Political Repression in the United States

from the book

Ronald Reagan: The Movie
and other episodes in political demonology

University of California Press, 1988, paper


Most treatments of the countersubversive mentality, as we shall see in chapter 9, disconnect demonology both from major American social divisions and from institutionalized political repression. Most versions of American history, by a complementary set of choices, chart a progress toward freedom and inclusion. To link countersubversive thinking to political repression is to write another history. Such an account hardly stands in for American history as a whole. But if certain familiar patterns recede into the shadows, neglected, dark areas emerge into light.

At the same time, the subject of political repression must not be confined to the suppression of already legitimate political opposition. A history of American political suppression must attend to the repression of active, political dissent. But it must also direct attention to prepolitical institutional settings that have excluded some Americans from politics and influenced the terms on which others entered the political arena. An account of American political suppression must acknowledge the suppression of politics itself. It must notice the relations between politics and private life. Countersubversive ideologies psychological mechanisms, and an intrusive state apparatus all respond to the fear of subversion in America. We begin with the controls exercised over peoples of color.

"History begins for us with murder and enslavement, not with discovery," wrote the American poet William Carlos Williams. He was calling attention to the historical origins of the United States in violence against peoples of color. He was pointing to America's origins in the origins of a capitalist world system. Indian land and black labor generated a European-American-African trade in the seventeenth century and contributed to the development of commodity agriculture, industrial production, and state power in Europe and the Americas. Karl Marx wrote, "The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement, and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and the looting of the East Indies, and the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalized the rosy dawn of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief moments of primitive accumulation."

By primitive accumulation Marx meant the forcible acquisition by a mixture of state and private violence of land and labor to serve the accumulation of capital. Primitive accumulation made land, labor, and commodities available for the marketplace before the free market could act on its own. The suppression, intimidation, and control of peoples of color supplies the prehistory of the American history of freedom. People of color were important, moreover, not only at the origins of America but also in its ongoing history-through westward expansion against Indians and Mexicans, chattel slavery and the exclusion of emancipated blacks from political and economic freedom, and the repressive responses to Hispanic and Asian workers. The American economy exploited peoples of color, but American racial history is not reducible to its economic roots. A distinctive American political tradition that was fearful of primitivism and disorder developed in response to peoples of color. That tradition defines itself against alien threats to the American way of life and sanctions violent and exclusionary responses to them.

Indians in early America, emblematic of chaos, were not seen through New World lenses. They rather came to embody the masterless men who appeared in Europe with the breakdown of traditional society. "Liv[ing] without government," in the words of one early report, and freed of the restraints of family, church, and village as well, the idle, wandering savages were depicted as engaging in incest, cannibalism, devil worship, and murder. Some European-Americans, to be sure, depicted savages not as monstrous but as noble. Traders, promoters of commercial ventures, settlers no longer threatened by powerful tribes, and humanists drawn to a classical or Christian golden age all imagined peaceful primitives enjoying a state of innocence. But the noble savage and his dark double were joined. Both images of primitivism appropriated Indians for white purposes. Both made the Indians children of nature instead of creators and inhabitants of their own cultures. Both ignored Indian agriculture and depicted a tribalism that menaced private property and the family. Neither the noble nor the devilish savage could coexist with the advancing white civilization. Both images rationalized the dlspossession of the tribes.

Indians did not use the land for agriculture, explained Massachusetts Bay governor John Winthrop. Since the wandering tribes failed to "subdue and replenish" the earth, white farmers could acquire their land. Winthrop's principle of expropriation was an accepted tenet of international law by the early eighteenth century. It did not justify the individual acquisition of farming plots, however, but rather state action. First the colonies and the mother country, then the independent states and finally the federal government expropriated land by making treaties with Indian tribes. George Washington, justifying the treaty method, defended

the propriety of purchasing their lands in preference to attempting to drive them by force of arms out of our country, which, as we have already experienced, is like driving the wild beasts of ye forests, which will return as soon as the pursuit is at an end, and fall, perhaps upon those that are left there when the gradual extension of our settlements will as certainly cause the savage, as the wolf, to retire; both being beasts of prey tho' they differ in shape.

Indians were animals, but fortunately they were men as well. As men they could make contracts, accept money, and consent to the loss of their land. Treaties presented a fiction of Indian freedom to disguise the realties of coerced consent, bribery, deception about boundaries, agreements with one faction enforced on an entire tribe, and the encouragement of tribal debts-real and inflated-to be paid off by the cession of land.

The policy of Indian removal conceived by Thomas Jefferson, employed in his and succeeding administrations, and forced upon the southern Indians by Andrew Jackson, offered Indians the freedom to move west if they relinquished their ancestral holdings. Although removal treaties (discussed in chapter 5) were forced upon the tribes, the treaty method allowed Indian expropriation to proceed under the color of law. It engaged Indians in consent to their own subjugation.

