The American Pageant (12th Edition)

Chapter 32 – Page 729

Our Critique

729 “The big ‘red scare’ of 1919–1920 resulted in a nationwide crusade against left-wingers whose Americanism was suspect. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, who ‘saw red’ too easily, earned the title of the ‘Fighting Quaker’ by his excess of zeal in rounding up suspects. The red scare was a godsend to conservative businesspeople, who used it to break the backs of the fledgling unions.”

Even before the terror bombings of 1919–1920 (after World War I), some anarchists and terrorists had been disruptive. An anarchist assassinated President McKinley, for example. Thus, Attorney General Palmer, after a flurry of bombings and labor unrest, decided to round up and deport several thousand aliens as potentially dangerous. Bailey says that “conservative businesspeople” exploited the red scare, and perhaps some did, but Bailey ignores the context here. Palmer was in President Woodrow Wilson’s cabinet—and was rounding up aliens with Wilson’s approval. This was very much a Progressive Democrat operation.

In 1917, President Wilson supported the Espionage Act, which restricted civil liberties and was used to jail those who spoke against World War I. The FBI under Wilson had files on two million Americans, and one woman was sentenced to jail for saying, “I am for the people and the government is for the profiteers.” During Wilson and Palmer’s “red scare,” Professor Zechariah Chafee, Harvard law professor, said, “One by one the right of freedom of speech, the right of assembly, the right to petition, the right to protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, the right against arbitrary arrest, the right to a fair trial … the principle that guilt is personal, the principle that punishment should bear some proportion to the offense, had been sacrificed and ignored.” Bailey can’t blame “conservative businesspeople” for the red scare.

729–30 “Antiredism and antiforeignism were reflected in a notorious case regarded by liberals as a ‘judicial lynching.’ Nicola Sacco, a shoe-factory worker, and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, a fish peddler, were convicted in 1921 of the murder of a Massachusetts paymaster and his guard. The jury and judge were prejudiced in some degree against the defendants because they were Italians, atheists, anarchists, and draft dodgers.
“Liberals and radicals the world over rallied to the defense of the two aliens doomed to die. The case dragged on for six years until 1927, when the condemned men were electrocuted. Communists and other radicals were thus presented with two martyrs in the ‘class struggle,’ while many American liberals hung their heads. The evidence against the accused, though damaging, betrayed serious weaknesses. If the trial had been held in an atmosphere less charged with antiredism, the outcome might well have been only a prison term.”

Bailey’s account of the Sacco–Vanzetti case is misleading, prejudiced, and wrongheaded. Bailey blames the judge and jury for the murder conviction and is vague in describing the evidence against Sacco and Vanzetti. Nine eyewitnesses put Sacco at the scene of the crime, and some saw him shoot the gun; four identified Vanzetti—and ballistic tests on the bullet (done decades later) confirmed that the bullet that killed the paymaster was fired by Sacco’s gun. Fred Moore, the attorney for Sacco and Vanzetti, later admitted to novelist Upton Sinclair that he “framed a set of alibis for them.” Even Roger Baldwin, a founder and executive director of the ACLU, which sponsored the case, later admitted “there was no possible doubt of the guilt” of Sacco and Vanzetti. But students don’t learn any of this while reading Bailey’s account.