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8.1: The Palmer Raids

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In 1917, a revolution toppled Russia’s Czar, and replaced him with a communist government. Also, immediately after World War One, the country experienced high inflation, high unemployment, and a number of labor strikes. Against this backdrop, the United States began arresting and deporting anyone suspected of “radical” thinking (e.g., Communism, socialism, anarchism, pro-labor). These arrests became known as the “Palmer Raids” after the Attorney General of the United States, A. Mitchell Palmer.

The Case Against the “Reds” – A. Mitchell Palmer

Source: Excerpt from an essay written by A. Mitchell Palmer called “The Case Against the ‘Reds,'” 1920.

Like a prairie-fire, the blaze of revolution was sweeping over every American institution of law and order a year ago. It was eating its way into the homes of the American workmen, its sharp tongues of revolutionary heat were licking the altars 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....

My information showed that communism in this country was an organization of thousands of aliens who were direct allies of Trotzky. Aliens of the same misshapen caste of mind and indecencies of character, and it showed that they were making the same glittering promises of lawlessness, of criminal autocracy to Americans, that they had made to the Russian peasants. How the Department of Justice discovered upwards of 60,000 of these organized agitators of the Trotzky doctrine in the United States is the confidential information upon which the Government is now sweeping the nation clean of such alien filth....

The whole purpose of communism appears to be a mass formation of the criminals of the world to overthrow the decencies of private life, to usurp property that they have not earned, to disrupt the present order of life regardless of health, sex or religious rights. By a literature that promises the wildest dreams of such low aspirations, that can occur to only the criminal minds, communism distorts our social law....

It has been impossible in so short a space to review the entire menace of the internal revolution in this country as I know it, but this may serve to arouse the American citizen to its reality, its danger, and the great need of united effort to stamp it out, under our feet, if needs be. It is being done. The Department of Justice will pursue the attack of these “Reds” upon the Government of the United States with vigilance, and no alien, advocating the overthrow of existing law and order in this country, shall escape arrest and prompt deportation....

Questions:

  1. Sourcing: Who wrote this document? What is his perspective?
  2. Sourcing: What do you predict he will say?
  3. Close reading: Palmer says, “Like a prairie-fire, the blaze of revolution was sweeping over every American institution of law and order a year ago.” What is he referring to? How do these words make the reader feel?
  4. Close Reading: How does Palmer describe Communism? Why does he think it’s dangerous?

Deportation Statement – Emma Goldman

Source: Excerpt from the statement Emma Goldman gave at her deportation hearings. Goldman was an anarchist and socialist who sympathized with the working poor. She was deported during the Palmer Raids.

At the very outset of this hearing I wish to register my protest against these star chamber proceedings, whose very spirit is nothing less than a revival of the ancient days of the Spanish Inquisition or the more recently defunct Third Degree system of Czarist Russia....

Today so-called aliens are deported, tomorrow native Americans will be banished. Already some patrioteers are suggesting that native American sons to whom Democracy is not a sham but a sacred ideal should be exiled....

The free expression of the hopes and aspirations of a people is the greatest and only safety in a sane society. In truth, it is such free expression and discussion alone that can point the most beneficial path for human progress and development. But the object of deportations and of the Anti-Anarchist law, as of all similar repressive measures, is the very opposite. It is to stifle the voice of the people, to muzzle every aspiration of labor. That is the real and terrible menace of the star chamber proceedings and of the tendency of exiling and banishing everyone who does not fit into the scheme of things our industrial lords are so eager to perpetuate.

Emma Goldman

New York, October 27, 1919

Questions:

  1. Sourcing: Who wrote this document? What is her perspective?
  2. Sourcing: What do you predict she will say?
  3. Close Reading: According to Goldman, what is the goal of the Palmer raids? What is wrong with them?
  4. Contextualization: What else was going on at this time?

Section Questions:

  1. Corroboration: Considering both of these documents, why did Palmer arrest thousands of people and deport hundreds between 1919-1920?

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CK.SOC.ENG.SE.1.History-U.S.-Adv.8.1

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