The Red Scare of 1919 was the first of two major periods in American History when fear of radicalism culminated in the persecution and deportation of Americans thought to be radicals (communists, anarchists, or socialists). An unprecedented event, the Red Scare of 1919 exhibits how popular suppression and fear of radicalism can have disastrous consequences.
The causes of the Red Scare are numerous and varied, however, one of the most important factors that contributed to the scare was the acts passed during World War I. During the war, social-anarchists did not support American involvement, nor did they support the subsequent draft. In response to the dissent, Congress passed the Sedition Act (actually, amended the Espionage Act). It was important in relation to the Red Scare because it allowed for censoring of radical literature as well as regulation of the mail. It was directed against subversives and, therefore, cast a very broad net.
Because of the Sedition act, many individuals were arrested for distributing media that criticized the American military (Eugene Debs, head of the Socialist Party, was one of them). It was in response to this act that Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes set forth the "clear and present danger" doctrine and marked the beginning of modern First Amendment jurisprudence. Therefore, the Sedition Act of 1918 was important in the imposition of censorship after World War I. "Reds" were seen as a danger to the American system of government, economic stability, and way of life. In this sense, the war produced an era of intolerance for subversives, and it was this attitude that provided a ripe setting for the Red Scare of 1919 to take place. The Sedition Act was the legal excuse people used to regulate, censor, prosecute, and deport Americans thought to be radicals.
Intolerance during the...