Red Scares are a prominent feature of American life that have happened before there was a Communist Party in the United States. But the first full-scale red scare took place in the aftermath of World War I, under a Democratic Administration. This happened with Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, who was Quaker and had great concern for the underprivileged in keeping with the progressive Democrat under whom he served, Woodrow Wilson. The Palmer raids of 1919 and 1920 were notorious, but their longest lasting legacy was that Palmer’s young assistant, J. Edgar Hoover, learned the basics of Communist perfidy at the time.
By 1920 the Communist Revolution in Russia was only a couple of years old, and anarchists and radicals, many from foreign lands, were especially taken with the revolution in that backwards country, Russia, and hoped that such a revolution could happen in more developed countries. They were extremely enthusiastic with the Revolution that had taken place, and their beliefs had not yet been tempered by the passage of time and experience.
The first Palmer Raid took place on November 7, 1919, two years to the day from the Russian Revolution. This raid set the pattern for others to come, not only in that period but also after World War II. In the chart for that event, we see the transiting Uranus squarely on the natal Moon; as we have explained before, such a combination indicates that the people are disturbed, upset. Such a conjunction happened just before the United States went into Afghanistan earlier this century. We see that Pluto is conjunct natal Jupiter and thus moving through the core of the United States. But also notice that transiting Saturn is opposite transiting Uranus; This opposition, as can be seen by the graphical ephemeris below, was exact in early August (black arrow) and would be exact again in late Spring and early Summer of 1920 (red arrow). This opposition sets two forces in conflict: Saturn represents law and order, stability, conventional thinking, whereas Uranus represents unconventional ideas and actions, the promise of the new. This describes the conflict that was going on then, in the conservative times after World War I. The Amendment to the Constitution requiring Prohibition had just been passed and was to go into effect on January 17, 1920. Republicans would replace Democrats as President during the decade of the Twenties, lasting until Democrat Franklin Roosevelt took over after the Great Depression had already started. Another example of the Saturn Uranus opposition took place in 1965 and 1966, when newly elected, as President, Lyndon Johnson faced a “credibility gap” over the increasing involvement of American soldiers in the Vietnam War.
As a result of the First Palmer Raid, a converted troopship left the United States with famous anarchist Emma Goldman and almost 250 others. This so-called “Soviet Ark” was cheered by patriotic Americans, though the massive violations of civil liberties involved in gathering the deportees was ignored by the masses. The ship left New York harbor on December 21,1919, and arrived in Finland on January 17, 1920. The deportees were then conducted to the Russian border where they would hopefully be taken, because America certainly did not want them.
Another famous case from this time involved Italian anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti who were eventually executed for the murder of a guard during the robbery of a shoe company in Massachusetts on April 15, 1920. This case was a cause célèbre for many years, involving letters from all over the world and many famous jurists and lawyers. Eventually Michael Dukakis, then governor of Massachusetts, declared in 1977 that the two men had not received a fair trial.
In he chart for this murder, we see clearly the opposition of Saturn and Uranus; Uranus is no longer on the Moon of the U. S., but Pluto remains in the same position. There is a close conjunction between Jupiter and Neptune, which Ebertin links to idealism, and indeed there was much idealism and hope for a better world among the radicals that were so active in this period.
Another powerful movement at this time was the International Workers of the World, called the Wobblies, who had grown in the first decade of the new Century. There was much persecution of them at this time, the most glaring happened in Centralia, Washington on November 11, 1919, which involved the hanging of a Wobblie who had been removed from his prison cell and the deaths of five others. This happened during a parade celebrating the first anniversary of Armistice Day, the end of World War I. The newly-formed American Legion was not happy with the presence of the Wobblies. The chart for this riot shows many of the same planetary placements we’ve seen before with Pluto and Uranus and the Saturn-Uranus opposition. What is new is the position of the two fast-moving inner planets: Venus, the patriotic gathering for the parade, is at the Midheaven, and Mercury is at the Ascendant, and indeed this event is one of the more famous and well-communicated incidents of the First Red Scare.
There was much labor unrest during this period, which further worried the owners of industry. It has been estimated that 20% of the workers had gone on strike by the end of 1919. After the war was over, many workers wanted the back pay and raises that they had not received during the war.
Wilson, who had run on the campaign slogan “he kept us out of war” when he ran for re-election in 1916, and then promptly got the United States involved in World War I, did not want dissenters from the war effort, so he got passed the Espionage Act shortly before America entered the War; this Act was designed to prevent talk against the war. This Act was used to send Socialist Eugene Debs to prison for speaking against the war, and that is where he campaigned for President in 1920. While the Act has mostly been against people giving aid to enemies of the United States, this is the same Espionage Act that has been used most against Americans who were not dealing with enemies by our current President to sentence whistle blowers to prison.
In the chart for the Espionage Act, we see that not much had changed in the two years between this chart and the one for the Palmer Raid. Saturn is approaching a conjunction with Neptune, signifying the remorse many Americans would feel for the involvement of the country with a European War. There is also transiting Saturn opposite natal Pluto, always a bad combination which has been discussed before. A transiting Saturn transiting Pluto conjunction had occurred at the start of this very war.
There was strong dissent among the judiciary to these attempts against free speech. One of the better known was Schenek v United States (Charles Schenek was in the Socialist Party in Philladelphia) in 1919 (where the Court unanimously declared that the Act did not violate the Constitutional protection for free speech), and where Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously declared, regarding other cases, that free speech would not allow a man to shout fire in a crowded theater, but also declared that the government must show that any speech presents a “clear and present danger” to bring about evil that the government must prevent before it could be limited. This decision was handed down March 3, 1919.