The federal government abrogated tribal treaty-making rights in 1871. In return for depriving Indians of their collective freedom, the government promised individual freedom. The government had begun to offer freedom to individual Indians early in the nineteenth century to atomize tribes and subject their members to market pressures and state laws. The most important individual freedom offered Indians was freedom from communal land ownership. Some tribal leaders in antebellum America believed that individual allotments were the only way to preserve Indian land, but widespread fraud and intimidation quickly transferred Indian freeholds to white land companies. The Dawes Severalty Act of 1887, which Theodore Roosevelt praised as "a mighty pulverizing engine to break up the tribal mass," offered Indians the opportunity to become free Americans; the freedom that they actually acquired was the freedom to alienate their land. Railroads, mining interests, cattlemen, and land corporations acquired the land allotments granted Indians. Between 1887 and 1934 the tribes lost an estimated 60 percent of their holdings. In 1983 Secretary of the Interior James Watt proposed to grant Indians "freedom" from their "socialistic" dependence on the federal government and on their tribes; Indian spokesmen, in response, denied they were Reds. The freedom offered Indians, from Jackson to Watt, has undermined communal loyalties as sources of political resistance.

American Indian policy from the beginning combined freedom with coercion, the method of the marketplace with the method of the state. Government has shown two faces to the tribes, one of violence, the other of paternal guardianship. Consider the acquisition of land. Whites claimed Indian land not only by right of treaty or proper use but also as the fruits of a just war. Conflicts over land and living space produced a series of Indian wars, beginning with Virginia's war against the Powhatan Confederacy in 1622 and with the New England Pequot War of 1636-37. White expansion provoked most of these wars; savage atrocities were cited to justify them. Wars over living space produced civilian casualties on both sides; but whereas Indian violence was attributed to primitive ferocity, the systematic destruction of Indian crops and villages was defended as a matter of deliberate policy. White victories, it was said, proved the superiority of civilization over savagery. Indian wars were important in the colonies and during the Revolution. They also promoted American continental expansion from the War of 1812 to the closing of the frontier. More than two hundred pitched battles were fought in the West during the Gilded Age, and there was also periodic guerrilla warfare in outlying regions. The history of Indian war ended at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in 1890 with the massacre of two hundred Sioux men, women, and children, including the old warrior, Sitting Bull, after a ghost dance ceremony.

Indians displaced by treaty or defeated in war were offered "paternal guardianship." Indian tribes were "in a state of pupilage," ruled the Supreme Court in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831); "their relation to the United States resembles that of a ward to his guardian." Since the Cherokees were not a nation, they could not maintain an action in court to protect their autonomy. As the equals of whites, Indians had the freedom to lose their land; as the wards of a paternal government, Indians were confined. The government adopted a reservations policy before the Civil War and enforced it on the western tribes in the late nineteenth century. Confined to reservations, tribes were dependent on government food, clothing, and shelter. Although they were held in protective custody, their land continued to be subject to encroachments from cattle, agricultural, and mineral interests.

Confinement was seen not simply as the opposite of Indian freedom but as the preparation for a new kind of liberty. "Civilized and domesticated," reservation Indians were to be freed from their tribal identities and remade as free men. "Push improvement on them by education, alienation, and individuation," urged an Osage agent in the late nineteenth century. Indian agents encouraged commodity agriculture, ignoring unsuitable topographical and cultural conditions and the presence of rapacious whites. Compulsory government boarding schools regimented children in barracks far from their parents' homes, forced them to abandon tribal dress, and punished them for using their native tongue.

When antebellum Indian Commissioner Thomas McKenney had evoked "their helplessness and their dependence on the President as their father," his intention was more than benevolent description. McKenney wanted to make Indians over into the "children" he described. The passionate, profligate savages imagined at the beginning of American history had given way by the end of the nineteenth century to dependent Indians whose helplessness was the condition of their improvement. Amerigo Vespucci had depicted lascivious savages whose "women, being very lustful, cause the private parts of their husbands to swell up to such a huge size that they appear deformed and disgusting." Four hundred years later a leading Indian reformer, Merrill E. Gates, explained, "We have, to begin with, the absolute need of awakening in the savage Indian broader desires and ampler wants.... In his dull savagery he must be touched by the divine angel of discontent.... Discontent with the teepee and the starving rations of the Indian camp in winter is needed to get the Indian out of the blanket and into trousers- trousers with a pocket in them, and with a pocket that aches to be filled with dollars." (Italics are in the original.) The progress from sex to money had replaced the swollen private parts of Vespucci's Indian with the aching, empty pockets of Gates's.

Aspirations to turn native Americans into passive receptacle for white desires were not wholly fulfilled, however. Reservation tribes maintained some autonomy, thanks in part to varying mixtures of accommodation and resistance and in part to federal recognition (beginning with the New Deal) of Indian rights. Assaults on Indian land, water, and minerals continue, nonetheless, often with the cooperation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Dillon S. Myer, for example, as head of the bureau under President Truman, denied tribes the right to hire lawyers to defend themselves against predatory whites. The commissioner accused Felix Cohen, the leading American authority on Indian law and an opponent of Myer's policies, of being a Communist sympathizer. The Eisenhower administration sought to abolish reservations altogether, and although that effort was only partially successful, it shifted considerable land from Indians to whites. Today Indian tribes remain what Cherokee Nation v. Georgia defined them to be: "domestic, dependent nations" within the United States.

The dispossession of Indians did not happen once and for all in American history. America was continually expanding west, and while doing so it decimated, removed, or confined one tribe after another. That history had major consequences not only for Indian-white relations but also for American history as a whole. It defined America from the beginning as a settler society, an expanding, domestic, imperial power. Expansion guaranteed American freedom, so it was believed, protecting Americans from the crowded conditions and social class divisions of Europe. Although Indian wars actually exemplified state violence, they fed an opposite myth-the myth of the self-made man. Masterless Indians had challenged European institutional restraints at the beginning of American history. Early settlers made Indians a threat to community. By the Age of Jackson, Americans celebrated their own independence, which Indian tribalism threatened to confine. White Americans contrasted their own freedom, disciplined by self-restraint, with the subversive, idle, and violent freedom of the Indians. The self-reliant American gained his freedom, won his authority, and defined the American national identity in violent Indian combat in the West.

