The time is April of 1919
, a bomb mailed to the home of a senator from Georgia
explodes in the hands of his maid, blowing off both of her hands. Over the next several days, postal authorities intercept 34 similar bombs addressed to such notable figures as J. P. Morgan
, John D. Rockefeller
and Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes
. On June 2 of the same year, bombs explode in seven American cities. One of these exploded in front of the home of Attorney General
, A. Mitchell Palmer
. Several pamphlets titled "Plain Words" are found in the rubble. Signed by a group calling themselves "The Anarchist Fighters" the pamphlets read "There will have to be bloodshed
; we will not dodge; there will have to be murder; we will kill..."
Such were the events that led up to the "Palmer Raids". Convinced that a Communist plot to overthrow the American government was afoot, Attorney General Palmer recruited one J. Edgar Hoover as a special assistant and using language in the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918 to initiate a campaign against so called "radicals" and various left-wing organizations.
On November 7, 1919, which also coincided with the second anniversary of the Russian Revolution, over 10,000 suspected communists and anarchists were arrested. Many of these "arrests" were carried out without search and/or arrest warrants. Palmer and Hoover find no evidence of the suspected revolution. Although the vast majority of these people were later released, many spent long periods of time in prison. Eventually 248 people, the most famous being Emma Goldman are deported to Russia.
The time is now January of 1920, raids take place in some 33 cities around the United States and another 6000 people are arrested and held without trial. Many of those arrested are members if the Industrial Workers of the World(IWW), an organization thought to be of communist origins. Once again, Palmer and Hoover can find no evidence of the proposed revolution. Palmer then announces that the revolution will take place on May 1st and panic sets in.
In New York, 11,000 police officers are placed on 24 hour duty and five legally elected Socialists are expelled from the legislature. In Chicago, two U. S Army companies and approximately 1000 "volunteers" hit the streets in order to assist police against the impending uprising.
By the end of the day, exactly nothing had happened.
Palmer was widely discredited in the press of the day. Newspapers declared him a "national menace", "full of hot air" and "crying wolf".
The Palmer Raids did have a lasting effect on American history though. A group of concerned citizens who were disgusted by the persecution of people for their political beliefs went on to form the ACLU. Early members included founder Roger Baldwin, Jane Addams, Felix Frankfurter, Clarence Darrow, and Upton Sinclair.
On a side note, there have been many comparisons and correlations made to the Palmer Raids and to the events that have occurred after September 11, 2001. Some seem justified, some not. Most have to do with Attorney General John Ashcroft and repeated warnings about future terrorist attacks and subsequent terrorist alerts. I guess similarities can be drawn between the two incidents, if one substitutes anthrax in the mail in place of bombs and they become more apparent. While mass arrests have not taken place and probably won't, the racial profiling of a select group of people almost certainly has.