The First and the Second Red Scare

Hysteria and fears related to communist doctrine persisted in America after the First World War. This caused widespread panic throughout the country and sparked a number of reforms meant to stop the issue. The Bolshevik Revolution that occurred in Russia in 1917 led to the establishment of a communist regime and the withdrawal of Russian forces from the conflict. For this reason, the US claimed that Russia had betrayed its allies and that the Bolshevik Revolution was to blame for the spread of communism. As a result, the US began to worry that communism would expand and endanger its commitment to democracy. In fact, the mass migrations that occurred from Eastern and Southern European to American coupled with labor unrest in the late 1910s like the Great Steel Strike worsened the situation by creating more tension. In respect to this, the state and the federal governments had to quickly react to the growing panic through attacking the potential communist. Various Acts were including the Sedition Act, Criminal Syndicalism Act and Espionage Act were passed to persecute those who involved in communism.

The First Red Scare

The first red scare was justified as it was a remarkable move would restraint communism radicals in the nation. According to General Palmer, radicals would have spread communism in the entire US and thus was a threat. America had started experiencing challenges with the immigrants who originated from Europe. This fear made the US deport a ship of radical immigrants to Russia in December 1919. Also, Wallstreet was bombed and culminated into 38 deaths on September 1920 while at the same time wounding others critically. The rise of the Ku Klux Kln (KKK) proved to be a damaging uprising against numerous forces of modernity and diversity which was profoundly transforming the culture of US. This is because the Bolshevik Revolution was slowly creating a communist party in America. Attorney General Palmer claimed that he could easily see a red scare and accused about six thousand people of communist. Hence in an attempt to control the diversity forces that were transforming the culture of the US, the first red scare was to be established (Palmer). People who were accused of being communist faced harsh punishments, and as a result, Americans became scared of communist. McCormick reports that Palmer’s moves helped to shield the nation against communism (McCormick 14). For example, the Immigration Act of 1924 resulted in a reduction of immigrants from 3% to 2% (McCormick 21). He conducted a series of raids on individuals he believed were dangerous to the US society. The climate that was set by the radicals that needed to be contained. Undisputedly, Palmer's efforts are also considered to be one effective in curbing the problem of communist.

Attempts to address this was assisted by the US Congress through the passing of the “Espionage Act in 1917 and Sedition Act of 1918” (Nielsen 17). Nielsen notes that the Espionage Act stated that it was made it was a crime for one to interfere with the success of the military along with its operations. On the other hand, the Sedition Act did prohibit the Americans from the utilizing "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language" in the US government, army forces and even flag. The first red scare was marked by anarchism and Bolshevism in the early 20th century (Palmer). The red scare led to a reduction in the effects of radical political agitation in the US, and this fueled a general sense of concern. Desperate cases like the Boston Police Strike and Seattle General Strike were a growing distress. In view of this, the red scare attempted to suppress the radical organizations. This included deportation of people and unwarranted arrests of suspects. Indeed, the threat of communism coupled with Bolshevism revolution inspired the first red scare and explained the need for taming this detrimental impacts. It, therefore, forecasted massive radical uprising that would have influenced the nation. The origin of the first red scare lied in the subversive actions.

The Second Red Scare

The second red scare also originated from the ideology of communism in 1947-1957. It occurred during the cold war after the Second World War. Domestic subversion, nuclear bomb threat, and the blacklist were the facets that fueled the second red scare. Communism from the Soviet Union had permeated the US politics and culture and lasted for ten years. The initial move to wage war on domestic communism was built through the “creation of an antiradicalism division within the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the emergence of a network of private patriotic organizations” (McCormick 19). The critical crisis also came from capitalism during the Great Depression which made the party grow and wrecked the economy of US. Therefore there was a need to address this problem.