With the perceived closing of the continental frontier in the 1890s the policy of Manifest Destiny was extended to Asia. The suppression of the Philippine independence movement after the Spanish-American war caused hundreds of thousands of deaths. America was, according to those who carried out and defended its Philippine policy, continuing Its conquest over and tutelage of primitive tribes. Indian policy also set precedents for twentieth-century interventions in Latin America. The country's expansionist history against savage peoples of color culminated rhetorically and in practice in the war in Vietnam. Counterinsurgent, savage warfare returned in the 1980s to the New World, Central American arena where it had always prospered, as the United States supported death squads in San Salvador and terror bombing and a scorched earth policy in the El Salvador countryside, the torture and murder of Guatemalan Indians, and terrorist attacks by "freedom fighters" on the people and government of Nicaragua. Calling the Nicaraguan contras "the moral equal of our Founding Fathers," President Reagan laid claim to a tradition for which other citizens of the United States might wish to make reparation.

Indian policy also had domestic implications. Indians were the first people to stand in American history as emblems of disorder, civilized breakdown, and alien control. Differences between reds and whites made cultural adaptation seem at once dangerous and impossible. The violent conquest of Indians legitimized violence against other alien groups, making coexistence appear to be unnecessary. The paranoid style in American politics, as Richard Hofstadter has labeled it, goes back to responses to Indians. The series of Red scares that have swept the country since the 1870s have roots in the original red scares. Later countersubversive movements attacked aliens, but the people who originally assaulted reds were themselves aliens in the land. Responses to the Indians point to the mixture of cultural arrogance and insecurity in the American history of countersubversion. The identity of a self-making people, engaged in a national, purifying mission, may be particularly vulnerable to threats of contamination and disintegration. The need to draw rigid boundaries between the alien and the self suggests fears of too dangerous an intimacy between them.

Just as fears of subversion moved from Indians to other social groups, so did techniques of control. The group ties of workers and immigrants were assaulted in the name of individual freedom. State violence, used to punish Indians who allegedly preferred war to labor, was also employed against striking workers. A paternal model of interracial relations developed in slavery as well as in Indian policy. Finally, Indians shared their status as beneficiaries of meliorist confinement with the inmates of total institutions. These arenas-slavery, the asylum, labor relations, and radical dissent-form the major loci of American political suppression.


The early repressive labor system in the colonies, with restrictive terms of indenture for both white and black workers, gave way by the eighteenth century to freedom for whites and slavery for blacks. That division had less significance in the North, which lacked a large, propertyless proletariat, than in the South. Slavery secured a labor force for southern plantations. It overcame the twin threats of interracial, lower-class solidarity and class war between propertied whites and land-hungry white servant workers. A slave labor system restricted to blacks could not have developed without preexisting invidious racial distinctions. But slavery intensified racism. Racialist thinking simultaneously justified black enslavement and forged racial bonds across class lines among whites.

Both blacks and Indians, in racialist thought, posed primitive threats to the social order. But those threats differed, in keeping with the contrasting white desires for Indian land and black labor. Indians, on the margins of white settlement, posed the subversive threat of freedom; that threat was met by the displacement, elimination, or confinement of the tribes. Blacks, upon whose labor whites depended, posed the subversive threat of reversing the relations of dependence. Indians offered escape from political, social, and familial institutions; blacks threatened social and sexual upheaval.

Slavery, a labor system, constituted the fundamental social relationship between whites and blacks. But law and cultural myth transformed white domination into a black sexual threat. The first statements and acts that distinguished between individuals purely on the grounds of ancestry had to do with interracial sex and with determining the status of mixed offspring. By defining children of interracial unions as black and therefore slaves, legal enactments guaranteed a slave labor force.

Other slave societies, with small white settler populations, created a special caste of mulattoes; human beings in the United States had to be either white or black. Although this absolute bifurcation had practical origins, it also derived from northern European, Protestant cultural phobias.

Thomas Jefferson warned that the slave who engaged in interracial sex was "staining the blood of his master." Jefferson feared the black man's desire for the-white woman, reversing the actual direction of interracial sexual exploitation under slavery. Women were identified with blacks in the seventeenth century as sources of dangerous, sexual passion. Prohibitions against sex between black men and white women helped keep the women within a patriarchal, family-centered society. As fears of female sexuality went underground in the later eighteenth century, black men were alleged to threaten white women by what they wanted from them, not by what they shared with them. The repressive effect was the same. "Mulattoes are monsters," warned the nineteenth century Mississippi defender of slavery, Henry Hughes. "Amalgamation is incest." Hughes's association of miscegenation with incest suggests that he feared blacks not because they were so alien to whites but because they were all too close to them.

