1919 November 7

Repression! First Palmer Raids Seize Radicals in Twelve Cities


The first of two infamous Palmer Raids, which involved the indiscriminate arrest of alleged alien radicals, occurred on this day in 12 cities. The name of the raids came from U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer. The date for the raids on this day was selected to mark the second anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. The raids were directed in particular against the Union of Russian Workers (URW), which the Justice Department believed was a center of Communist activity.

The Palmer Raids were marked by brutality and denial of due process rights. In New York City alone, 650 people were arrested and 43 of those were later deported. Among 249 people deported to the new Soviet Union on December 19, 1919, an estimated 184 were members of the URW. The Palmer Raids were a major part of the 1919-1920 Red Scare.

One of those arrested on the night of November 7th and morning of the 8th was Benjamin Gitlow. The appeal of his arrest led to the extremely important Supreme Court decision in Gitlow v. New York, on June 8, 1925, which established the principle that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment incorporated the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment, making it applicable to the states. The incorporation doctrine became the foundation of the civil rights and civil liberties revolutions of the twentieth century.

The second, larger, and more well-known Palmer Raids began on January 2, 1920, and continued on a smaller scale for several weeks. In the first few days, an estimated 3,000 people, alleged to be political radicals, were arrested in 30 different cities around the country. The January raids finally provoked a public backlash, and 12 prominent attorneys later issued a stinging indictment, Report Upon the Illegal Practices of the United States Department of Justice, published on May 28, 1920.

Read the Illegal Practices report on the raids: https://archive.org/details/toamericanpeople00natiuoft

Read: Christopher M. Finan, From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America (2007)

A Photo of an IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) office after the raid: http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/Goldman/Exhibition/eg25.jpg

Learn more: Kenneth Ackerman, Young J. Edgar: Hoover and the Red Scare, 1919–1920 (2011)

And more about the Red Scare: http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/SaccoV/redscare.html

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