History Podcasts

The Palmer Raids - History

The Palmer Raids - History

After the Russian Revolution, a red scare developed in the United States. Government officials led by Attorney General Palmer were convinced that radical communist was going to try to overthrow the government. In reaction, Palmer led raids between November 1919 and January 1920 arresting people with suspected radical ties. As a result of the raid 500, foreign citizens were deported. Others were arrested, but the courts did not support the arrests.



As a result of the Russian Revolution of 1917, some members of the US government became fearful that radicals in the United States would try to overthrow the US government. Among those most concerned was Attorney General Palmer. Palmer was convicted that radial Italian and Eastern European Jewish immigrants were communist supporters and were ready and willing to lead a revolution.

The concern was not without some basis in late April 1919 bobs were mailed to prominent businessman and politicians. The following people were targeted:

Theodore G. Bilbo, Governor of Mississippi
Frederick Bullmers, editor, Jackson, Mississippi Daily News
Albert S. Burleson, Postmaster General of the United States
John L. Burnett, U.S. Representative, Alabama
Anthony Caminetti, Commissioner General of Immigration
Edward A. Cunha, Assistant District Attorney, San Francisco
Richard Edward Enright, Police Commissioner, New York City
T. Larry Eyre, Pennsylvania state senator
Charles M. Fickert, District Attorney, San Francisco
Rayme Weston Finch, field agent, Bureau of Investigation
Ole Hanson, Mayor of Seattle, Washington
Thomas W. Hardwick, former U.S. Senator, Georgia
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr, United States Supreme Court justice
Frederic C. Howe, Port of New York Commissioner of Immigration
John F. Hylan, mayor, New York City
Albert Johnson, U.S. Representative, Washington
William H. King, U.S. Senator, Utah
William H. Lamar, Solicitor of the Post Office
Kenesaw Mountain Landis, U.S. District Judge, Chicago
J. P. Morgan, Jr., businessman
Frank Knowlton Nebeker, Special Assistant to the Attorney General
Lee S. Overman, U.S. Senator, North Carolina
A. Mitchell Palmer, Attorney General of the United States
John D. Rockefeller, businessman
William I. Schaffer, Attorney General, Pennsylvania
Walter Scott, mayor, Jackson, Mississippi
Reed Smoot, U.S. Senator, Utah
William C. Sproul, Governor of Pennsylvania
William B. Wilson, United States Secretary of Labor
William Madison Wood, president, American Woolen Company

The only bomb to reach its target was sent to George Senator Thomas Hardwick. It blew off the hands of his housekeeper and wounded his wife. The others were intercepted before they reached their intended targets.

In June 1919 another set of bombs was aimed at eight targets in eight cities. One of the targets was the home of Attorney General Palmer. While none of the bombs killed any of their target Palmer’s home was destroyed mainly and his across the street neighbor Franklin Roosevelt was almost killed. Left behind at each of the bombings was a radical pamphlet.

As a result of these attacks Palmer went to Congress and asked for a $500,000 increase in his budget so he could pursue the radicals, the Congress gave him $100,000. His first raid was against an anarchist group in Buffalo. However, when the case came before a judge, it was tossed out. The judge said the group was planning to transform the government through speech, and speech was protected.

Palmer decided he needed to concentrate on immigrants, immigrants whom he could have deported without a complicated judicial review. On November 7, 1919, agents of the Bureau of Investigation (forerunner of the FBI) conducted raids in 12 cities aimed at the Union of Russian Workers. In New York alone they arrested 650 people of whom 43 were deported.

In January 1920 another set of raids took place. The raids began on January 2, 1920, and continued for six weeks. The raids took place in 30 cities, and a total of 3,000 people were arrested.

In total 10,000 people were arrested, 3,000 held and 556 resident aliens were deported. However, civil liberties advocates began to criticize the actions, and Acting Secretary of Labor Louis Freeland Post started to oppose the raids. Massachusetts District Court Judge George Anderson threw out the charges on many of the those arrested writing: "a mob is a mob, whether made up of Government officials acting under instructions from the Department of Justice or of criminals and loafers and the vicious classes." This effectively ended the raids.