Slaves were excluded from the political process in antebellum America. Fears that they would enter politics in a revolutionary way, through slave uprisings and mass murder, led to harsh southern slave codes. These codes forbade teaching slaves to read or write and prohibited slaves from congregating for social or religious purposes without the presence of a white or from leaving their plantations without a pass. Southern states made manumission difficult or impossible. Slave marriages enjoyed no legal protection, and slaves had no recourse against being bought or sold. A paternalist ideology claimed that the plantation was a family and made the master entirely responsible for the welfare of his slave children. Slave codes were enforced intermittently, to be sure, and the life of southern blacks was not defined solely by them; many planters, moreover, took seriously their paternal obligations. But even on its own terms paternalism attended to slaves only by depriving them of the right to speak and act for themselves. In combination with the slave codes, planter paternalism deprived slaves of all legal protection. Slave patrols of armed white men maintained racial order. In real or imagined times of trouble, these patrols or other white mobs took racial matters into their own hands.'

Free blacks did not fare much better than slaves, either in the North or in the South. Southern states tried to expel free blacks; many had no legal residence. Northern states prohibited blacks from voting, serving on juries, or testifying in court and deprived them of civil rights as well. Northern mobs rioted against free blacks, destroying neighborhoods and killing men, women, and children.

Slavery not only denied freedom to blacks; it also decisively influenced the history of freedom for whites. Americans fought a revolution in part to protect property created by slave labor, and the profits from that labor financed the revolutionary alliance with France. In addition, the vast majority of propertyless workers in revolutionary America were in chains, racially divided from the mass of free whites. White Americans could demand the end of their enslavement (as they called it) to Britain without fearing, as their European counterparts did, that propertyless workers would demand their natural rights as well.

Slavery also guaranteed white freedom in the antebellum South. "In this country alone does perfect equality of civil and social privilege exist among the white population, and it exists solely because we have black slaves," declared the Richmond Enquirer in 1856. "Freedom is not possible without slavery." The South was a herrenvolk democracy, in which political and social equality among whites rested on the subjugation of blacks and in which the aspiration to acquire slaves made ambitious yeomen into imitators rather than adversaries of the planter class. The racial division mitigated tensions between the paternalist and premodern plantation on which the southern elite lived and the individualist and formally democratic order outside its gates.

The Denmark Vesey slave conspiracy of 1822, the Nat Turner rebellion a decade later, and the beginnings of abolitionist agitation in the early 1830s all fed southern fears of racial rebellion. The resulting restrictions imposed on slaves underlined the dependence of white southern freedom on black slavery. But the fear of antislavery agitation drastically curtailed political and intellectual freedom for southern whites as well. It was illegal to argue in southern states that slavery was an illegitimate form of property or to advocate its abolition. The federal government acquiesced in the censorship of southern mail to prevent the circulation of antislavery literature. Mob violence intimidated the occasional antislavery editor, and the fear of subversive ideas spread beyond antislavery to inhibit intellectual and cultural expression more broadly.

The defense of slavery also restricted political freedom in the nation as a whole. Congress adopted a gag rule in 1836 to prevent discussion of antislavery petitions. Antiabolitionist mobs, more often than not led by local gentlemen of property and standing, invaded abolitionist meetings and destroyed abolitionist newspapers. In Alton, lllinois, in 1837, a mob murdered the abolitionist editor Elijah Lovejoy.

The abolition of slavery, in spite of proslavery fears, led to neither political nor social freedom for blacks. A new, quasi-peonage system replaced slavery as the dominant form of labor in southern agriculture Sharecropping arrangements, tenant farming, and a crop lien credit system tied black agricultural workers to planters and merchants. Black convicts, often imprisoned without due process, worked southern mines and built and repaired southern roads. The Ku Klux Klan terrorized blacks during Reconstruction, when they enjoyed a small measure of political power. Jim Crow laws developed to enforce social segregation, and Iynchings and mob violence punished real or imaginary black assertions of freedom.

Black efforts to acquire political power climaxed at the end of the nineteenth century in southern Populism, an interracial alliance of black and white farmers. Physical intimidation, electoral fraud, and racial fears all played a part in its defeat. That defeat was followed by the total disenfranchisement of blacks. Suffrage restrictions excluded many poor whites as well. The specter of black power and the political exclusion of blacks created a system of one-party politics in the South. That politics was characterized by low participation; shifting, personally based factions; demagogic appeals; and the emergence of leaders hostile not just to racial equality but to a variety of ideas that were labeled un-American.

A pseudoscientific racist ideology, justifying black subordination and stigmatizing non-Teutonic European immigrants as well, developed in postbellum America. Imperial democrats like Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson merged tutelary visions of the white man's burden abroad with justifications of racial inequality at home. Blacks were deprived of political power and suffered from economic discrimination in the North as well as the South, but no legal, state-enforced system of segregation developed in the North. A formal commitment to racial equality was enshrined in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution. Courts used the Fourteenth Amendment for seventy-five years to protect corporations instead of blacks. But a series of rulings against discrimination culminated in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which outlawed legally segregated schools. The decision set in motion a movement for black political and civil rights, the intimidation of which belongs with a discussion of the politics of the 1960s.

