1919 January 22

Senate Investigation Attacks Liberals, Pacifists, Radicals


The Senate Overman Committee began hearings on alleged radicalism in America on this day. This effort was part of the post-World War I Red Scare that included the infamous Palmer Raids on November 7, 1919, and January 2, 1920. Archibald Stevenson, the leading anti-radical activist at the time, named 62 liberals, pacifists, and socialists as “dangerous” radicals, including Roger Baldwin, who a year later would help found the ACLU, on January 19, 1920. The committee issued its report on February 11, 1919.

The Overman Committee hearings set a precedent for later legislative investigations of political beliefs. In the Red Scare period, the New York state Lusk Committee issued a four-volume report on Revolutionary Radicalism, smearing a wide range of liberals, pacifists, socialists, and other radicals (see April 24, 1920). The most important legislative investigation of political beliefs in American history was the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), established on May 26, 1938, which for 37 years used guilt-by-association to equate a broad range of socialists, pacifists, civil libertarians and liberals with communism.

Put the Red Scare in historical perspective, read: Christopher Finan, From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America (2007)

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

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