White Haven, Pennsylvania, U.S. Washington, D.C., U.S. Alexander Mitchell Palmer (May 4, 1872 – May 11, 1936), was United States Attorney General from 1919 to 1921. He is best known for overseeing the Palmer Raids during the Red Scare of 1919–20.

In the Middle Ages, a palmer (Latin: palmarius or palmerius) was a Christian pilgrim, normally from Western Europe, who had visited the holy places in Palestine and who, as a token of his visits to the Holy Land, brought back a palm leaf or a palm leaf folded into a cross.


The Palmer Raids

Palmer Raid arrestees awaiting investigation and deportation at Ellis Island on January 3, 1920. Corbis Images for Education database.

On January 2, 1920, the US federal government conducted the largest set of political attacks in its history. “The Palmer Raids,” were illegal and anti-constitutional, which does not negate the damage they did to free speech, freedom of the press, or political engagement. Directed by the Justice Department, in tandem with the Labor Department (which was responsible for alien deportations), they are named for Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, who ordered them. Later in 1920, Palmer would make a serious run as candidate for the Democratic nomination as President.

Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer golfing, March 1920. Library of Congress.

But, the January 2 campaign’s primary architect was the 25-year-old Justice Department rising star deputy J. Edgar Hoover. Having spent the previous weeks building up enemy lists, Hoover (more about him in future posts) targeted people and places connected to the Communist Party USA, the Communist Labor Party, or just communist ideology—especially non-citizen residents. The raids happened in 35 US cities, but may have hit New York City hardest of all.

Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, April 1920. Library of Congress.

Hoover ordered the raid to start at 9:00 p.m., but In New York, they began at 8:30 p.m., when Special Agent Frank Francisco and his team arrived at the offices of Novy Mir, the Russian-language Communist newspaper. In the ensuing hour, they raided twelve additional sites, including Communist Party headquarters at 183 Henry Street and 255 Grand Street,* and the Communist Labor Party headquarters at 274 Grand Street. They confiscated records everywhere, and, of course, detained and interrogated everyone in sight. Those with proof of citizenship mostly escaped arrest those without were sere mostly sent to Ellis Island to await deportation.

Jacob Adler's Grand Theatre, 255 Grand Street, at Chrystie Street. Illustration from Brockhaus and Efron Jewish Encyclopedia (1906–1913)

Seven hundred New Yorkers were arrested that night and 2,800 across the country, figures that do not include the thousands who were molested, harassed, or displaced, figures that only hint at the destructive impact of the raids.

*255 Grand also happened to be the address of the Grand Theater, NYC’s first theater built specifically for Yiddish productions. Presumably, there were offices upstairs. The shared address may not have been a coincidence.


The Definition of the Palmer Raids

One target in the bombings was the new Attorney General A Mitchell Palmer. Palmer’s house was specifically targeted in June and the bomb inadvertently exploded on his doorstep.

Though uninjured, the attempt may have influenced his views and subsequent actions in regards to anarchists and far-left radicals. While Palmer was initially reluctant to take serious action against the strikers and anarchists, he eventually acquiesced to the demands of the general population.

Public support was high for a crackdown against anarchists and radicals. The increased activity in labor movements was increasingly tied directly to radical activity.

Leftover nativist sentiment from World War I stoked the fears and anxieties of everyday Americans that radicals were infiltrating their country. The nation was also emerging from the 1918-1920 influenza outbreak that saw increased lockdown measures.

Palmer acted on these fears and in many cases fanned the flames to increase public anxieties over the supposed threat. Palmer was a popular and savvy politician and hoped to use his success against the radicals as a campaign platform to win the Democratic nomination in the 1920 election.

Following the June bombings Palmer moved quickly. In August he opened a new division within the Justice Department’s Bureau of Investigation (precursor to the FBI).

Named the General Intelligence Division (GID), its task was to investigate radical groups with the purpose of identifying their members. A young J. Edgar Hoover was placed in charge of the division.

Armed with intelligence and a list of high-profile radicals, Palmer was ready to take action. The ensuing Palmer Raids were a series of high-profile raids conducted by the Justice Department with the goal of arresting and deporting radical leftists.


The Palmer Raids (1919-1920)

The U.S. Department of Justice conducted a series of raids to round up, arrest, and deport suspected anarchists and left-wing radicals.