The 1790 naturalization law, one of the first acts of the new federal government, prohibited nonwhite immigrants from becoming naturalized citizens. That act expressed desires for a homogeneous population, the consequences of which have reached beyond racial exclusion. Peoples of color, nonetheless, have felt the legal effects of such desires with particular force. Hispanics and Asians who came to work in the United States or who lived on land seized by the expanding nation were denied full civil and political rights well into the twentieth century. Most worked in labor-repressive systems in the farms and mines of California and the Southwest. Anti-Chinese agitation played a central role in California politics from the 1870s through the Progressive period. In perhaps the greatest single deprivation of rights in all American history, 110,000 Japanese-Americans were rounded up and interned in "concentration camps" (as President Franklin Roosevelt called them) during World War II. The Japanese were, according to the army official who recommended their incarceration, an "enemy race." Earl Warren, then the California attorney general, explained that he knew methods to "test the loyalty" of individual Caucasians. "But [he complained] when we deal with the Japanese we are in an entirely different field, and we cannot form any opinion that we believe to be sound." The Supreme Court upheld forcible Japanese internment in Korematsu v. U.S. (1943) on national emergency grounds. President Harry Truman rewarded Dillon S. Myer for directing the War Relocation Authority by appointing him Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1950.

American history is normally seen as a history of freedom rather than suppression. American racial history suggests that the suppression of peoples of color outside the normal political system has supported the freedom of the people within it. But the connections-real or imagined-between Indians and masterless Europeans, black and white workers, black sexuality and white women, all call into question any simple notion that whites were granted political rights while peoples of color were denied them. A fear of subversion has converted conflicts of interest in race relations into all-encompassing, psychologically based dangers to personal and national identity. That same fear of subversion underlies the nonracial history of American political repression.

The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 nearly abolished freedom of speech and the press in the new nation. The Sedition Act made criminal "any false, scandalous and malicious" writings or utterances against the government that were intended to defame government officers or excite against them the hatred of the people. The Alien Acts increased the period of residency prior to citizenship to fourteen years, authorized the president to deport any alien he considered dangerous to domestic peace, and empowered him to expel citizens of a country at war with the United States. These acts were the culmination of a dominant strand of thought in eighteenth-century America hostile to political liberty.

The English common law of seditious libel, valid in the colonies, punished criticism that lowered the government in public esteem and threatened to disturb the peace. Defenders of free expression in the colonies, before and during the Revolution, never attacked the concept of seditious libel at its roots. They did oppose prior restraints on the press, which the First Amendment eventually prohibited. They also demanded that jury trials be held in seditious libel prosecutions and that truth be allowed to stand as a defense. There is no evidence that the authors of the First Amendment intended to abolish the common law of seditious libel. The Alien and Sedition Acts themselves instituted no prior restraint, called for trial by jury, and permitted truth as a defense. Hence their supporters could well have found the acts consistent with the First Amendment.

American revolutionaries had attributed colonial factionalism to the British Crown. Once that alien presence was removed from American life, it was thought, factional conflicts would disappear. No theory justified an institutionalized opposition to popularly based government. Trial by jury and truth as a defense protected Americans who attacked the Crown; they offered no refuge for those critical of locally popular governments. Only one case brought under the Alien and Sedition Acts ended in acquittal.

The Alien and Sedition Acts refused to countenance the existence of a legitimate political opposition. Jeffersonian Republicans, targets of the acts, developed in response the first theory of free expression in America to repudiate seditious libel. The Jeffersonians rejected the distinction between ordered liberty and license, the distinction upon which earlier defenses of free speech had rested. The need to show the truth of an idea, they argued, inadequately protected freedom of opinion. Madison, in Federalist 10, had already insisted that factions could not be suppressed without destroying liberty. His 1800 report to the Virginia House of Delegates argued that popular governments, unlike hereditary monarchies, could not be libeled. A system of popular rule required freedom to criticize the government, wrote Madison. The defeat of the Federalists in 1800 established the legitimacy of political opposition in America.

Legitimate opposition was still to be distinguished from illegitimate opposition. President Jefferson himself countenanced seditious libel prosecutions in the states. State action to suppress dissent, derived from the law of seditious libel, would come to play a major role in the twentieth century. Modern governments seeking to suppress sedition would also draw on the tradition enshrined in the other half of the Alien and Sedition Acts, the belief that blamed aliens for sedition.

Federalists had charged that agents of the French Revolution, in combination with a secret order of Freemasons and Bavarian Illuminati, were conspiring to destroy American independence. The Illuminati conspiracy, a fantasy of the Federalist imagination, justified the Alien and Sedition Acts. Although state laws were rarely passed to suppress such foreign threats in antebellum America, conspiratorial fears still dominated politics. Americans mounted a series of crusades against Catholics, Masons, the Mormon church, the "monster-hydra" bank of the United States, the abolitionists, the slave power conspiracy, and the demon rum.

Aside from those demons connected to Indian dispossession and slavery, the Catholic church was the most important continuing target of antebellum countersubversion. "Three-fourths of the foreign emigrants whose accumulating tide is rolling in upon us, are, through the medium of their religion and priesthood," wrote the Reverend Lyman Beecher, "entirely accessible to the control of the potentates of Europe, as if they were an army of soldiers, enlisted and officered, and spreading through the land." Members of this Catholic conspiracy, according to the inventor of the telegraph, Samuel F. B. Morse, stood "in regular steps of slave and master." (Morse was the son of the Reverend Jedidiah Morse, who had introduced the fantasy of a "secret revolutionary conspiracy of Illuminati" into America.) The Catholic church, like other targets of countersubversive fantasies, combined total order with sexual license. Maria Monk's Dutiful Disclosures of the Hotel Dieu Nunnery of Montreal (1836), which charged that nuns and priests lived in criminal intercourse and baptized and strangled their babies, was endorsed by the Protestant religious press and became a national best-seller. The domination exercised within Catholic orders, countersubversives believed, threatened to spread throughout society. "The serpent has already commenced his coil about our limbs, and the lethargy of his poison is creeping over us," warned Morse. "We must awake or we are lost." Fears of a Catholic conspiracy continued to play an active role in American politics through the 1920s, when the anti-Catholic Ku Klux Klan mobilized millions of followers.

