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8. "Reds" & "Americans"

Public anxiety after a war drives an urgent need to redefine THEM and US in the war's aftermath. In America after World War One, the new THEM were the "REDS," whose menace could be defeated by US, the "true AMERICANS." But who were these adversaries? There were radicals who advocated the overthrow of American capitalism, especially after the 1917 Russian Revolution, but who were they? Immigrants? Union members? What about socialists, pacifists, liberals, and city dwellers? And there were many loyal Americans who would defend the nation's institutions—but who were they? Only native-born citizens? white Protestants? rural churchgoers? The fervor to define "Red" and "American" led to a brief but traumatic period after World War One—the "Red Scare." Through these primary resources, place yourself in the temperament of the times as you study the Palmer Raids, Sacco and Vanzetti, the Ku Klux Klan, and the labor and immigration debates of the 1920s.

    Collected Commentary Reds & Americans PDF file
  • Collected commentary. Headlines, images, and excerpts from news articles, editorials, official reports, addresses, and humor pieces reflect the broad span of opinion on the Red Scare and the campaign to define "100% Americanism." To what extent was the Red Scare a reasoned response to the war's aftermath and radical activism? To what extent did it escalate into national hysteria? How did it resemble McCarthyism after World War Two and the patriotism campaign after September 11, 2001? Selections can be divided among students for research and classroom discussion. (12 pp.)

  • Political cartoons, Reds & Americans PDF file
  • Political cartoons. Eight political cartoons on the Red Scare reflect the perspective of mainstream America from 1919 to the mid-1920s. Who were the "Reds"? How did they threaten America? What should be done about the threat? What solutions, safeguards, and built-in remedies were portrayed by the cartoonists? Study the cartoons with the five other cartoon collections in this Theme DIVISIONS and complete the cartoon analysis chart. (Cartoons, 9 pp.; Chart: 2 pp.)

  • Good Citizens' League PDF file
  • Babbitt: the "Good Citizens' League." Set in the fictional midwestern city of Zenith in 1920, Sinclair Lewis's classic novel Babbitt satirically portrayed the anxieties and adjustments of middle-class Americans after World War One. Many strove to define "100% Americanism" and insisted on frequent and unambiguous demonstrations of loyalty. Lewis placed his main character, real estate broker George Babbitt, in the middle of this frenzy. Struggling to identify his own political stance, Babbitt is caught between his newly adopted liberal views and his colleagues' demand that he join the local "Good Citizens League." Note: the dialogue includes several swear words. (5 pp.)

  • Political addresses on "Americanism," 1919-1920. During World War One and in the runup to the 1920 presidential election, political leaders were invited by the U.S. State Department's Committee on Public Information to record short sections of speeches they had delivered on recent issues. The 78rpm records, produced by the Columbia Graphophone Company under the label Nation's Forum, were sold for two dollars and released at the rate of two per month—one Republican and one Democrat. Many are available in American Leaders Speak: Recordings from World War I and the 1920 Election, 1918-1920 from the Library of Congress, and many among them address the Bolshevik threat, citizen loyalty, and Americanism. We recommend that you begin with the two speeches below; each speech transcript appears at the bottom of the page. (See Supplemental Sites below for similar addresses in the collection.)

  • Silent animated cartoons

    - Uncle Sam and the Bolsheviki-IWW Rat, Ford Motor Co., 1919. In this brief cartoon by the educational film division of the Ford Motor Company (Henry Ford was staunchly anti-union), farmer "Uncle Sam" points out bounteous harvests of grain, the "fine results of our labor" that symbolize American institutions. His attention is drawn to a huge malevolent rat chewing through the wall to devour the harvest. The rat is labeled "Bolsheviki (I.W.W.)," i.e., the International Workers of the World, the Communist-inspired labor union that espoused the destruction of capitalism. The farmer kills the rat with a shovel and exclaims that "Bolshevists are the rats of civilization." Don't miss the excellent commentaries by Dr. Scott Simmon (University of California, Davis)—an overview to the right of the video screen and a voiceover with the cartoon video. Also note the commentary by Mark Marks on the music created for the cartoon by Dr. Brian Robison (MIT). (0.40) NATIONAL FILM PRESERVATION FOUNDATION

    - All Puzzled, 1925. Felix the Cat offers to help his human complete a crossword puzzle (a '20s fad) by finding the answer to a clue—a seven-letter word for "Found Chiefly in Russia." Arriving in Russia through the kick of a helpful donkey, Felix discovers himself amidst Bolshevik revolutionaries and their bombs, one of which explodes and sends Felix flying home. "Did you get the seven-letter word?" asks his human. Felix shakes his head "no." "All I found in Russia was trouble"—which is the answer to the puzzle clue: T-R-O-U-B-L-E. Note the caricature of the bomb-wielding Russian revolutionary. (3:17; no sound accompaniment) INTERNET MOVING IMAGE ARCHIVE

See also Native & Foreign, Labor & Capital, Ku Klux Klan, Labor Union, and Labor Strike.