Resources

Case Study

Goldman was an immigrant and an anarchist, rendering her vulnerable to deportation under U.S. immigration laws.

Discussion Questions

What happened in the Palmer raids?

Why were immigrants targeted during the “red scare”?

How did the Palmer raids violate civil liberties?

Summary

Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer spearheaded efforts to round up anarchists, communists, and other political radicals and then deport them when possible. World War I and the 1917 Russian Revolution inflamed American fears of the spread of radicalism and immigration from Europe, contributing to the first “red scare” in the United States. As state and local governments purged radicals from public service and cracked down on left-wing labor organizing, Palmer undertook the most visible campaign against radical organizations, often immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe. Between November 1919 and January 2020, Palmer’s agents deported nearly 250 people, including notable anarchist Emma Goldman, and arrested nearly 10,000 people in seventy cities.

Source

The Ogden standard. (Ogden City, Utah), 08 Nov. 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85058396/1919-11-08/ed-1/seq-1/>

Palmer Raids

The early years of the 20 th century were marked by massive immigration, poor working conditions, and public unrest. Violence punctuated the early struggle for workers’ rights: strikes were often repressed with brutality, radicalizing many workers. Bombs and guns became the tools of protest. When the home of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer was bombed by an anarchist and plots for more bombings were revealed, both the public and the government clamored for tighter law enforcement and more restrictive legislation for immigrants, resulting in the roundups, deportations, and public outrage.

© 2021 Chicago History Museum. All Rights Reserved.

Thanks to QuestionPro for providing us free survey templates for running multiple types of surveys. It aids in strengthening our nonprofit family.

Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter!

Get updates on what’s happening at the Chicago History Museum from exhibitions and programs to special events and more.


COLD WAR ANTI-COMMUNISM

During World War II, Hoover’s bureau took much of the responsibility for investigating espionage at home as well as abroad, as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) did not exist at the time.

Once World War II gave way to the Cold War, Hoover turned his attention back to his lifelong obsession: the war on communism. The FBI went to work rooting out Soviet spies and dismantling their espionage networks, aggressively prosecuting accused spies like Alger Hiss and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.


Contents

During the First World War, there was a nationwide campaign in the United States against the real and imagined divided political loyalties of immigrants and ethnic groups, who were feared to have too much loyalty for their nations of origin. In 1915, President Wilson warned against hyphenated Americans who, he charged, had "poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life." "Such creatures of passion, disloyalty and anarchy", Wilson continued "must be crushed out". [2] The Russian Revolutions of 1917 added special force to fear of labor agitators and partisans of ideologies like anarchism and communism. The general strike in Seattle in February 1919 represented a new development in labor unrest. [3]

The fears of Wilson and other government officials were confirmed when Galleanists—Italian immigrant followers of the anarchist Luigi Galleani—carried out a series of bombings in April and June 1919. [4] At the end of April, some 30 Galleanist letter bombs had been mailed to a host of individuals, mostly prominent government officials and businessmen, but also law enforcement officials. [4] Only a few reached their targets, and not all exploded when opened. Some people suffered injuries, including a housekeeper in Senator Thomas W. Hardwick's residence, who had her hands blown off. [4] On June 2, 1919, the second wave of bombings occurred, when several much larger package bombs were detonated by Galleanists in eight American cities, including one that damaged the home of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer in Washington, D.C. [4] At least one person was killed in this second attack, night watchman William Boehner, and fears were raised because it occurred in the capital. [4] [5] [6] Flyers declaring war on capitalists in the name of anarchist principles accompanied each bomb. [4]

In June 1919, Attorney General Palmer told the House Appropriations Committee that all evidence promised that radicals would "on a certain day. rise up and destroy the government at one fell swoop." He requested an increase in his budget to $2,000,000 from $1,500,000 to support his investigations of radicals, but Congress limited the increase to $100,000. [7]

