June 28th 1914, Gavrilo Princip’s assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand set in motion a chain of events that forever altered the course of history. The assassination of the Austrian Archduke is what many point to as the key event that set the world ablaze for the next four years. This great fire known as World War I forever changed the political, economic, and social landscape of the countries involved.
The sprawling impact of World War I extended far beyond the battlefield, but little did the parties involved in this conflict know, one of the many unintended consequences of this war would heavily influence the remainder of the 20th century. The fall of Tsarist Russia led to the rise of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or USSR, and with it the rise in popularity of socialism, communism, and Marxist thought. These philosophies were cause for growing concern in diametrically opposed capitalist governments such as the United States of America. The initial reaction to this propagation of Marxist thought during the years of 1918 to 1920 would come to be known as the First Red Scare. During this period The Supreme Court, Federal Government, and several state governments all participated in a collective effort to impede the spread of an intellectual revolution that emanated from recently revolutionized Russia. The United States sought to achieve this impedance by enacting numerous restrictive measures with the intent of curbing the spread of these potentially disruptive ideas. These actions were principally fueled by remnants of post-war hyper-nationalism, uncertainty about the future of labor relations, and nationwide hysteria spread through an increasingly xenophobic media. This anxiety resulted in a substantial overreaction to the true threat level the country was facing, and inspired actions that had less of an impact on the intended target of radical intellectual contagion than they did on the American ideals and values that these actions had originally sought to protect.
Over the course of 1917 to 1920 the United States saw a period of serious social, economic, and political unrest. American entrance into World War I sparked public outcry against conscription and the end of the American policy of non-intervention. This outcry led to public protests, riots, bombings, and growth in anti-war sentiment across the nation. In order to combat these concerning trends, as well as the threat of internal espionage, the United States passed the Espionage Act of 1917 as well as the Sedition Act of 1918. In addition to implementing wartime anti-espionage measures, these acts outlawed any negative speech that was directed towards America or the country’s involvement in the war, which severely limited protest rights within the country.
While the Great War ended in 1918, the civil unrest that had already begun to boil within the country did not subside, instead it intensified. 1919 would prove to be one of the most turbulent years in American history. America would soon experience a wave of hostility that ranged from labor strikes and race riots, to a series of terroristic bombings. By 1920, over twenty-four states had passed their own flavor of the Sedition Act, not for fear of spies, but for the act’s restrictive qualities. Some states went so far as to pass laws that banned flags containing the color red, or any known symbol of radicalism that could prove troublesome for the establishment. Of course, obvious exclusions were granted in this case of banned flags, the United States flag was foremost among these exemptions. In January of 1920 five voter-elected representatives in the New York Assembly were forcibly expelled for the simple fact that they were socialists. The speaker of the Assembly, Thaddeus Sweet declared the five had been “elected on a platform that is absolutely inimical to the best interest of the state of New York and the United States.” It had become clear that soon any ideology that challenged the established tenants of American life were to become the targets of the United States government, namely ideologies associated with anarchism, socialism, and communism.
The popularization of Marxist thought is paramount amongst the causes for escalation in what would have otherwise been deemed a simple period of national growing pains and civil unrest. The fear held by many was that the growth in the popularity of radical leftist ideals within America could lead to the destruction of the country’s traditional values and change the political, social, and economic landscape of the country forever. America over the course of its history has regarded several doctrines as near-sacred; one of the most prominent of these is the economic institution of capitalism, the very foundation for the country’s financial system.
 Lonnie Johnson, “Introducing Austria: A Short History.” (Riverside, CA.: Ariadne Press, 1989) 52-54.
 Ruth Henig, “The Origins of the First World War” (London: Routledge, 1989) 31.
 “Preparedness Day bombing in San Francisco,” History.com, accessed December 1, 2014, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/preparedness-day-bombing-in-san-francisco.
 Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Secrecy: The American Experience (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999), 89.
 Geoffrey R. Stone, Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004.), 541.
 F.G. Franklin, “Anti-Syndicalist Legislation” American Political Science Review, no. 14 (1920): 294-296.
 Franklin, “Anti-Syndicalist Legislation”, 291-298.
 Louis Waldman, Albany:The Crisis in Government: The History of the Suspension, Trial and Expulsion from the New York State Legislature in 1920 of the Five Socialist Assemblymen by Their Political Opponents (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1920), 2-7.
 Waldman, The Crisis in Government, 7.
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