The fear of alien conspiracies led to blaming problems in American life on forces operating outside it. Conspiracy hunting turned political differences into absolute struggles between good and evil. Antebellum crusades had millennial, Protestant roots. They also reflected the dark side of American individualism. In mobile, antebellum American society, individuals influenced others to advance themselves and hid their real identities behind confidence-inspiring facades. Pervasive role-playing generated suspicions of hidden motives, as individuals tried simultaneously to influence others and to protect themselves from invasion. Countersubversives imagined secret centers of power that issued directives and constrained individual freedom. Conspiracies like the ones exposed by Maria Monk threatened simultaneously to disorganize the vigilant self and to fulfill its hidden desire to dominate.

Efforts to stigmatize aliens were often more than rhetorical. Mobs not only assaulted abolitionists and free blacks; they also attacked Catholic neighborhoods and destroyed Mormon communities. The mob that burned a Roman Catholic convent in Charlestown, Massachusetts, in 1834 had been stirred by the fiery sermons of Lyman Beecher. Beecher attacked popery as the enemy of religion and republicanism, exhorting his audience to action against it.

But those like Beecher, who were concerned with alien dangers before the Civil War, relied most heavily neither on state laws against dissent nor on mob action. They sought instead to build institutions and form characters that would domesticate American freedom. The antiMasonic impulse in Rochester, New York, for example, was coopted and transformed into a method of evangelical, Protestant discipline. The wives of manufacturers and other middle-class women, visiting and converting the poor, substituted orderly institutions of work, worship, and domesticity for secret centers of vice. In attracting sober workers to the church, evangelicals reformed working-class factories and neighborhoods.

The men and women who invented the asylum and reformed the family proposed to work on the interior of the self. Their efforts dovetailed with the pressures to conformity Tocqueville observed on his trip to America. The tyranny of public opinion, the ideology of domesticity, and the creation of the asylum all limited political dissent in scarcely measurable ways. Insofar as they succeeded, they did not simply intimidate political opposition already formed but inhibited the formation of new opposition. Our subject now is the suppression of politics at the prepolitical level, through the transformation of potentially political discontent into problems of personal life.

The removal of external British authority created a crisis of order for elites in the new nation. "We have changed our form of government," explained the Philadelphia physician Benjamin Rush, "but it remains yet to effect a revolution in our principles, opinions, and manners to accommodate them to the forms of government we have adopted." One solution (which Rush himself favored in the Pennsylvania constitutional debates of 1776) was to maintain a restricted suffrage and keep those who might threaten property and order out of electoral politics. But suffrage was already widespread before the Revolution. By the Jacksonian period all states except Rhode Island and South Carolina had universal white manhood suffrage.

Suffrage restriction continued to deny a political voice to women and peoples of color. Susan B. Anthony and fifteen other women were arrested for voting in the 1872 presidential election and charged with violating a federal law. Picketers from the Women's party in Washington, D.C., were assaulted by mobs, arrested, and jailed during World War I for attacking the effort to "make the world safe for democracy" in a country that denied half its citizens the vote. Although women received the franchise in some states in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, they were not granted voting rights in the nation as a whole until the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in 1920.

Nineteenth-century women were denied not only the vote but also control of their own property and entrance to many professions and trade unions. An ideology of domesticity justified restricting woman's sphere to the home. The proponents of domestic ideology (such as Lyman Beecher's daughter Catharine) offered women the power to shape their husbands and sons in the family in return for relinquishing direct claims to exercise power in society. Some women (such as Catharine Beecher's sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe) employed domestic values against antifamilial social practices; slavery and alcoholic intemperance were the most prominent targets. But women who entered public life directly were said to unsex themselves and unman men. Instead, domestic ideology made women the instruments of morality and social control in order to confine others.

Domestic ideology offered the family as both a refuge from and a solution to social disorder. The turn to the family did not so much enrich private life, however, as socialize it. Denying the truly private character of the home, domesticity made the family less a haven for protecting eccentricity than an arena for forming and standardizing personality. Enlisting the child's desire for love and threatening him with the loss of love, the mother would influence the child to internalize morality. Characters formed by regulated affection in the home could safely enter the world. This retreat to the family encouraged the displacement onto politics of discontents originating in domestic life (but forbidden to be traced to their source). At the same time, domesticity dissolved political into personal problems. By locating social troubles and their solution in the family, domestic ideology shifted attention from the public arena into the home. It thereby took its place as part of the second method (after suffrage restriction) that Rush had proposed to domesticate political freedom, the method of internalizing authority.

The internalization of authority in antebellum America had four components: a shift away from ceremonial public places into private but standardized interiors; a redefinition of political, social, and cultural conflicts as problems of crime and disease; loving confinement as the method of punishment and reform; and the creation of a self-controlled interior; resistant to corrupting temptations from the body and the world. Benjamin Rush, friend of John Adams and other revolutionary leaders, was the founder of the new discipline. Rush was a leading prison reformer and opponent of public executions; the father of the mental hospital; a promoter of public schools; and, as the American who discovered the dangers posed to the vigilant self by liquor and masturbation, the guiding spirit behind the nineteenth-century movements against alcoholic consumption and self-abuse.