An initial raid in July 1919 against an anarchist group in Buffalo, New York, achieved little when a federal judge tossed out Palmer's case. He found in the case that the three arrested radicals, charged under a law dating from the Civil War, had proposed transforming the government by using their free speech rights and not by violence. [8] That taught Palmer that he needed to exploit the more powerful immigration statutes that authorized the deportation of alien anarchists, violent or not. To do that, he needed to enlist the cooperation of officials at the Department of Labor. Only the Secretary of Labor could issue warrants for the arrest of alien violators of the Immigration Acts, and only he could sign deportation orders following a hearing by an immigration inspector. [9]

On August 1, 1919, Palmer named 24-year-old J. Edgar Hoover to head a new division of the Justice Department's Bureau of Investigation, the General Intelligence Division (GID), with responsibility for investigating the programs of radical groups and identifying their members. [10] The Boston Police Strike in early September raised concerns about possible threats to political and social stability. On October 17, the Senate passed a unanimous resolution demanding Palmer explain what actions he had or had not taken against radical aliens and why. [11]

At 9 pm on November 7, 1919, a date chosen because it was the second anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution, agents of the Bureau of Investigation, together with local police, executed a series of well-publicized and violent raids against the Union of Russian Workers in 12 cities. Newspaper accounts reported some were "badly beaten" during the arrests. Many later swore they were threatened and beaten during questioning. Government agents cast a wide net, bringing in some American citizens, passers-by who admitted being Russian, some not members of the Russian Workers. Others were teachers conducting night school classes in space shared with the targeted radical group. Arrests far exceeded the number of warrants. Of 650 arrested in New York City, the government managed to deport just 43. [12]

When Palmer replied to the Senate's questions of October 17, he reported that his department had amassed 60,000 names with great effort. Required by the statutes to work through the Department of Labor, they had arrested 250 dangerous radicals in the November 7 raids. He proposed a new Anti-Sedition Law to enhance his authority to prosecute anarchists. [13]

As Attorney General Palmer struggled with exhaustion and devoted all his energies to the United Mine Workers coal strike in November and December 1919, [14] Hoover organized the next raids. He successfully persuaded the Department of Labor to ease its insistence on promptly alerting those arrested of their right to an attorney. Instead, Labor issued instructions that its representatives could wait until after the case against the defendant was established, "in order to protect government interests." [15] Less openly, Hoover decided to interpret Labor's agreement to act against the Communist Party to include a different organization, the Communist Labor Party. Finally, despite the fact that Secretary of Labor William B. Wilson insisted that more than membership in an organization was required for a warrant, Hoover worked with more compliant Labor officials and overwhelmed Labor staff to get the warrants he wanted. Justice Department officials, including Palmer and Hoover, later claimed ignorance of such details. [16]

The Justice Department launched a series of raids on January 2, 1920, with follow up operations over the next few days. Smaller raids extended over the next 6 weeks. At least 3000 were arrested, and many others were held for various lengths of time. The entire enterprise replicated the November action on a larger scale, including arrests and seizures without search warrants, as well as detention in overcrowded and unsanitary holding facilities. Hoover later admitted "clear cases of brutality." [17] The raids covered more than 30 cities and towns in 23 states, but those west of the Mississippi and south of the Ohio were "publicity gestures" designed to make the effort appear nationwide in scope. [18] Because the raids targeted entire organizations, agents arrested everyone found in organization meeting halls, not only arresting non-radical organization members but also visitors who did not belong to a target organization, and sometimes American citizens not eligible for arrest and deportation. [19]

The Department of Justice at one point claimed to have taken possession of several bombs, but after a few iron balls were displayed to the press they were never mentioned again. All the raids netted a total of just four ordinary pistols. [20]

While most press coverage continued to be positive, with criticism only from leftist publications like The Nation and The New Republic, one attorney raised the first noteworthy protest. Francis Fisher Kane, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, resigned in protest. In his letter of resignation to the President and the Attorney General he wrote: "It seems to me that the policy of raids against large numbers of individuals is generally unwise and very apt to result in injustice. People not really guilty are likely to be arrested and railroaded through their hearings. We appear to be attempting to repress a political party. By such methods, we drive underground and make dangerous what was not dangerous before." Palmer replied that he could not use individual arrests to treat an "epidemic" and asserted his own fidelity to constitutional principles. He added: "The Government should encourage free political thinking and political action, but it certainly has the right for its own preservation to discourage and prevent the use of force and violence to accomplish that which ought to be accomplished, if at all, by parliamentary or political methods." [21] The Washington Post endorsed Palmer's claim for urgency over legal process: "There is no time to waste on hairsplitting over infringement of liberty." [22]