Discussion Questions

  1. First, study the definitions of anarchism, socialism, Communism, Bolshevism, and Marxism before discussing and analyzing these resources. Why is it important to understand the basic meanings of these isms before studying the Red Scare?
  2. Conduct research to gain an overview of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the brutal Russian Civil War of 1917-1922. How would news reporting of these events influence Americans' perception of socialist and Communist activism in the U.S.?
  3. To what extent was the Red Scare a reasoned response to radical activism in the aftermath of World War One?
  4. To what extent did the Red Scare escalate into national hysteria? Who was most vulnerable to the fears of Communist revolution?
  5. By 1930, what was the general consensus on the extent of the Bolshevik threat in America in 1919-1921? How serious was the threat of a radical movement to overthrow the U.S. government?
  6. How did the Red Scare resemble and differ from McCarthyism after World War Two and the patriotism campaign after September 11, 2001?
  7. Match each speaker with his opinion about the Bolshevik threat in postwar America. Remember to check the headlines, illustrations, and cartoons. [Answers]
    SPEAKER POSITION on the Bolshevik threat
    a. Nicholas M. Butler, president of Columbia University 1. Any immigrant who openly criticizes the U.S. government should be imprisoned, not just deported.
    b. Hiram Wesley Evans, leader of the Ku Klux Klan 2. Immigrant and black newspapers receive money from radical groups to promote Communist ideas.
    c. Sinclair Lewis, author of Babbitt 3. Many immigrants arrive with a rational distrust of government and must be taught to trust American democracy.
    d. A. Mitchell Palmer, U.S. Attorney General 4. The American Federation of Labor must expunge all Bolshevik influence from its unions.
    e. The Washington Post 5. Most Americans ignore the threat to American nationhood posed by Bolshevik radicalism.
    f. Life magazine (1883-1936) 6. Most Americans ignore the threat to American principles posed by anti-Bolshevik radicalism.
  8. From the readings and other sources, add to the chart below of actions taken or recommended to minimize Bolshevik influence in the U.S. Decide whether each action would be judged constitutional. Some cells are completed as examples.
    New York City, 1918: $100 fine and ten days' imprisonment for displaying the Soviet flag in parades or public meetings Public safety: veterans had attacked parading socialists displaying the Red flag. Possible violation of First Amendment protection of free speech Increase police presence during parades and arrest those who cause or engage in violence or other illegal activity
    Deportation of known and suspected radicals "remove menace of Bolshevism for good"
    [Atty. Gen. Palmer]
    "just . . . jail 'em"
    [J. Montague, "Curing a Bolshevik," 1920]
    Simpler than "curing the Bolshevik" of his ideology Possible due process violations (esp. 4th-6th Amendments)   
    Americanization programs for new immigrants      
    Fictional "Good Citizens' League" in Lewis's novel Babbitt      
  9. What concepts of "Americanism" were shared by Republican and Democratic speakers during the 1920 presidential campaign? How did they differ? Include the perspective of "cowboy-philosopher" Will Rogers (a Democrat).
  10. Write an overview of the Red Scare and the Americanism campaign that reflects your perception of the period. Begin with one of the statements below to draw your reader into the topic. Construct your commentary as a response to the statement. For an extra challenge, use an extended metaphor similar to Will Rogers's analogy of roping a branded steer to study the "American Animal."
Collected commentary____
  1. Compare the American and Russian political posters that feature the national flags. How does each poster use the flag as a dramatic and compelling image?
  2. Which two of the statements below are conclusions of the 1919 Overman Committee report on Bolshevik influence in the U.S.? [Answers]
    1. It is clear that the Russian Soviets and many radical groups in America support the overthrow of the U.S. government.
    2. Because Americans are not sufficiently informed about Bolshevism, they do not understand its actual principles and threats to the U.S.
    3. The advancing Soviet armies pose an imminent threat to the U.S. and European nations that had been the allies of czarist Russia in World War One.
    4. American citizens who are native Russians must be required to reaffirm their allegiance to the U.S. or be deported.
  3. What was the difference between "mild socialists" and "radical socialists," according to Rep. Horace M. Towner of Iowa?
  4. How would a Communist-inspired social revolution occur in the U.S., according to Maximilian Cohen, a founder of the American Communist Party?
  5. Through its illustrations, what opinion about American labor and Communism was expressed by Life magazine (the periodical of 1883-1936)?
  6. How did Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer defend the Palmer Raids as protecting America from "a mass formation of the criminals of the world to overthrow the decencies of private life"?
  7. Why did the authors of the National Popular Government League report call the Palmer Raids "a present assault upon the most sacred principles of our Constitutional liberty"?
  8. Write a dialogue between Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer and one of the men below on the given topic. In writing dialogue or a theatrical scene, what techniques can you employ to vividly convey personality and viewpoint? What compels an audience to engage with the speakers? As an added challenge, write two dialogues between the two men, each influencing the audience to favor one speaker or the other.
    DIALOGUE between Atty. Gen. Palmer and TOPIC of DIALOGUE
    Felix Frankfurter, co-author of the Natl. Popular Government League report on the Palmer Raids the constitutionality of the Palmer Raids
    Maximilian Cohen, co-founder of the American Communist Party the role of "the Worker" in a Communist revolution in America
    Hiram Wesley Evans, leader of the Ku Klux Klan the "true Americans" who will defend the U.S. from Bolshevism