Rush did not confine his reform efforts to whites. An opponent of slavery before the Revolution, the doctor responded to claims of Negro inferiority by attributing black racial qualities to disease. Jefferson compared the desire of black men for white women to the desire of male orangutans for female blacks. Rush rejected the view that the color of blacks had been produced by intercourse with orangutans; he attributed it to leprosy instead. Linking blacks to sexuality, immorality, and crime 'invit[es] us to tyrannize over them," Rush explained. "Disease," by contrast, "has always been the signal for immediate and universal compassion." And Rush thought he saw signs for a cure.

The effort to rescue blacks by making them leprous did not have wide appeal in post-Revolutionary America. But in medicalizing social tensions among whites and offering remedies to stop the contagion, Rush initiated a lasting set of reforms. Rush proposed to convert men into "republican machines. This must be done if we expect them to perform their parts properly, in the great machine of the government of the state." Such "good citizens" would exercise their freedom in a selfcontrolled way. Rush preserved the distinction between liberty and license when he moved it from state enforcement into the individual conscience. New institutions were to form that conscience. For the middle class, as domestic ideology signaled, the most important of these institutions was the nuclear family, and it was supplemented by the school. Those falling out of the middle class-or never in it to begin with- were to be confined and reformed in asylums: schools, prisons, hospitals, and factories. Their purpose, Rush explained, was to "render the mass of the people more homogeneous, and thereby fit them more easily for uniform and peaceable government."

Asylums responded to the perceived breakdown of a deferential order in post-Revolutionary America. They housed those masterless men and women liberated by the marketplace, political freedom, and geographic mobility and no longer ordered within the traditional structures of kin group, church, and community. Some asylums, such as the mental hospital, offered protection from the outside pressures of a mobile, acquisitive society. Others, such as the prison and the paternally organized factory, contained the threat posed by the "dangerous classes" of urban immigrants and the poor. Just as the reservation would confine and reform the "perishing classes" of savages, so the urban "dangerous classes" were offered the prison.

Rush opposed public executions because they stimulated crowds not to obedience but to disorder. Physical violence not only provoked mob violence in return but also failed to reform the criminal. Whipping offenders subdued their bodies, according to prison reformers, but failed to reach their hearts. Instead of whipping the wrongdoer and setting him loose (the normal practice in the eighteenth century), the new prisons confined criminals behind walls. Like the home, the asylum provided a place of refuge and replaced physical force by disciplined love. In keeping with developing domestic practices, greater privacy for the inmate was combined with surveillance over him and attention to his interior. English and American reformers advocated removing the chains from the prisoner and enlisting him in his own cure. Isolated from the bad influences of one another, regimented, observed, and subjected to a regularized authority, criminals would learn to love society.

Although in practice the prison sacrificed the regeneration of the criminal to his confinement, in theory it offered a perfect marriage of the two methods that were coming to dominate the American practice of control: concentrated state coercive power and the creation through interior reform of a free man.

Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont, who came to America to study the new prisons, observed that "while society in the United States gives the example of a most extended liberty, the prisons of the same country offer a spectacle of the most complete despotism." That paradox reflected the rise of total institutions in response to fears of extended liberty. But a deeper commonality lay underneath the contrast. Both the society and the prison wiped out traditional loyalties that bound people together. The spread of freedom in a society of such extended liberty required the formation of selves who would not abuse that liberty. Both the mobile society and the total institution isolated the self and invaded his or her interior. Individuals fearful of incurring disapproval, wrote Tocqueville, and deprived of support from traditional subcultures and kin groups, would not risk isolating themselves from the democratic mass. They would not develop the freedom of opinion to entertain subversive ideas. Tocqueville explained, "Despotism, to reach the soul, clumsily struck at the body, and the soul, escaping from such blows, rose gloriously above it. Such is not the course adopted by tyranny in democratic republics. There the body is left free, and the soul is enslaved."

In Tocqueville's analysis the task of enforcing the distinction between liberty and license, which once belonged to the state, moved simultaneously within the individual conscience and out into public opinion. Those who stepped beyond the bounds of legitimate controversy faced not so much punishment by the state as estrangement from the social mass. The institutional structures that domestic and asylum reformers favored molded characters vulnerable to the social pressures that Tocqueville described.

Reformers and institution builders in the twentieth century reacted against the regimented isolation of inmates in the nineteenth-century prison. Progressives proposed to attend to the life history of the individual case and to turn the prison into a protocommunity. They shifted attention from the crime to the criminal and from guilt or innocence to sickness or health. But since confinement itself remained intact, the consequence was to extend surveillance inside and outside the prison walls. The parole system tracked inmates after their release. Juvenile courts investigated offenders before they were institutionalized. The young, the welfare recipient, and the mentally ill surrendered legal rights to members of the helping professions. Those incarcerated in "moral hospitals," as Denver judge Ben Lindsey called the asylums, did not need protection from authority.