In a few weeks, after changes in personnel at the Department of Labor, Palmer faced a new and very independent-minded Acting Secretary of Labor in Assistant Secretary of Labor Louis Freeland Post, who canceled more than 2,000 warrants as being illegal. [23] Of the 10,000 arrested, 3,500 were held by authorities in detention 556 resident aliens were eventually deported under the Immigration Act of 1918. [24]

At a Cabinet meeting in April 1920, Palmer called on Secretary of Labor William B. Wilson to fire Post, but Wilson defended him. The President listened to his feuding department heads and offered no comment about Post, but he ended the meeting by telling Palmer that he should "not let this country see red." Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, who made notes of the conversation, thought the Attorney General had merited the President's "admonition", because Palmer "was seeing red behind every bush and every demand for an increase in wages." [25]

Palmer's supporters in Congress responded with an attempt to impeach Louis Post or, failing that, to censure him. The drive against Post began to lose energy when Attorney General Palmer's forecast of an attempted radical uprising on May Day 1920 failed to occur. Then, in testimony before the House Rules Committee on May 7–8, Post proved "a convincing speaker with a caustic tongue" [23] and defended himself so successfully that Congressman Edward W. Pou, a Democrat presumed to be an enthusiastic supporter of Palmer, congratulated him: "I feel that you have followed your sense of duty absolutely." [26]

On May 28, 1920, the nascent American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which was founded in response to the raids, [27] published its Report Upon the Illegal Practices of the United States Department of Justice, [28] which carefully documented unlawful activities in arresting suspected radicals, illegal entrapment by agents provocateur, and unlawful incommunicado detention. Such prominent lawyers and law professors as Felix Frankfurter, Roscoe Pound and Ernst Freund signed it. Harvard Professor Zechariah Chafee criticized the raids and attempts at deportations and the lack of legal process in his 1920 volume Freedom of Speech. He wrote: "That a Quaker should employ prison and exile to counteract evil-thinking is one of the saddest ironies of our time." [29] The Rules Committee gave Palmer a hearing in June, where he attacked Post and other critics whose "tender solicitude for social revolution and perverted sympathy for the criminal anarchists. set at large among the people the very public enemies whom it was the desire and intention of the Congress to be rid of." The press saw the dispute as evidence of the Wilson administration's ineffectiveness and division as it approached its final months. [30]

In June 1920, a decision by Massachusetts District Court Judge George W. Anderson ordered the discharge of 17 arrested aliens and denounced the Department of Justice's actions. He wrote that "a mob is a mob, whether made up of Government officials acting under instructions from the Department of Justice, or of criminals and loafers and the vicious classes." His decision effectively prevented any renewal of the raids. [31]

Palmer, once seen as a likely presidential candidate, lost his bid to win the Democratic nomination for president later in the year. [32] The anarchist bombing campaign continued intermittently for another twelve years. [33]


PALMER RAIDS

PALMER RAIDS. The Palmer Raids (1919–1920) involved mass arrests and deportation of radicals at the height of the post–World War I era red scare. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer encouraged the raids in the hope that they would advance his presidential ambitions. Ultimately, the extra-constitutional nature of this action destroyed Palmer's political career. He was viewed not as a savior but rather a threat to the civil rights and liberties of all Americans. J. Edgar Hoover, the chief of the Justice Department's Radical (later General Intelligence) Division who actually organized the raids, went on to a forty-eight-year career as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) (originally called the Bureau of Investigation). The other principal, Anthony Caminetti of the Department of Labor's Immigration Bureau, remained an obscure bureaucrat.


The Palmer Raids

During the First World War, there was a nationwide effort in the United States against the real and imagined divided political loyalties of immigrants and ethnic groups, who were feared to have too much loyalty for their nations of origin. Particular targets were Germans, with sympathies for their homeland, and Irish, whose countrymen were in revolt against America's ally, the United Kingdom. President Wilson had warned against hyphenated Americans who, he charged, had "poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life." "Such creatures of passion, disloyalty and anarchy", Wilson continued "must be crushed out."

