Concerns over loyalty and patriotism have bubbled through the American polity at irregular intervals and levels of intensity since colonial days. The American Revolution itself and the Declaration of Independence were direct products of these internal conflicts. But stewing about what loyalty and patriotism may demand of a free people has never entirely subsided.
At the end of World War I, and following a couple of decades of increasing tension in America between militant Socialists and laissez-faire capitalists, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin announced the Third International and claimed leadership of all the world's Socialist parties. At almost the same instant, Woodrow Wilson made A. Mitchell Palmer attorney general of the United States.
Lenin and Palmer were made for each other. Palmer saw the Red Menace as a clear and present danger and worse. He took direct action without regard to law, Constitution, compassion, or common sense. Using his Bureau of Investigation to swoop down on bands of suspected Communists, he conducted an incredible, lawless campaign of arrest and attempted deportations through the winter of 1919-20. A twenty-two-year-old lawyer, two years in the Justice Department, was made a special assistant to Palmer and cut his eyeteeth in the Bureau of Investigation that winter. His name was John Edgar Hoover.
For Palmer it must be said that he had the wholehearted support of a majority of the American people. Their apprehension was justified by rhetoric from the Communists and fueled further by violent and bloody strikes and riots that were erupting across the country. Eugene V. Debs, the Socialist leader, was in jail for wartime sedition and Wilson refused to pardon him. But other radicals were leading strikes against mines, railroads, and fac-