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Red Scare

Red Scare: A Study in National Hysteria, 1919-1920

ROBERT K. MURRAY
Copyright Date: 1955
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 352
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.cttts9d1
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  • Book Info
    Red Scare
    Book Description:

    Few periods in American history have been so dramatic, so fraught with mystery, or so bristling with fear and hysteria as were the days of the great Red Scare that followed World War I. For sheer excitement, it would be difficult to find a more absorbing tale than the one told here. The famous Palmer raids of that era are still remembered as one of the most fantastic miscarriages of justice ever perpetrated upon the nation. The violent labor strife still makes those who lived through it shudder as they recall the Seattle general strike and Boston police strike, the great coal and steel strikes, and the bomb plots, shootings, and riots that accompanied these conflicts. But, exciting as the story may be, it has far greater significance than merely that of a lively tale. For, just as American was swept by a wave of unreasoning fear and was swayed by sensational propaganda in those days, so are we being tormented by similar tensions in the present climate of the cold war. The objective analysis of the great Red Scare which Mr. Murray provides should go a long way toward helping us to avert some of the tragic consequences that the nation suffered a generation ago before hysteria and fear had finally run their course. The author traces the roots of the phenomenon, relates the outstanding events of the Scare, and evaluates the significant effects of the hysteria upon subsequent American life.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6377-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-xii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xiii-2)
  3. 1 The Contemporary Scene
    (pp. 3-17)

    The Great Crusade was over. The “war to end war” had been won and a happy, victorious nation was again at peace.

    To the millions of Americans standing expectantly on the threshold of that first postwar year of 1919 the return of peace represented the successful conclusion to a great and noble venture. Now a promising future stretched before them as far as the eye could see and, basking in the glorious relief and satisfaction of a difficult task well done, they were anxious to get on with it.

    In particular, the end of the war meant for most Americans...

  4. 2 American Radicals
    (pp. 18-32)

    While the contemporary scene with its prevailing atmosphere of political reaction, economic confusion, and general lack of moral compulsion is vital in understanding the environmental factors which helped produce the Red Scare, the story of the Scare itself properly begins with the American radical. He was, after all, the central figure in the unfolding drama, for it was around his philosophies and his actions that much of the Scare revolved.

    It has often been claimed that the immediate cause for the Scare was the intense public suspicion and fear aroused by the domestic radicals’ sudden and enthusiastic espousal of the...

  5. 3 The Fire behind the Smoke
    (pp. 33-56)

    The emergence of bolshevism as a powerful ideological force and the impact of that philosophy upon American life constituted the most disquieting, if not the most significant, phase of the 1919 postwar scene. Whatever legitimate reasons existed for the coming Red Scare, they stemmed almost solely from this parent source. Indeed, in a turbulent postwar era, bolshevism’s disruptive power seemed particularly active and its ideological appeal especially strong. To a nation seeking normalcy, this philosophy represented the direct antithesis of all that was hoped for, and seemed to presage a move backward in the quest for peace.

    American contact with...

  6. 4 The Road That Leads
    (pp. 57-66)

    Under normal conditions, the existence of a radical minority such as was present in the nation in 1919 would not have caused much public alarm. To be sure, such individuals would always have been recognized for what they were — potentially dangerous — but there would have been no real fear that they were about to take over the country.

    As we have seen, however, conditions were anything but normal in 1919. Industrial unrest, political and moral irresponsibility, excessive intolerance, fear of opposition and change —these were but a few of the abnormalities that existed. Even so, it is highly...

  7. 5 Bombs, Riots, and More Bombs
    (pp. 67-81)

    Important though it was, the issue of radicalism certainly had not been considered the most important problem facing the nation before the Seattle strike. To be sure, radical activity had created some public alarm both during and immediately following the war, but as yet there was no real fear that the nation was in imminent danger. What fears did exist in the public mind were mainly those which hung over from wartime emotionalism or grew out of a concern for the spread of Russian bolshevism in Europe and Asia. As for the American scene itself, radicalism was not yet the...

  8. 6 The Patriotic Defense
    (pp. 82-104)

    Beginning with the Seattle strike in February, the nation had experienced a bewildering array of spectacular and suspicious events. A general strike, bombs, riots, and more bombs had followed one another in rapid succession and not only had aroused intense public commotion but momentarily had relegated all else to the background. Naturally, the public had responded to these occurrences with increasing trepidation, for each one seemed to re-emphasize the danger of domestic radicalism. Indeed, each of these events had contained indications of radical action and, superficially at least, it did appear as if the nation were undergoing some sort of...

  9. 7 Labor and Bolshevism
    (pp. 105-121)

    In any careful analysis of a social phenomenon like hysteria, one always finds in operation a tangled mass of deep-seated causative factors which interact to produce the ultimate manifestation of aberrant response.

    This was certainly true in the case of the United States following World War I. As we have seen, by mid-1919 there were a host of factors in existence which were establishing the conditions necessary for the development of national psychoneurosis. The contemporary postwar scene with its war-born emotionalism, its misguided desire for normalcy, and its political and economic instability represented one such factor. The rise of Russian...

  10. 8 When Policemen Strike
    (pp. 122-134)

    The fall of 1919 was a particularly dreary season. The nation was blanketed in an unusual amount of fog and excessive rainfall made life generally uncomfortable in many areas. The normally beautiful New England landscape was limp from repeated drenchings, while local newspapers in the habitually dry Midwest complained of excessive precipitation and predicted it augured a long, cold winter.