A series of letter bomb attacks on law enforcement officials, prominent government officials, including the home of US Attorney General Alexander Mitchell Palmer, and some businessmen in the name of anarchist principles took place in April and June, 1919. Only a few packages reached their targets, and not all exploded when opened. Some people suffered injuries, including a housekeeper at a US Senator's home, and a night watchman was killed.


A. Mitchell Palmer

Attorney General Palmer told the House Appropriations Committee that all evidence promised that radicals would "on a certain day. rise up and destroy the government at one fell swoop." He promised Congress that he would pursue and deport radicals if his budget was increased.

Palmer's Department of Justice began to conduct a series of raids to capture and arrest suspected radical leftists, mostly Italian and Eastern European immigrants and especially anarchists and communists, and deport them from the United States. This attempt to suppress radical organizations, was characterized by exaggerated rhetoric, illegal search and seizures, unwarranted arrests and detentions, and the deportation of several hundred suspected radicals and anarchists.

To facilitate this work Palmer named 24-year-old J. Edgar Hoover to head a new division of the Justice Department's Bureau of Investigation, the General Intelligence Division (GID), with responsibility for investigating the programs of radical groups and identifying their members. Palmer also enlisted the cooperation of officials at the Department of Labor. Only the Secretary of Labor could issue warrants for the arrest of alien violators of the Immigration Acts, and only he could sign deportation orders following a hearing by an immigration inspector.


J. Edgar Hoover

On November 7, 1919, a date chosen because it was the second anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution, agents of the Bureau of Investigation, together with local police, executed a series of well-publicized and violent raids against the Union of Russian Workers in 12 cities. Newspaper accounts reported some were "badly beaten" during the arrests. Many later swore they were threatened and beaten during questioning. Arrests far exceeded the number of warrants, with some of those arrested being American citizens, passers-by who admitted being Russian, and some not members of the union. Others were teachers conducting night school classes in space shared with the targeted radical group. Of the 650 arrested in New York City, the government managed to deport just 43.

Hoover organized the next raids. He successfully persuaded the Department of Labor to ease its insistence on promptly alerting those arrested of their right to an attorney. Instead, the Department of Labor issued instructions that its representatives could wait until after the case against the defendant was established, "in order to protect government interests." Despite Secretary of Labor William Wilson’s insistence that more than membership in an organization was required for a warrant, Hoover worked with more compliant Labor officials and overwhelmed Labor staff to get the warrants he wanted.

A series of raids were launched starting in January, 1920, and continuing for six weeks. The raids covered more than 30 cities and towns in 23 states, but those west of the Mississippi River and south of the Ohio River were "publicity gestures" designed to make the effort appear nationwide in scope. At least 3,000 people were arrested, and many others were held for various lengths of time. Because the raids targeted entire organizations, agents arrested everyone found in organization meeting halls, not only arresting non-radical organization members but also visitors who did not belong to a target organization, and sometimes American citizens not eligible for arrest and deportation.

Press coverage for the raids was generally positive, with publications like The Washington Post endorsing Palmer's claim for urgency over legal process: "There is no time to waste on hairsplitting over infringement of liberties."

Palmer faced unexpected difficulties when a change in personnel took place at the Department of Labor. A new and very independent-minded Acting Secretary of Labor in Assistant Secretary of Labor Louis Freeland Post canceled more than 2,000 warrants as being illegal. Of the 10,000 people arrested, 3,500 were held by authorities in detention but only 556 resident aliens were eventually deported under the Immigration Act of 1918.


Louis Freeland Post

Palmer called for Post to be fired, and Palmer's supporters in Congress responded with an attempt to impeach Louis Post or, failing that, to censure him. The drive against Post began to lose energy when Attorney General Palmer’s forecast of an attempted radical uprising on May Day, 1920, failed to occur. Post gave testimony later in May before the House Rules Committee and defended himself so successfully that a congressman presumed to be an enthusiastic supporter of Palmer, congratulated him, saying "I feel that you have followed your sense of duty absolutely."

