strongest voices supporting violence were removed from the country. Most Americans came to see the raids as excessive. There was criticism from within the Wilson Administration, especially arrests without court warrants. President Wilson himself was incapacitated. Radicalism declined during the 1920s. Most historians credit this to the economic boom of the 1920s.






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Created: 2:29 AM 8/3/2009
Last updated: 5:12 PM 8/4/2009