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First Red Scare

Woodrow Wilson

First Red Scare: Woodrow Wilson was the 28th American President who served in office from March 4, 1913 to March 4, 1921. One of the important events during his presidency was the First Red Scare.

Definition and Summary of the First Red Scare
Summary and definition:
The First Red Scare occured during the years 1917-1920 and was caused by the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the impact of World War One in America. The Red Scare was the name given to the period of anti-radical hysteria and the fear that anarchists, socialists and communists were conspiring to start a workers revolution in the United States of America.

The First Red Scare was sparked by fear and suspicion, widespread strikes and a series of terrorist attacks in the homeland.

Red Scare Facts for kids: Fast Fact Sheet
Fast, fun facts and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's) about the Red Scare.

What was the Red Scare? The Red Scare was the anti-radical hysteria and fear that anarchists, socialists and communists, dubbed 'Reds' or 'Bolshies' were conspiring to start a workers revolution in the United States of America.

When was the Red Scare? The First Red Scare was from 1917 - 1920, following the Bolshevik Russian Revolution of 1917 and the events and impact of WW1 in America.

What caused the Red Scare? The first Red Scare of the 1920's was caused by a variety of reasons including fear and suspicion of immigrants and foreigners fueled by WW1 propaganda techniques, widespread labor unrest, the rising tide of Communism and a series of terrorist attacks in the homeland.

Facts about First Red Scare
The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on First Red Scare.

Causes: Events in Russia in 1917, during WW1, triggered the start of the Red Scare. The 1917 February Russian Revolution aimed to topple the Russian monarchy. It led to the 1917 October Revolution when the Communist Bolsheviks took power in Russia under their leader Vladimir Lenin.

Causes: In America the WW1 propaganda techniques of the Creel Commission used leaflets, movies, photographs, cartoons, pamphlets and posters to paint a terrifying picture of what might happen if the Allies lost the war. The graphic propaganda campaign had created anger, suspicion and fear towards German immigrants amongst American citizens.

Causes: The Allies were stunned when Vladimir Lenin pulled Russia out of the Great War and signed the Treaty of Brest-Litvosk with Germany on March 3, 1918. The strong Anti-German feelings extended to Russia who appeared to be helping Germany by pulling out of the war. The world was then shocked by the news that the Russian Romanov royal family (the czar, his wife and their children) had been brutally shot to death by the Bolshevists on July 8, 1918. The Red Scare gained further momentum.

Causes: The Espionage and Sedition Acts passed in 1917 and 1918 banned many forms of speech perceived as disloyal to America. By 1920 several states passed laws banning the use of violence to cause social change, giving police unspoken authority to harass any such suspects.

Causes: Americans had witnessed a number of fire and bomb attacks on the of homeland during WW1. Violence and destruction was experienced at home with the Black Tom explosion, the fire at the Roebling Steel foundry in Trenton, the Kingsland Explosion and the Hercules Powder Company fire. These incidents left American feeling vulnerable to sabotage attacks.

Causes:  During WW1, the number of workers in Labor Unions increased dramatically. Workers had been given the right to strike but industrialists and business leaders were determined to break the power of the Unions.

Causes: WW1 ended on November 11, 1918 but the Red Scare was fueled in 1919 by a year of rapid inflation, rising prices,  high unemployment, race riots and civil unrest in America  with demonstrations and a series of crippling strikes.

Causes: In March 1919 Lenin and the Communist Bolsheviks established the Comintern (Communist International) and vowed to lead a worldwide anti-capitalist revolution. The mandate of the Comintern was to coordinate Communist activity across the world.

Causes: The 'New Immigrants' from southern and eastern Europe were accused of bringing radical socialist and communist ideas into America and blamed for the strikes, violence and civil unrest. This view was given credibility by the Dillingham Commission Report that had concluded that the 'New Immigrants' from countries such as Italy, Poland, Croatia and Greece, were "inferior, uneducated and posed a serious threat to American society".

Causes: During the Red Scare Racism and Nativism were reinforced by the Eugenics movement,  a pseudo scientific ideology that claimed the superiority of the original American stock of the "Old Immigrants".

Causes: 1919 saw a massive wave of strikes in America in what was called the 'Red Summer'. The American public seldom distinguished between anarchists, socialists and communists, and dubbed them all 'Reds' or 'Bolshies'.  Americans began to associate all Socialists and Communists with being unpatriotic.

