Come Unto Me, Ye Opprest!

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Come Unto Me, Ye Opprest!

Editorial cartoon

By: James Pinckney Alley

Date: July 5, 1919

Source: Alley, James Pinckney. "Come Unto Me, Ye Opprest!" Literary Digest (reprinted from the Commercial Appeal), July 5, 1919.

About the Author: James P. Alley (1885–1934) was an editorial cartoonist for the Memphis newspaper Commercial Appeal between the years of 1916 and 1934. He is best known as the creator of "Hambone," a popular, nationally syndicated cartoon.

INTRODUCTION

During World War I, Americans had grown accustomed to the suppression of dissent. With the war's end, the intolerance that had been directed mainly against those suspected of sympathizing with Germany came to cover a wider range of people. Foreigners, Catholics, Jews, blacks, radicals, and strikers all came under assault for being un-American. Foreigners, the main source of membership for the new American Communist Party, and the various anarchist groups, were particularly disliked.

The new wave of fear found a scapegoat in the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and the threat of worldwide revolution against capitalism. However, the number of communists in the United States never exceeded one percent of the population, and most were intellectuals rather than workers. But political radicals, the overwhelming majority of whom were foreign-born immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, attracted considerable comment from both politicians and newspaper writers. These new immigrants had such different ideas and customs from the old immigrants of northern and western Europe that they were disturbing to many of the native-born. Worsening the climate, violence in labor relations right after the war deepened concern about public safety. Bomb scares turned that concern into panic.

In 1919 and 1920, news of bombs filled headlines. A time bomb was discovered in a package addressed to the mayor of Seattle. Another bomb blew off the hands of a Georgia senator's house servant. No less than thirty-six bombs addressed to such prominent people as financier J. P. Morgan and oil magnate John D. Rockefeller were discovered in various post offices. A bomb exploded in front of the Washington home of the attorney general, and in September 1920, a bomb exploded on Wall Street that killed thirty-eight and wounded hundreds of people. To many Americans, including the editorial cartoonist Alley, it seemed as if immigrants were coming to American shores with the intent of blowing up the United States.

PRIMARY SOURCE

COME UNTO ME, YE OPPREST!

See primary source image.

SIGNIFICANCE

In response to the bomb scares, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer encouraged fears of imminent revolution. Palmer, who had presidential aspirations, apparently viewed the Red Scare as a key to higher office. He claimed to see Reds almost everywhere that he looked and he proceeded to hunt them down. On January 1, 1920, Palmer ordered simultaneous raids on every Bolshevik cell in the country. In about a week, more than four thousand people were arrested and their property confiscated. Friends who visited the jailed were also jailed on grounds of having sympathy for revolutionaries. Though supposedly armed to the teeth, the thousands of radicals yielded a total of three pistols and no explosives. The raids were followed by the eventual deportation of 556 aliens convicted of no crime. Vigilantism spread across the nation but the Red Scare quickly waned.

The fear of immigrant radicals led to a decline in the Americanization movement as the United States turned its attention from resident aliens to the question of immigration restriction. Since the enactment of the literacy test in 1917, questions of immigration policy had remained on the back burner. However, the end of the war permitted the resumption of large-scale European immigration that coincided with a sharp economic downturn in 1920 and the Red Scare. The agitation for restriction only quieted down with the adoption of laws that reduced immigration to a trickle. An era of isolationism had begun that would only end with the entrance of the United States into World War II.

FURTHER RESOURCES

Books

Keene, Jennifer D. The U.S. and the First War. New York: Longman, 2000.

Morgan, Ted. Reds: McCarthyism in Twentieth-Century America. New York: Random House, 2004.

Schmidt, Regin. Red Scare: FBI and the Origins of Anticommunism in the U.S., 1919–1943. Copenhagen: University of Copenhagen, 2000.

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Come Unto Me, Ye Opprest!

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