    Will Rogers, syndicated columnist the vulnerability of Americans to radical propaganda
  9. In the definitions of Americanism submitted to the Forum in 1926, what was the point of Steve Baker's list of nineteen phrases, many of them paired opposites? What was Llewellyn Buiell's point in listing nine groups, each consisting of three honored Americans (note the semicolon divisions)?
  10. How will "practical common sense" keep future American radicals from becoming Bolshevik radicals, according to Henry Seidel Canby?
  11. Which prediction did Ku Klux Klan speakers Hiram Wesley Evans and Alma White make about Communists and Roman Catholics' goals for America? [Answer]
    1. They want to destroy the United States as a nation with its own democratic institutions and force its allegiance to foreign ideologies.
    2. They want to destroy American military strength so the U.S. cannot help Europe suppress Communist uprisings and Catholic domination.
  12. According to Evans and White, why did many Americans "shrug their shoulders and prepare to accept defeat"? Who would be left to save America?
  13. In his 1925 syndicated column, what conclusions did Will Rogers offer about the "American Animal" and AMERICANISM?
  14. What was Sraka Hrblova's concern about the "57 Varieties" of Americanization programs?
  15. According to James Montague, what would "cure a Bolshevik"? Why?
  16. To use Frederick Lewis Allen's phrase in his 1931 retrospective, what "killed" the Red Scare? Why did he liken America in 1921 to "an overworked businessman beginning his vacation"?
Political cartoons____
  1. As evidenced in the cartoons, what were the dominant causes and components of the Red Scare?
  2. What solutions, safeguards, and built-in remedies were portrayed by the cartoonists?
  3. Compare the first and last cartoons in the collection. How did Americans' perception of the Bolshevik threat change from 1919 to 1926?
  4. Create a political cartoon depicting Warren Harding and a Russian Communist—the figures in the two 1920 political posters that feature the nations' flags (in the collected commentary). What will the men say to each other, or to the viewer? How will the flags appear in the cartoon? How will you title the cartoon?
  5. Choose one of the selections below and present its commentary as a political cartoon. Decide the title, major symbols, and illustrations of the cartoon. Make sure its tone is consistent with the selection. For an extra challenge, create the cartoon in the style of one of these cartoonists (see cartoon collections throughout this Theme): Edwin Marcus of the New York Times, "Ding" Darling of the Des Moines Register, or Carey Orr or James McCutcheon of the Chicago Tribune.
  6. Complete the cartoon analysis chart for this theme DIVISIONS to study the cartoonists' viewpoints and the visual devices they used to convey them.
Babbitt: Good Citizens' League____
  1. According to George Babbitt's friend Vern Gunch, how did Communists and liberals threaten "decency and the security of our homes"?
  2. What steps would the Good Citizens' League take to bring a citizen into line with its view of American patriotism?
  3. Why does Babbitt resist joining the Good Citizens' League? Why does he feel bullied by his colleagues? Why does he join in the end?
  4. During his resistance, how does he characterize the G. C. L? How does it violate American values through its attempt to defend them?
  5. How did Lewis dramatize Babbitt's deepening paranoia?
  6. How did Lewis script Gunch's defense of the G. C. L. to emphasize Gunch's failure to evaluate it objectively?
  7. What aspects of Red Scare mentality are portrayed by Babbitt's wife Mary, his father-in-law Henry, and Colonel Snow, the editor of the town newspaper?
  8. To what extremes of intimidation could organizations like the Good Citizens' League reach, according to Lewis?
  9. How is Lewis's opposition to organizations like the Good Citizens' League apparent in these selections from Babbitt?
  10. Compare Babbitt's response to the Good Citizens' League with his similar experience during the general strike in Zenith. In each, how is the message conveyed to Babbitt that he must abandon friendships to display his loyalty?
  11. Write a brief book review of Babbitt by an advocate of strong anti-radical enforcement, such as Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, General Leonard Wood, Babbitt character Vern Gunch, or Klan member Alma White. You could also create a political cartoon critiquing the novel or a silent animated cartoon satirizing the novel.
Political speeches____
  1. How did the two candidates adapt the prevalent concern about "Americanism" for their campaign addresses? (Wood was the frontrunner for the 1920 Republican presidential nomination. Roosevelt was the Democratic vice-presidential candidate.)
  2. Independent of the speakers' messages, which man delivered his comments more effectively, in your opinion. Why? Consider voice, intonation, impact, and the sense of immediacy and sincerity.
  3. For the Nation's Forum discs, political leaders recorded excerpts from recent public speeches. How would their delivery be influenced by speaking into a studio microphone instead of communicating to a live audience?
Silent animated cartoons____
  1. How does Uncle Sam and the Bolsheviki-IWW Rat reflect the Red Scare mentality of 1919?
  2. How does All Puzzled reflect the post-Red Scare mentality of 1925? How would it have been received in 1919?
  3. How are the cartoons alike and different in representing the Bolshevik (Russian Communist) threat to America?
  4. Which cartoon was produced primarily as entertainment, and which as a political message?
  5. How does each cartoon entertain and deliver a political message?
  6. What does farmer "Uncle Sam" mean by "Bolshevists are the rats of civilization"?
  7. What does Felix the Cat mean by "All I found in Russia was trouble"?
  8. How does humor in an entertainment medium affect one's perception of a serious national issue?
  9. How did the animators adapt the prevalent caricatures of the Russian Bolshevik for their cartoons? Compare the cartoon caricatures with those in the political cartoons, especially "The Cloud" (1919).