    This dampness, however, did not seem to deaden the public fear of domestic radicalism which had been growing steadily since the Seattle strike of some months before, nor did it render less volatile the explosive struggle in the making between...

  11. 9 Big Steel–Gray or Pink?
    (pp. 135-152)

    The Boston police strike was only two days old when the press announced that a nation-wide steel strike would begin on September 22.

    The groundwork for this conflict had been laid in August 1918, when a conference of twenty-four trade unions met in Chicago and established a National Committee for Organizing Iron and Steel Workers with Samuel Gompers as its honorary chairman, John Fitzpatrick as acting chairman, and William Z. Foster as secretary-treasurer. Throughout the following months of 1918 and 1919, this committee had achieved remarkable success, particularly within the ranks of unorganized immigrant steel workers. It had organized steel...

  12. 10 Coal–Black or Red?
    (pp. 153-165)

    Just six weeks after the steel strike announcement was made, the third of the great fall strikes — the coal strike — began.

    This expression of discontent on the part of the nation’s coal miners stemmed largely from the fact that although the coal industry had prospered tremendously during the war, miners’ wages had remained fairly stationary because of a wage agreement made in September 1917 which was to run for the duration of the war but not beyond April 1, 1920. The coal operators preferred to think this 1917 agreement was still binding, for although hostilities had ceased with...

  13. 11 The Gag and the Mob
    (pp. 166-189)

    By the late fall of 1919 bolshevism actually had a stranglehold on the nation. But, ironically enough, this was not the result of any revolutionary activity on the part of Bolshevists or the ideological appeal of their program. Instead, it represented the willful action of the American people themselves. Through their unintelligent thinking and intolerant actions they were rapidly accomplishing what no number of domestic radicals could have achieved by themselves.

    It is remarkable how thoroughly the fear of domestic bolshevism permeated the body politic by late 1919. As we have seen, much of this was based on the action...

  14. 12 The Quaker and the Ark
    (pp. 190-209)

    Prior to the late fall of 1919, the federal government had moved rather slowly against the domestic Bolshevik menace. Because of the press of other postwar problems and a preoccupation with the League question, most officials in Washington had not been able to concentrate their thinking on the radical danger. To be sure, politicians talked now and again about the evidences of radicalism in the country and the newspapers played up such statements with zeal. But only a few politicians had yet become really demagogical. In fact, there was every indication that most officials in Washington were less concerned about...

  15. 13 The January Raids
    (pp. 210-222)

    Spurred on by the apparent success already achieved and mindful of the demand for more deportations, Attorney General Palmer now concentrated his attention on the recently formed Communist and Communist Labor parties. Considering these the backbone of the domestic revolutionary movement, he formulated plans whereby they might be eliminated, and, as in the case of the Union of Russian Workers, relied almost solely on the raiding device and the deportation statute of 1918 to achieve this goal.

    The federal raid of November 7 had proved an excellent laboratory experiment. It had shown that if any raid was to be followed...

  16. 14 Race between Governments
    (pp. 223-238)

    While the Palmer raids and theBuforddeportation represented the most spectacular manifestation of government hysteria in 1919–20, there were many other indications as both the state and federal governments rushed to meet the radical challenge. Indeed, beginning in November 1919, it appeared as if the various governments were trying to outstrip one another in the fury of their drive on both the Communist doctrine and nonconformity of all types. Extremely sensitive to mounting public feeling, government officials at all levels and in all stages of responsibility geared their actions to what they thought the public wanted and hence...

  17. 15 Ebbing Tide
    (pp. 239-262)

    The month of January 1920 marked the height of the Great Red Scare.

    Since the Seattle general strike of almost a year before, public fear of domestic radicalism had been piling up to this peak of intensity. Through the complicated interaction of economic instability, personal ambition, group pressure, deep-seated prejudice, suspicious events, and some radical activity, that fear had been nurtured carefully—and with what disastrous results. The principle of representative government was being cast aside, free speech was rapidly becoming little more than a shibboleth, and even free press was in danger. With the opening of the new decade,...

  18. 16 Pebbles on the Beach
    (pp. 263-281)

    The decline of anti-Red hysteria and the return of public stability by late 1920 technically marked the end of the Great Red Scare. Gone were the bombings, the government raids, the mass deportations, the shocking displays of mob violence.

    However, the underlying fear of radicalism and the proclivity for intolerance which the Red Scare had engendered remained long after these various events were forgotten and hysteria had passed from the scene. In fact, the antiradical emotionalism emanating from the Scare affected both governmental and private thinking for almost a decade to come and left its unmistakable imprint upon many phases...

  19. Note on Sources
    (pp. 282-296)

    No attempt is made here to exhaust the available literature relating to the Red Scare or to describe all the various materials used or consulted in the preparation of this book. Rather, this note is appended merely to indicate those sources which proved particularly valuable. For specific references concerning all the materials used the footnotes should be utilized. They were designed to supply such detailed information and make unnecessary an elaborate bibliography.

    While a number of manuscript collections were investigated and proved helpful in a limited way, there were several collections that were particularly valuable to this study.

    The first...

  20. Footnotes
    (pp. 297-322)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 323-337)