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Palmer Raids

Woodrow Wilson

Palmer Raids: 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 during the Red Scare period were the infamous Palmer Raids.

Definition and Summary of the Palmer Raids
Summary and definition:
In June 1919 eight bombs in eight American cities exploded in minutes of each other. One of the bombs damaged the home of U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer. A. Mitchell Palmer subsequently led a campaign against suspected anarchists, communists and other political radicals called the Palmer Raids and fueled fears about the Red Scare.

Federal Agents conducted raids on the headquarters of various radical organizations and the homes of immigrants and foreign residents from 1919 - 1920. More than 10,000 suspects were detained without a hearing and nearly 600 immigrants were deported.

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

What were the Palmer Raids? The Palmer Raids were instigated by United States Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer from 1919 to 1920. The raids were conducted by Federal Agents and involved mass arrests and deportation of immigrant political radicals at the height of the WW1 Red Scare.

What Caused the Palmer Raids? The Palmer Raids were caused by the Red Scare which was the anti-radical and and anti-immigrant hysteria and fear that anarchists, socialists and communists were conspiring to start a workers revolution in America. A bomb damaged the home of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer who instigated the 'Palmer Raids'.

What was the purpose of the Palmer Raids? The purpose of Palmer Raids was to launch rapid surprise searches of various radical organizations and the homes of immigrants

Who did the Palmer Raids target? The Palmer Raids targeted immigrants who were suspected of being anarchists, communists or other political radicals.

Facts about Palmer Raids
The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on Palmer Raids.

Causes: During the Red Scare the nation became increasingly intolerant of immigrants and there was a strong belief that Anarchists, Communists and other radical groups were conspiring to start a a worker's revolution in America

Causes: The 'New Immigrants' from southern and eastern Europe were accused of bringing radical socialist and communist ideas into the United States and were blamed for the strikes, violence and civil unrest that plagued America in 1919. 

Causes: The 1911 Dillingham Commission Report had had given credibility to this belief by concluding that the 'New Immigrants' from countries such as Italy, Greece, Poland and Croatia, were "inferior, uneducated and posed a serious threat to American society".

Causes: The wave of Nativism (the preference for established US residents, as opposed to foreigners) was reinforced by the Eugenics movement,  a pseudo scientific philosophy that claimed the superiority of the original American stock of the "Old Immigrants" from northern and western Europe.

Causes: The massive number of strikes (more than 3600) in 1919, called the 'Red Summer' led Americans to associate all foreign radicals with being unpatriotic.

Causes: In April 1919, attempts were made to mail 36 booby trap bombs to politicians, judges and leading industrialists 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 the mail bombs were discovered by diligent mail workers.

A. Mitchell Palmer had been a target of one of the mail bombs. The anarchists had twice attempted to mutilate or assassinate the U.S. Attorney General.

The mail bomb attacks were master-minded by Italian anarchist Luigi Galleani. Luigi Galleani and his followers had published a leaflet 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!".

In June 1919 eight bombs in eight different American cities exploded in minutes of each other. One of the bombs damaged the home of United States Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer.

  • The bomb exploded on the porch of his house in Philadelphia

  • The bomber, Carlo Valdinoci, was killed in the blast

  • The Attorney General and his family narrowly escaped death

  • The young Franklin Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt, who lived across the street, were also shaken by the blast

Outraged at the bombing attack on his home and family Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer led a campaign against foreign radicals. By August of 1919, the Department of Justice had created a Division of Intelligence, closely aligned with the Bureau of Investigation. It was headed by future FBI Director John Edgar Hoover.

J. Edgar Hoover utilized nearly 600 Federal agents from the Bureau of Investigation together with vigilantes from the  American Protective League to orchestrate massive raids against foreign immigrants who were suspected of being radicals, anarchists and communists in 33 cities across twenty-three states.

Luigi Galleani and eight of his followers were deported in June of 1919, three weeks after the June 2nd wave of bombings.

More than 10,000 suspects were detained without a hearing and nearly 600 were deported.

The agents frequently disregarded the civil liberties of the suspects, entering homes and offices without search warrants. People were often ill treated and jailed for indefinite periods of time and were not allowed to talk to their lawyers.

Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer encouraged the Palmer raids in the hope that they would advance his presidential ambitions. For a time he became a national hero, and enjoyed nation-wide support in his hunt for the radicals. He declared that a “blaze of revolution”was “burning up the foundations of society”.

He courted publicity and spread various rumors to the press about the dangers of the Red Scare. He announced that undercover federal agents had discovered vast conspiracies aimed at overthrowing the United States government.

Headlines screamed: ''Huge Red Plot of Destruction is Uncovered'' or '''No Mercy for Reds behind Gigantic Bomb Plot to Main and Kill''.

An October 1919 Philadelphia Inquirer cartoon illustrates American feelings towards bombing suspects with the words:


The outrageous rumors and subsequent press reports, the conduct of agents and the treatment of 'suspects' were getting totally out of hand.

Assistant Secretary of Labor, Louis Freedland Post, who had responsibility for the Bureau of Immigration, intervened.

Aware of Post's opposition the Federal Bureau of Investigation had even began compiling a file on Post and his political leanings - but failed to find substantive evidence of radical connections on his part.

Louis Freedland Post was appalled by the Palmer Raids which he believed "trampled on the Constitution". Federal Agents were marking immigrants for deportation without legal counsel or in some cases, without evidence of any wrong-doing. Post reviewed the pending deportation orders and cancelled most of them.

The House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization compiled a sensational report of Post's deportation decisions. On April 15, 1920, Kansas Congressman Homer Hoch accused Post of having abused his power and called for his impeachment.

Post was granted a chance to testify. He successfully defended his actions and attacked Attorney General Palmer and the raids.

Labor Secretary Wilson subsequently endorsed Post's actions stating that he was satisfied that Post ranked among the ablest and best administrative officers in the Government service

Abuses during the Palmer Raids were documented by the American Civil Liberties Union and prominent attorneys such as Zechariah Chafee Jr., Roscoe Pound, and Felix Frankfurter. Abuses of due process, illegal search and seizure, indiscriminate arrests, the use of agents provocateurs and instances of torture were all reported.

Palmer's dire prediction that violence would rock the nation on May Day 1920 had come to nothing. There had been no arrests. The reports of massive bomb plots and acts of terrorism has not materialized. The US government had not been brought down. Post had called the entire effort "a stupendous and cruel fake".

Palmer's political career was destroyed. He was viewed as a threat to the civil rights and liberties of all Americans. J. Edgar Hoover, who actually organized the raids, went on to spend a 48 year career as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The First Red Scare came to an end. The American nation wanted to return to 'normalcy'.

US American History
1913-1928: WW1 & Prohibition

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