Framing Questions

  • What factors precipitated and fueled the social divisions of the 1920s?
  • How did each division reflect postwar adjustments and the "modern age"?
  • What issues overlapped the multiple social divisions of the period?
  • How had each issue evolved by 1930 as the nation entered the Great Depression?


Collected commentary
Political cartoons
      Cartoon analysis chart
Babbitt: the Good Citizens' League
Political speeches
Animated cartoons
12 pp.
 9 pp.
 2 pp.
 5 pp.
  Listen online.
  View online.
28 pp.

Supplemental Sites

"The Red Scare Is Un-American," editorial by William Allen White, Emporia Gazette (Kansas), January 8, 1920 (W. W. Norton)

"The Case against the 'Reds'" by A. Mitchell Palmer, The Forum, February 1920, full text (

"The Big Red Scare," ch. 3 of Frederick Lewis Allen's Only Yesterday, 1931 (University of Virginia)

The Red Scare, overviews and resources The Palmer Raids, overviews and resources How Did Women Peace Activists Respond to "Red Scare" Attacks during the 1920s? (SUNY-Binghamton)

American Leaders Speak: Recordings from World War I and the 1920 Election, 1918-1920 (Library of Congress) Primary sources in History Matters: Many Pasts (George Mason University and the City University of New York) Analyzing political cartoons: guides from

– Lewis Crumley Gregg, "The Cloud," political cartoon, The Atlanta Constitution, January 19, 1919. Reproduced by permission of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Digital image courtesy of ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
– Edmund Gale, "The Big Red Apple" political cartoon, Los Angeles Times, April 19, 1923. Reproduced by permission of the Los Angeles Times. Digital image courtesy of ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
– Headlines from the Washington Post, 1919-1920. Request in process to the Washington Post. Digital images courtesy of ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
– Howard Chandler Christy, America First!, poster for the Warren Harding presidential campaign, 1920 (detail). Ohio Historical Society, OVS 1305. Reproduced by permission.
– Communist Party poster, Russia: "Down with capitalism — Long live the dictatorship of the proletariat," 1920 (detail). Courtesy of the New York Public Library, Collection of Russian and Ukrainian Posters, 1917-1921, Digital ID 1216126.
– "A Man Is Known by the Company He Keeps," illustration, Life, January 8, 1920. Current copyright holder of Life contents (1883-1936) unidentified; search in process.
– "America's Success in War and Industry . . . ," lithograph, poster published by the National Industrial Conservation Movement, New York City, 1917 (detail). Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-USZC4-7849.
– James J. Montague, "Curing a Bolshevik," poem, The Washington Post, October 9, 1920 (detail of published poem). Request in process to the Washington Post. Digital image courtesy of ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
– Stills from All Puzzled, Felix the Cat silent animated cartoon, 1925. In the public domain. Captures courtesy of the Internet Moving Image Archive.

Answers to discussion questions:
#7. a-3; b-5; c-6; d-2; e-1; f-4.
#12. a, b.
#21. a.  

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