The American anticommunism carried out an assessment of American communist. Karl Marx writings of the 19th century gave birth to the “International Socialist Movement” which denounced “capitalism for exploiting the working class” (Nielsen 45). A number of socialists did pursue reforms through the existing systems, and others advocated for revolutions to incorporate communism ideology in the American society. Directives were issued and funding done to the Communist revolution and the practice to support the Soviet foreign-policy objectives became rampant. Nielsen goes further to ascertain that the American communism gained momentum during this time and observes that the communist party was secretive, effective and practiced loyalty to the leaders (Nielsen 45). The correlation between the zeal of anticommunist and the labor unrests became very enduring. Hence, series of anarchists bombing, arrests, and ensuing raids, as well as surveillance, were enacted and infringed the civil liberties of people. Indeed, anticommunist aimed at fighting the social status quo along with the economic challenges. Notably, the wars espionage laws and federal sedition had expired, and the state was left to fight communist through anti-communism. Education turned out to be a profound anticommunist weapon and organization like American Legion exerted pressure on many schools. An examination of issues of subversion to teachers by state and even school boards was reinforced. Religion such as Catholics launched campaigns against communism. More importantly, the battle comprised of using immigration laws in attempts to keep the radicals out of America. Again, FBI remained vigilant in monitoring the activities of the communist party as well as their alleged sympathizers.

The Hatch Act formed in 1939 was also a notable move to curb communism. This Act inhibited federal workers from engaging in any political campaign and becoming members of any group which did advocate for the overthrow of the constitution that was in existence. The legal and the political foundations that shaped the second red scare were constructed under tensions of cold war. McCormick asserts that the southern Democrats and the conservative coalition of Republicans crystalized in 1938 in the Congress. Indeed, many new deal policies were not welcomed by the Congressional conservatives. In respect to this, arguments arose that the agencies which administered this were under the influence of communism. Thus, a special committee was formed in 1938 to investigate all American Activities. Notably, this group provided an impetus to the passage of Alien Registration Act of 1940 which was said to be operating under communist party. People were heavily criminalized for fear of overthrowing the government. This angered the passage of the Hatch Act in 1939. With this, the government managed to curtail the allegations that democratic politicians used jobs for the campaign for communism. Thus, the Hatch Act proved to be a vital mechanism in the strategies of a second red scare.

The federal loyalty program also helped to enforce the Hatch Act. A list of subversive organizations was generated by the US attorney general and sought to carry out background checks form the FBI. Government employees were interviewed by the FBI officials to find out if they had any association with the list. Besides, the Congressional conservatives continued to accuse the administration of President Roosevelt for harboring communism into the nation. McCormick says that the Federal Communications Commission, Office of Price Administration were among the key organizations that were charged with propelling communism. A loyalty board was created by the Civil Service Commission (CSC), and it did review employees that were named by Martin Dies. An organization that tried to manipulate the policy of US for the advantage of the Soviet Union faced opposition. Moreover, “reasonable grounds for belief in disloyalty” was thought to establish communism and the peak of the program saw federal workers undergo loyalty screening (Nielsen 29). This resulted in a total of about 12,000 resignations and 2,700 dismissals in the civil servants. The loyalty standards did tighten as the political terrain shifted and reduced the vulnerability of the nation to communist attacks.


The first and the second red scare vitally shaped the history of US and shifted its political contexts. Many debates centered on the impact of communism, and this explains the need to enact strategic reforms to address the pressing problem. The society union had proved to be rapidly spreading this ideology, particularly during the cold war. During this time, tensions existed between the US and the USSR as both sought to seek global attention. History analysis proves that General Palmer's actions were vital in taming communism. Attention was driven exacting Acts such as the Sedition Act, Criminal Syndicalism Act and Espionage Act. Additionally, Domestic anticommunism fueled the widespread anxiety and the threats of totalitarianism.

Works Cited

McCormick, Charles H. Seeing Reds. Pittsburgh, University Of Pittsburgh Press, 2003,.

Nielsen, Kim E. Un-American Womanhood. Columbus, Ohio State University Press, 2001,.

Palmer A Mitchell. "The Case Against the 'Reds,” Forum (1920), 63:173- 185. 1920. (Accessed on October 1, 2017)

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