Palmer Raids

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PALMER RAIDS. The Palmer Raids (1919–1920) involved mass arrests and deportation of radicals at the height of the post–World War I era red scare. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer encouraged the raids in the hope that they would advance his presidential ambitions. Ultimately, the extra-constitutional nature of this action destroyed Palmer's political career. He was viewed not as a savior but rather a threat to the civil rights and liberties of all Americans. J. Edgar Hoover, the chief of the Justice Department's Radical (later General Intelligence) Division who actually organized the raids, went on to a forty-eight-year career as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) (originally called the Bureau of Investigation). The other principal, Anthony Caminetti of the Department of Labor's Immigration Bureau, remained an obscure bureaucrat.

A wave of strikes, race riots, and anarchist bombings in eight cities provided the context for the Palmer Raids. One of those bombs partly destroyed the attorney general's own home in Washington, D.C. From February 1917 to November 1919, federal agents deported sixty aliens of some 600 arrested as anarchists. More raids followed over the next two months, the most notable being the 249 persons, including Emma Goldman, deported on December 21 aboard a single "Red Ark," the Buford. The most ambitious raids occurred on January 2, 1920, with lesser efforts continuing over the next few days. In all, Hoover utilized 579 agents from the Bureau of Investigation and vigilantes from the recently disbanded American Protective League to orchestrate massive raids against communists in twenty-three states. At least 4,000 and perhaps as many as 6,000 persons from thirty-three cities were arrested. Most were Communist Party members or suspected members. About 300 were members of the Communist Labor Party. Among the abuses documented by the American Civil Liberties Union and such prominent attorneys as Zechariah Chafee Jr., Roscoe Pound, and Felix Frankfurter were abuses of due process, illegal search and seizure, and indiscriminate arrests, use of agents provocateurs, and torture.


Hoyt, Edwin P. The Palmer Raids, 1919–1920: An Attempt to Suppress Dissent. New York: Seabury Press, 1969.

Preston, William. Aliens and Dissenters: Federal Suppression of Radicals, 1903–1933. New York: Harper & Row, 1966.

Schmidt, Regin. Red Scare: FBI and the Origins of Anticommunism in the United States, 1919–1943. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press/University of Copenhagen, 2000.


See alsoAnticommunism ; Deportation ; Radicals and Radicalism .

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Palmer Raids 1919-1920

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