First Red Scare

First Red Scare

In American history, the First Red Scare took place in the period 1917–1920, and was marked by a widespread fear of anarchism, as well as the effects of radical political agitation in American society. Fueled by anarchist bombings and spurred on by Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, it was characterized by illegal search and seizures, unwarranted arrests and detainments, and deportation of hundreds of suspected communists and anarchists.

The First Red Scare began during World War I in which the United States fought during 1917-1918. The Bolshevik revolution in Russia and the ensuing Russian Civil War (1917–1923) inspired a widespread campaign of violence in the U.S. by various anti-government groups. It effectively ended when A. Mitchell Palmer said that there was going to be a massive communist uprising on May Day of 1920, but no such uprising came about. [Citation
last = Murray
first = Robert K.
author-link = Robert K. Murray
title = The Red Scare
publisher = University of Minnesota Press
year = 1955
location = Westport
isbn = 0313226733


The First Red Scare's origins lie in the subversive actions (both real and imagined) of foreign and leftist elements in the United States, especially militant followers of Luigi Galleani, and in the attempts of the U.S. government to quell protest and gain favorable public views of America's entering World War I. In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson established the Committee on Public Information to circulate and distribute anti-German and pro-Allied propaganda and other news. To add to the effectiveness of the Committee, the Bureau of Investigation (the early name for the Federal Bureau of Investigation until 1935) disrupted the work of German-American, union, and leftist organizations through the use of raids, arrests, agents provocateurs, and legal prosecution. Revolutionary and pacifist groups, such as the Socialist Party of America and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW; its members were known as "Wobblies"), strongly opposed the war. Many leaders of these groups, most notably Eugene V. Debs, were prosecuted for giving speeches urging resistance to the draft. Members of the Ghadar Party were also put on trial in the Hindu German Conspiracy Trial.

The effort was also helped by the United States Congress, with the passing of the Espionage Act in 1917 and its sister act the Sedition Act of 1918. The Espionage Act made it a crime to interfere with the operation or success of the military, and the Sedition Act forbade Americans to use "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language" about the United States government, flag, or armed forces of the United States during war. [Laws of the United States, "Espionage Act of 1917" (Act of June 15, 1917), ch. 30, title I, §3, 40 Stat. 219,amended by Act of May 16, 1918, ch. 75, 40 Stat. 553-54, reenacted by Act of Mar. 3, 1921, ch. 136, 41 Stat. 1359, (codified at 18 U.S.C. §2388); Laws of the United States, "Sedition Act of 1918", (1918 Amendments to §3 OF The Espionage Act of 1917), Act of May 16, 1918, ch. 75, 40 Stat. 553-54, (repealed by Act of Mar. 3, 1921, ch. 136, 41 Stat. 1359)]

U.S. postal inspectors refused to distribute materials they deemed as subversive to the war effort. Many foreign language and radical or anarchist publications were disrupted or closed as a consequence. One of the most notorious was Luigi Galleani's "Cronaca Sovversiva" (Subversive Chronicle), an Italian anarchist newsletter, which not only advocated the overthrow of the government, but also advertised a booklet innocuously titled "Health is in You!", actually an explicit bomb-making manual [Avrich, "Sacco and Vanzetti: The Anarchist Background"] . After the war officially ended, the government investigations abated for a few months but did not cease. They soon resumed in the context of Russian Revolution of 1917, the Russian Civil War, and the Red Terror. To some Americans, this was a time of uncertainty and fear over the prospects of an anarchist, socialist or communist revolution in the United States.

Anarchist actions


After years of inefficient responses to violent acts by various anarchist and radical labor groups, the Federal government was finally moved to action by a series of bombings in June 1919 (later traced to militant followers of anarchist Luigi Galleani). The wide list of prominent official targets selected by the "Galleanists" sparked the Federal government's Bureau of Investigation (BOI) to investigate the crimes. The mayor of Seattle received a homemade bomb in the mail on April 28, which was defused. Senator Thomas W. Hardwick received a bomb the next day, which blew off the hands of his servant who had opened it, while severely burning his wife. The following morning, a New York City postal worker discovered sixteen similar packages, each holding enough nitroglycerin-soaked dynamite to kill a man, addressed to well-known people of the time, including oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller. There were nearly forty bombs in all, each equipped with a detonator set to explode when the package was untied. The bombs were mailed to prominent politicians, judges, businessmen, and a lowly BOI agent who happened to be assigned to tracking down "Galleanist" fugitives [ Tindall, George Brown and David Emory Shi. "America: A Narrative History. Seventh Edition"; page 783] .

