Hoover red scare 1919 ch5
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1920s: DECLINE AND LEGACY OF THE RED SCARE
America's Red Scare of 1919-1920 subsided almost as quickly as it had erupted, and although the scars remained, the nation rapidly regained its composure. Several factors explain the decline of the postwar frenzy. First, the nation's economy slowly stabilized, relieving citizens of the pressures of inflation and unemployment. As Americans regained prosperity, they no longer needed "scapegoats" for the postwar turmoil. Second, the labor conflicts of 1919 also subsided with business' successful repression of labor and its demands. By 1920, industry and business actively favored an end to the Red Scare hysteria; they feared the loss of cheap immigrant labor and wanted to eliminate the confining governmental controls. Third, time diminished the fervent emotions created by the Creel Committee, leaving Americans with a clearer perspective on their wartime experience. Finally, the Bolshevik revolutions in Europe, which had instilled terror in most Americans, ended; Americans now realized that the communist conspiracy to overthrow the world was no longer a threat. Believing that communism would remain confined to Russia, Americans tired of reports of the "Bolshevik menace" and began to focus their attention on other issues. Purging radicals from America was no longer a necessary prescription and with many of the postwar traumas alleviated, citizens looked forward to "normalcy."
Many factors operating on the national level also explain the decline of the postwar turbulence in Nevada. By mid- 1920 the state's wartime fever had passed, and Nevadans became less concerned with the "red menace." The Silver State's legislative and judicial proscriptions had eliminated the bulk of the IWWs, Socia!ists, and other perceived threats, and had driven a few foreign born immigrants from the state. By 1920 heavy demands for silver and copper, along with increased construction, relieved the state's unemployment, eased labor problems, and ensured prosperity for the rest of the decade. Improvement of the economy helped restore confidence. Even so, Nevadans remained cautious, and continued to pass repressive legislation and demanded "law and order."
Two national events, the May Day "revolution" and the September Wall Street bombing, indicated that the hysteria was ebbing in 1920. Attorney General Mitchell Palmer attempted to forestall intense criticism for his "inept" handling of January's "Red Raids" by instigating the May Day scare of 1920. With his eye on the Democratic presidential nomination, Palmer warned citizens to guard against a May Day "plot" to overthrow the United States. Americans, frightened by Palmer's prediction, began to mobilize for the coming "revolution." In Nevada, state and local police officials placed all officers on alert and "detained" suspected radicals. Yet, when May Day arrived, not a single disturbance occurred in the entire nation,, leaving Palmer's credibility and his political future severely damaged. The Tonopah Daily Bonanza spoke for Nevada when it condemned Palmer and his department for warning against "mythical dangers'' and creating "a state of hysteria." The Flay Day incident, concluded the Bonanza, disparagingly, was simply a "burlesque."
The reaction of the Nevada press to the Wall Street explosion in September further indicates that Nevadans were becoming tired, of Palmer's cry of "wolf" over the "Bolshevik menace." Nevada papers gave little coverage to the explosion that killed thirty-eight people, and they ignored Palmer's claims that the bombing was part of a gigantic plot to overthrow capitalism. The press gave greater attention to the Chicago White Sox gambling scandal than the Wall Street bombing; it preferred to keep Nevadans well informed on the heroics of the nation's new sports idols, Jack Dempsey and Babe Ruth, rather than report more stories of "creeping Bolshevisim."
The 1920 election confirmed the end of the Red Scare hysteria. During the campaign, both Republicans and Democrats downplayed the issue of radicalism and urged the nation to return to the ordinary business of living. Republican Presidential candidate Warren G. Harding typified the mood of the time when he stated that "too much has been said about Bolshevism in America." Nevada politicians also minimized the importance of the "red menace" during the campaign. The chief concern of local office seekers in the 1920 election was "the encroachment of the yellow· races," and a desire to protect Nevada from cheap foreign goods and low-paid "coolie" laborers. Nevadans like most Americans believed the answer to these problems was a change in leadership and the election of Republican candidates who supported high protective tariffs, immigration restriction, and oriental exclusion. Thus, Nevadans supported the Republican ticket in November i920, and voted into office a Republican Senator and Congressman, as well as a Republican majority in both houses of the state's legislature. The 1920 election signaled the end to Nevada's Red Scare.
Although America's anti-radical crusade halted after this election, intolerance toward immigrants, minorities and nonconformists continued unabated, while racism, suspicion of organized labor, and the clamor for "100% Americanism" also endured, permeating American society through the 1920s. In Nevada, the continuing discrimination against immigrants, and the pressure for conformity and "Americanism," was reflected in a series of laws passed in the early 1920s. In January 1921 the state legislature introduced a constitutional amendment prohibiting Japanese from owning or leasing land in the state. In support of this measure, citizens in several communities organized anti-Japanese societies and instigated boycotts to drive out the "yellow menace." Nevada's voters eventually approved the amendment in 1924. The legislators also introduced bills "to prohibit aliens from carrying or possessing firearms," and to amend the 1919 anti-Alien work act outlawing all foreign employment by the state. Local leaders proceeded in their effort to instill patriotism and conformity in all citizens by enacting laws "to promote Americanism in the schools," require the teaching of "thrift," and ordering the American flag flown over schools and on Mother's Day. In 1923 the state legislature persisted in its attempts to combat "radical" labor activity and reemphasized the virtues of "I00% Americanism" by passing measures barring strikes by non-residents, and mandating the teaching of the federal and state constitutions in all Nevada schools.
The hysteria's ugliest legacy in the state was the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan. Posing as the guardians of Christian morality and "100% Americanism," the Ku Klux Klan defended the maintenance of white supremacy, preaching hatred for Jews, "Japs," "Chinks," and other "undesirables." This racist organization served as an excellent vehicle for ex-"red hunters" and super-patriots in their purge of all "un-Americanisms." (For the story of Ku Klux Klan activity in Nevada see Craig Swallow's M.A. thesis, "The Ku Klux Klan in Nevada During the 1920s," University of Nevada at Las Vegas, 1978.)
Brief though it was, the Red Scare had revealed some of the uglier aspects of American society and politics. Nevadans had joined the nation in this irrational frenzy. While Nevada had escaped the violence and unrest which plagued many western states, the Red Scare hysteria contributed significantly to the decline of the Socialist party, and the demise of the Industrial Workers of the World. Nevadans had passed repressive legislation to prevent radical infiltration, and demanded conformity in an effort to "Americanize" foreigners. That Nevada's reaction was more moderate than many of its Western neighbors resulted from the state's support of mainstream labor, the presence of a high percentage of resident immigrants, and the absence of any serious violence or disorder. The impact of America's Red Scare of 1919-1920 had been severe at the time and left permanent scars on Nevada as well as the nation in the form of intensified nativism, racism, and intolerance.
All Rights Reserved, 1979, 2002 by Ted DeCorte.