The American Civil Liberties Union published its Report Upon the Illegal Practices of the United States Department of Justice, which carefully documented unlawful activities in arresting suspected radicals, illegal entrapment by agents provocateur, and unlawful incommunicado detention. Several prominent lawyers and law professors including future Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter endorsed the report.

In June 1920, a decision by the Massachusetts District Court effectively prevented any renewal of the raids. The judge wrote in his decision that "a mob is a mob, whether made up of Government officials acting under instructions from the Department of Justice, or of criminals and loafers and the vicious classes."

Attorney General Palmer, once seen as a likely presidential candidate, lost his bid to win the Democratic nomination for president later in the year. J Edgar Hoover would secure a life-time appointment as the first Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.


President Warren Harding

With the "Red Scare" dying down, the eventual 1920 Presidential winner, Warren Harding stated that "too much has been said about Bolshevism in America. It is quite true that there are enemies of Government within our borders. However, I believe their number has been greatly magnified. The American workman is not a Bolshevik neither is the American employer an autocrat."

The Palmer Raids were influential in the subsequent enactment of the Immigration Act of 1924, which also targeted Southern European and Eastern European immigrants on not just political grounds, but also ethnic and racial grounds.


The Palmer Raids - History

During the 20th century, a number of trials have excited widespread public interest. One of the first cause celebrities was the case of Nicola Sacco, a 32-year-old shoemaker, and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, a 29-year-old fish peddler, who were accused of double murder. On April 15, 1920, a paymaster and a payroll guard carrying a factory payroll of $15,776 were shot to death during a robbery in Braintree, Massachusetts, near Boston. About three weeks later, Sacco and Vanzetti were charged with the crime. Their trial aroused intense controversy because it was widely believed that the evidence against the men was flimsy, and that they were being prosecuted for their immigrant background and their radical political beliefs. Sacco and Vanzetti were Italian immigrants and avowed anarchists who advocated the violent overthrow of capitalism.

It was the height of the post-World War I Red Scare, and the atmosphere was seething with anxieties about Bolshevism, aliens, domestic bombings, and labor unrest. Revolutionary upheavals had been triggered by the war, and one-third of the U.S. population consisted of immigrants or the children of immigrants.

U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer had ordered foreign radicals rounded up for deportation. Just three days before Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested, one of the people seized during the Palmer raids, an anarchist editor, had died after falling from a 14th floor window of the New York City Department of Justice office. The police, judge, jury, and newspapers were deeply concerned about labor unrest.

No witnesses had gotten a good look at the perpetrators of the murder and robbery. The witnesses described a shootout in the street and the robbers escaping in a Buick, scattering tacks to deter pursuers. Anti-immigrant and anti-radical sentiments led the police to focus on local anarchists.

Sacco and Vanzetti were followers of Luigi Galleani, a radical Italian anarchist who had instigated a wave of bombings against public officials just after World War I. Carlo Valdinoci, a close associate of Galleani, had blown himself up while trying to plant a bomb at Attorney General Palmer's house. Palmer's house was largely destroyed the powerful blast hurled several neighbors from their beds in nearby homes. Though not injured, Palmer and his family were thoroughly shaken by the blast.

After the incident Sacco and Vanzetti acted nervously, and the arresting officer testified that Sacco and Vanzetti were reaching for weapons when they were apprehended. But neither man had a criminal record. Plus, a criminal gang had been carrying out a string of armed robberies in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Police linked Sacco's gun to the double murder, the only piece of physical evidence that connected the men to the crime. The defense, however, argued that the link was overstated.

In 1921, Sacco and Vanzetti were convicted in a trial that was marred by prejudice against Italians, immigrants, and radical beliefs. The evidence was ambiguous as to the pairs' guilt or innocence, but the trial was a sham: the prosecution played heavily on the pairs' radical beliefs the men were kept in an iron cage during the trial the jury foreman muttered unflattering stereotypes about Italians. In his instructions to the jury, the presiding judge urged the jury to remember their "true American citizenship."

The pair was electrocuted in 1927. As the guards adjusted his straps, Vanzetti said in broken English:

Today, many historians now believe Sacco was probably guilty and Vanzetti was innocent but that the evidence was insufficient to convict either one.

List of site sources >>>


Watch the video: The Palmer Raids 1 (December 2021).