On June 2, a new series of much more powerful dynamite bombs, each weighing twenty pounds or more and packed with metal shrapnel, were left at the homes of prominent politicians, judges, and law enforcement officials, and even a church. A bomb partially destroyed the front of Attorney-General Alexander Mitchell Palmer's house. The bomber, Carlo Valdinoci, a "Galleanist" militant, blew himself up when the bomb prematurely exploded. Palmer had already been the target of an earlier "Galleanist" mail bomb. On June 3, 1919, New York City night watchman William Boehner was killed by a bomb which had been placed at a judge's house. [ [] ]

More violence followed the indictment of Sacco and Vanzetti, two members of the Galleanist group charged with killing two men in a payroll robbery. The Wall Street bombing on September 16, 1920, was the first response: 100 pounds (45 kg) of dynamite with 500 pounds (230 kg) of cast iron sash weights as shrapnel exploded in front of the offices of the J. P. Morgan Company, killing 38 people and injuring 400 others. Anarchists had long been suspected as initiating the attack, which followed numerous letter bombs that had targeted Morgan. The identity of the bomber was undetermined at the time, but he has since been determined to be Mario Buda, chief bombmaker for the "Galleanists". [Avrich, "Sacco and Vanzetti: The Anarchist Background"] U.S. government and businessses abroad were also attacked. In 1921, a grenade mailed to the American ambassador in Paris exploded, wounding his valet.


In response to the bombings, the press, public, and prominent men of business and politics flared up in a surge of patriotism, often involving violent hatred of communists, radicals, and foreigners. U.S. Senator Kenneth McKellar proposed sending radicals to a penal colony in Guam Fact|date=February 2007; U.S. Army General Leonard Wood approved a call to put them on "ships of stone with sails of lead"; evangelist Billy Sunday clamored to "stand [radicals] up before a firing squad and save space on our ships". [Leuchtenburg, "The Perils of Prosperity, 1914-32", 66.] In Centralia, Washington, a Wobblie, Wesley Everest, was dragged from a town jail and lynched.

The largest government actions of the Red Scare were the Palmer Raids against anarchist, socialist, and communist groups. Left-wing activists, such as five-time Socialist presidential nominee Eugene V. Debs, were jailed by government officials using the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918. Section Four of the Sedition Act empowered the Postmaster General, (at the time, Albert S. Burleson) to slow or confiscate all Socialist material in the mail, a task that he took on readily.

The radical anarchist Luigi Galleani, and eight of his adherents were deported in June 1919, three weeks after the June 2 wave of bombings. Although authorities did not have enough evidence to arrest Galleani for the bombings, they could deport him because he was a resident alien who had overtly encouraged the violent overthrow of the government; was a known associate of Carlo Valdonoci; and had authored an explicit how-to bomb-making manual, covertly titled "La Salute é in Voi" (The Health is Within You), used by other "Galleanists" to construct some of their large package bombs [Avrich, "Sacco and Vanzetti: The Anarchist Background"] .

After their conviction in a trial seen by many liberal and radical groups as unfair, Sacco and Vanzetti were both executed for murder. Prior to their death, both men called for retaliation against the government and the trial judge; a wreath left at the funeral parlor where their caskets were exhibited bore the ominous message "Aspetando l'ora di vendetta" (Awaiting the hour of vengeance). [Avrich, "Sacco and Vanzetti: The Anarchist Background"]

Reaction to the Sacco and Vanzetti execution by other Galleanists and anarchist groups around the world was violent. Several U.S. government buildings and businesses around the world were bombed. The Argentine anarchist Severino Di Giovanni and members of his cell initiated a series of violent attacks in retaliation for the executions, bombing the U.S. embassy in Buenos Aires, destroying the front of the building, as well as the Citibank offices and the Bank of Boston, killing two persons and injuring 23. Giovanni's group would later attempt to assassinate President Herbert Hoover when he visited Argentina in 1928.

