The Fighting Quaker

palmer

In April 1919, dynamite bombs were mailed by anarchists in the United States to prominent business and political leaders. One of those bombs was delivered to the front door of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer by an unidentified individual who was blown to pieces by the explosion. Scattered among the victim’s limbs and clothing were small pamphlets entitled Plain Words, signed by a group calling itself The Anarchist Fighters.

Palmer, a presidential hopeful, saw an opportunity to place himself into a useful public spotlight. Palmer initially had Opposed to the arrest of radicals in the aftermath of World War I, but this anarchist’s bomb changed his outlook; Palmer turned into a rabid anti-Bolshevik crusader: the “Fighting Quaker.” Aside from labor secretary William Wilson, Palmer met very little opposition to this increasingly fascist stance towards the anarchists in the presidential cabinet, which, with Woodrow Wilson’s illness, rarely met anyway.

The Palmer Raids resulted in the rounding up of foreign-born radicals and the mass arrest of law-abiding citizens whose political views clashed with Palmer’s own, and paved way for the creation of a General Intelligence Division, which would be headed by one J. Edgar Hoover. Palmer brought the Red Scare to a boiling point, culminating in January 2, 1920 coordinated nation-wide raid on radicals, anarchists, socialists, and Bolsheviks.

Eventually William Wilson saw to it that the arrested suspects were given fair hearings and representation by counsel. This exposed the excesses of the Palmer Raids and when Palmer’s fearmongering that the Reds were planning a Bolshevik revolution and a series of assassinations of public officials were in the works for May Day 1920 came to nothing, his Red Scare faltered. Disgraced, Palmer won nothing at the Democratic presidential nomination, where his nickname was transformed by derisive colleagues from the Fighting Quaker into the Quaking Quitter, or the Faking Fighter.

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30 thoughts on “The Fighting Quaker

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