Causes: By the end of 1919 there had been more than 3,600 strikes, involving over 4 million workers protesting against high inflation levels, unemployment and wage cuts.

Causes: The fear of Communists was fueled further by small, but highly vocal, groups of socialists, communists and anarchists who preached the downfall of the corrupt capitalist system and the coming revolution of the working classes.

The 1919 Seattle General Strike of 1919 began as a shipyard strike but was joined by all the other Seattle unions and became a General Strike (February 6, 1919 to February 11, 1919). The general strike was a frequent tactic used in Europe by Communists and other radical groups. Many Americans believed that Communists were behind the General Strike were conspiring to start a a worker's revolution in America. The Red Scare engulfed the nation.

In late April 1919, attempts were made to mail 36 booby trap bombs to prominent politicians, includingjudges and businessmen including John D. Rockefeller. The mail bombs were timed to arrive on May Day, the day of celebration of organized labor and the working class but were discovered by diligent mail workers.

A series of violent demonstrations, the May Day Riots of 1919, began when Socialist leader Charles Ruthenberg organized a May Day parade of local trade unionists, socialists and communists in Cleveland, Ohio to protest the jailing of Eugene V. Debs.

The Boston Police Strike broke out on September 9, 1919 in which 75% of Boston police officers went on strike. There was looting and rioting in the city of Boston and the National Guard were called in. The police strikers were referred to as "Agents of Lenin".

The 1919 Great Steel strike, involving 350,000 steelworkers,  was a national strike that lasted from September 21, 1919 – January 8, 1920 . The owners of the Steel Companies instilled fear in the nation by equating the strikers with communists, turning public opinion turned against unions.

The Resurgence of the 1920's Ku Klux Klan occured during the period of the Red Scare when the KKK were portrayed as the protectors of traditional values and opposers of immigration. The KKK used the Red scare and the anti-communism feelings associated with it as a justification to discriminate against minorities.

The KKK spread from the south into the Northern cities and attracted millions of new members and 40,000 Klansmen famously marched through Washington along Pennsylvania Avenue on August 8, 1925.

In June 1919 eight bombs in 8 cities exploded in minutes of each other. One of the bombs damaged the home of United States Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer.  He subsequently led a campaign against the communists called the Palmer Raids and propagated rumors about the Red Scare.. Federal Agents conducted raids on the headquarters of various radical organizations and the homes of immigrants and foreign residents. More than 10,000 suspects were detained without a hearing and nearly 600 were deported.

In August 1919 the Justice Department created the General Intelligence Division (the FBI) and appointed J. Edgar Hoover (1835 – 1972) as its first director.

On Thursday, September 16, 1920 the Wall Street bombing brought terror and carnage to the streets of New York when bomb exploded outside the J. P. Morgan bank building, the largest and most powerful financial institution in the world. Mario Buda is alleged to be the man most likely responsible for the bombing. Buda was a member of a group of Italian anarchists, the followers of Luigi Galleani, who included Sacco and Vanzetti.

Luigi Galleani and his followers published flyer stating "Deportation will not stop the storm from reaching these shores. The storm is within and very soon will leap and crash and annihilate you in blood and fire…We will dynamite you!".

Newspaper coverage of arrest of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti on bank robbery and murder charges revealed that the Italian immigrants were anarchists and this led to one of the most famous trials in the history of the United States - the Sacco and Vanzetti case.

November 1920 the first Chinese Communist Manifesto was published in Shanghai spreading the Marxism-Leninism ideology still further.

Eugenics: During the Red Scare, Racism and Nativism were reinforced by the Eugenics movement,  a pseudo scientific ideology that claimed the superiority of the original American stock of the "Old Immigrants".

The Palmer Raids were a response to both real and imaginary threats. The majority immigrants were peaceful people and eventually suspects were released and the Red Scare receded.

The National Negro Labor Congress was organized by the Communist Party leading to suspicions of a 'Red and Black' communist conspiracy.

The First Red Scare ended in 1920, but there were other significant events after this time. In December 1922 the USSR was officially formed. Lenin died on January 21, 1924 and was succeeded by Joseph Stalin.

The rule of Stalin and the development of nuclear weapons in the 1940's gave rise to the Cold War and the Second Red Scare erupted with fears of Communist spies and the Cold War Arms Race.

US American History
1913-1928: WW1 & Prohibition

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