For their part, the "Galleanists" continued their bombing campaign, despite the Palmer raids, which lasted until 1932, culminating in an attempt to assassinate their trial judge Webster Thayer by bombing his home. [Avrich, "Sacco and Vanzetti: The Anarchist Background"]

Labor unions, strikes, and marches

The first major strike at the end of the war was the Seattle shipyard strike in 1919. On January 21, 35,000 shipyard workers in Seattle went on strike. A general strike resulted when 60,000 workers in the Seattle area went on strike on February 6. Despite the absence of any violence or arrests, the strikers were immediately labeled as "communists," and charges that they were trying to incite revolution were leveled against them. Hysteria struck the city as department stores, grocery stores, and pharmacies were flooded by frightened customers trying to ensure that they would be able to survive a prolonged strike. National newspapers told of the threat of Seattle falling to the "Reds" Fact|date=February 2007. Mayor Ole Hanson, a longtime opponent of the Wobblies, publicly announced that fifteen hundred policemen and as many National Guard troops were ready to be dispatched at his orders to break up the strike. On February 10, realizing that resistance would only hurt the movement, labor leaders ordered the strike to stop. Mayor Hansen took credit for the termination of the strike, proclaimed a victory for Americanism, quit his job, and became a national expert and lecturer on anti-communism.

On May 1, 1919, a May Day parade in Cleveland, Ohio, protesting the imprisonment of Eugene Debs erupted into the violent May Day Riots of 1919. Charles Ruthenberg, a prominent Socialist leader who organized the march, was arrested for "assault with intent to kill" Fact|date=February 2007.

Other labor actions, such as the Boston Police Strike, the Steel strike of 1919, and the organizing efforts of the Industrial Workers of the World, seemed to demonstrate the rise of radical labor unions. Furthermore, many of the organizations that supported the unions were associated with socialism or communism and had already been persecuted for opposing World War I.

ee also

* Molly Steimer
* Red Scare
* Immigration Act of 1924
* Red Summer of 1919
* 1919 United States anarchist bombings
* Second Red Scare a.k.a. McCarthyism (late 1940s until late 1950s)



* Avrich, Paul, "Sacco and Vanzetti: The Anarchist Background", Princeton University Press, 1991
* Leuchtenburg, William E., "The Perils of Prosperity, 1914-32", Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958
* Manning, Lona, "9/16/20: Terrorists Bomb Wall Street", Crime Magazine, January 15, 2006
* Stanley Coben, "A. Mitchell Palmer: Politician" (New York: Da Capo Press, 1972), 203-04; quoted in the [ Moynihan Secrecy in Government Commission Report, The Encounter with Communism]

Further reading

* [ "Chicagoans Cheer Tar Who Shot Man: Sailor Wounds Pageant Spectator Disrespectful to Flag"] . Universal Service. Washington Post. May 7, 1919, p. 2. Accessed May 2 2007
* [ "Fear of Dissent"] . By "L. S. G.". The Nation. April 17 1920. Retrieved April 13, 2005.
* Benchley, Robert. [ "The Making of a Red"] . The Nation. March 15, 1919. Retrieved April 13, 2005.
* Nelles, Walter. [ "Seeing Red: Civil Liberty and the Law in the Period Following the War"] . PDF file. Published as a pamphlet by the American Civil Liberties Union (New York), Aug. 1920. Retrieved December 29, 2005.
* Palmer, A. Mitchell. [ "America or Anarchy? An Appeal to Red-Blooded Americans to Strike an Effective Blow for the Protection of the Country We Love from the Red Menace Which Shows Its Ugly Head on Every Hand". PDF file] . Report of Attorney-General Palmer to the United States Senate, published as a pamphlet by Martin L. Davey, Member of Congress from the 14th District of Ohio. Archived on the [ Early American Marxism] section of the [ Marxist Internet Archive] . Retrieved April 13, 2005.
* Palmer, A. Mitchell. [ "The Case Against the Reds"] . Part III Peacemaking, 1919-1920, Radicalism and the Red Scare, World War I At Home: Readings on American Life, 1914-1920. John Wiley and Sons, Inc.: New York, pp. 185-189. Retrieved April 13, 2005.
* [ "The Michigan Raid." PDF file] . Published in The Worker [New York] , v. 5, whole no. 241 (Sept. 23, 1922), pp. 1, 4. [ Marxists Internet Archive] . Retrieved May 31, 2005.
* [ "Exposes the Third Degree: Lambkin Tells of Brutalities Following Arrest in Michigan Raid" PDF file] . Published in The Worker [New York] , v. 5, whole no. 245 (Oct. 21, 1922), pg. 1. [ Marxists Internet Archive] . Retrieved May 31, 2005.
* Ruthenberg, C.E [ An Open Challenge "PDF document"] . "The Liberator" , v. 6, no. 3, whole no. 59 (March 1923), pg. 16. Early Worker's Party history of the Red Scare. Retrieved April 11, 2005.

External links

* [ Famous Trials: Sacco and Vanzetti]
* [ Red Scare (1918-1921) Image Database]

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