Palmer Raids

From Academic Kids

The Palmer Raids were a number of attacks on Radicals in the United States from 1918 to 1921.

The raids are named after Alexander Mitchell Palmer, United States Attorney General under Woodrow Wilson. Palmer stated his belief that Communism was "eating its way into the homes of the American workman," and that Socialists were responsible for most of the country's social problems.

The crackdown on dissent had actually begun during World War I, but accelerated significantly after the end of the war. The Russian Revolution of 1917 was a background factor. Congress in 1919 refused to seat Socialist representative from Wisconsin, Victor L. Berger, because of his views concerning the war. With strong support from Congress and the public, in 1919 Palmer clamped down on political dissent.

On June 2, 1919 a number of bombs were detonated in eight American cities, including one in Washington that damaged the home of Palmer and another one reportedly detonating near Franklin Roosevelt. Following this, Palmer and his 24-year-old assistant J. Edgar Hoover orchestrated a series of well publicized raids against apparent radicals and leftists under the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918. Victor Berger was sentenced to 20 years in prison on the charge of sedition. (The Supreme Court of the United States later threw out that conviction.) J. Edgar Hoover was put in charge of a new division of the Justice Department's Bureau of Investigation, the General Intelligence Division. By October 1919, Hoover's department had collected 150,000 names in a rapidly expanding database.

Once Palmer and Hoover had a database 'gameplan,' starting on November 7, 1919, Palmer's men smashed labor union offices and the headquarters of Communist and Socialist organizations without search warrants, concentrating on foreigners. In December 1919, Palmer's agents gathered 249 of the arrestees, including well-known radical leaders such as Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, and placed them on a ship bound for the Soviet Union (The Buford, called the Soviet Ark by the press). In January, 1920, another 6,000 were arrested, mostly members of the Industrial Workers of the World union. During one of the raids, more than 4,000 radicals were rounded up in a single night. All foreign aliens caught were deported. All in all, by January 1920, Palmer and Hoover organized the largest mass arrests in U.S. history, rounding up at least 10,000 Americans.

The public reaction to these raids was favorable, stirring up a storm of anti-communist sentiment. A group of young men in Centralia, Washington hanged a radical from a railway bridge. The coroner's report stated that the communist "jumped off with a rope around his neck and then shot himself full of holes." For most of 1919, the public seemed to side with Palmer.

Palmer announced that a Communist revolution was to take place on May 1 (May Day). Following initial panic, the non-appearance of the revolution led to criticism of Palmer over his disregard for civil rights and accusations that the entire Red Scare was designed to secure him the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party. Many of the deported radicals became loyal citizens of the USSR until Stalin had most of them shot in the 1930s as potential traitors.

See also

Further Reading

  • Hill, Robert A. Compiler and Editor, The FBI's RACON: Racial Conditions in the United States during World War I. Ithaca, N. Y.: Northeastern University Press (May 1, 1995). ISBN 1555532276.
  • Kornweibel, Theodore, Jr. "Investigate Everything": Federal Efforts to Compel Black Loyalty During World War I. 416 pages. Indiana University Press (May 1, 2002). ISBN 0253340098.
  • Kornweibel, Theodore, Jr. Seeing Red: Federal Campaigns Against Black Militancy, 1919-1925 Blacks in the Diaspora Series. 248 pages. Indiana University Press (December 1, 1999). ISBN 0253213541.
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