A therapeutic approach to social problems affected the treatment not only of crime, poverty, and mental disturbance but also of political conflict as well. Reform practice turned conflicts of interest into problems of personal and social adjustment. Its soft form of coercion competed in politics and in crime with a punitive, law-and-order methodology. Both dissolved the distinction between political and personal disturbance, the one in the name of therapy, the other in the name of punishment. The criminalization of political differences, the collapse of politics into disease, the spread of surveillance, and the stigmatization of dissenters as social pariahs have all played important roles in the suppression of radical politics. They have done so not merely through the pressures of public opinion, as in Tocqueville's analysis, but through the armed force of the state.


Antebellum politics had at its center the repression of Indians and blacks; workers took their place after the Civil War. The rhetoric of a struggle between savagery and civilization moved from the frontier West to urban America, from Indian conflict to class war. Late nineteenth century newspapers warned at the same time, as Richard Slotkin has shown, against the "Hostile Reds" on the frontier and the "Red Spectre of the Commune" in American cities. They conflated the idle, disorderly free blacks in the South with the northern, urban proletariat. These confusions helped justify both search-and-destroy missions against western Indians and violence against blacks, and they also promoted the suppression of working-class discontent.

Racial mythologies continued to dominate American culture and politics in the industrial age at the expense of peoples of color, but pseudoscientific racial theories were now extended to European immigrants as well. That signaled the new, central importance in postbellum America of ethnocentric, class war. A series of Red scares, one in the 1870s, one in 1886, and one in 1919, marked the half-century between 1870 and 1920. Each located subversive political ideas within an alien, immigrant working class.

The modern history of countersubversion began with the Red scare of 1873-78. It arose in response to the Paris Commune abroad and to a major depression and radical labor protest at home. "Today there is not in our language, nor in any language, a more hateful word than communism," proclaimed a professor at the Union Theological Seminary. Cities built armories to protect themselves against working-class uprisings, states revived militias, and police attacked strikers and unemployment demonstrators. Hundreds of thousands of unemployed, roaming the country in search of work, generated a "tramp" scare.

The dean of the Yale Law School announced in a paper delivered at the 1877 meeting of the American Social Science Association, "As we hear the word tramp, there arises straightaway before us the spectacle of a lazy, incorrigible, cowardly, utterly depraved savage." Tramps, like Indians before them, were wandering, masterless men. Participants in the tramp scare blamed the industrial capitalist threat to homogeneous, ordered communities on the wandering victims. The breakdown in social order was real. It stemmed, however, not from savages and Communists but from centralized corporations and their need for a national market in labor and other commodities. Social breakdown climaxed in the nationwide railway strike of 1877 (called "nothing more nor less than French Communism" by an official of President Hayes's administration), in which strikers fought with police and mobs seized and burned the Pittsburgh railway yards.

The first anti-Red political trial with nationwide significance took place in Chicago in 1886. It was a response to mass working-class support for the Knights of Labor, a strike against Jay Gould's railroad system, and a national movement for the eight-hour day. When mounted police ordered an anarchist demonstration in Haymarket Square to disperse, someone threw a bomb. It injured seventy policemen and killed one. Eight Chicago anarchists, some neither present at the rally nor known to one another and none connected to the bombing, were found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder. Four were executed. (One killed himself in jail, and the remaining three were pardoned in 1893.) The Haymarket anarchists were convicted for radical ideas and violent talk. Their trial, which was conducted in an atmosphere of national hysteria, destroyed not only the Chicago anarchist movement but the Knights of Labor as well. For the next forty years industrial unions organizing unskilled workers were the targets of state and state-sanctioned violence.

The most significant state labor repression in the next half-century was the repression of the Pullman boycott and nationwide railway strike of 1894. Attorney General Richard Olney, a former corporate lawyer who sat on the board of one of the struck railways, obtained a federal injunction that effectively outlawed union activity. The injunction permitted individual workers to leave their jobs, because to force them to work would violate their freedom of contract. But in a massive prohibition of freedom of speech and assembly, workers and union leaders were forbidden to convince others to quit work. The injunction safeguarded the same private freedom that was offered to Indians who abandoned their tribal ties. It outlawed political freedom, the freedom of community members to speak and act together. American Railway Union leaders were arrested for violating the injunction; the union's president, Eugene Victor Debs, went to jail.

States continued to suppress labor's free speech and assembly in the twentieth century and to meet organizing efforts with violence. Western miners suffered from a particularly bloody history of state and corporate violence. When the anticapitalist Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was formed in 1905, western miners and woodworkers provided its major support. Local officials jailed IWW organizers for making public speeches, a practice that led to free-speech fights in such western cities as Spokane, Washington; Fresno and San Diego, California; and Minot, North Dakota. Wobblies arrested for exercising their rights of free speech filled the local jails; their nonviolent civil disobedience often generated violence in return.

Hostility to the IWW and to subversive ideas climaxed in the Red scare during and after World War I. In the second great Chicago conspiracy trial, thirty years after Haymarket, 101 Wobblies were convicted of conspiring to obstruct the war. Many were guilty simply of membership in the IWW. Others were convicted on the basis of statements made before the United States entered the fighting.

The Espionage and Sedition Acts of 1917-18 made it a crime to speak or act against the war. Even if aliens remained silent and inactive, they were subject to summary arrest. Socialist congressman Victor Berger, appealing his conviction under the Espionage Act, was barred from taking his congressional seat by a vote of 311-1. Debs, who had become a Socialist party leader after the suppression of the Pullman strike, was sentenced to ten years in prison for making an antiwar speech. The U.S. Post Office conducted a campaign of censorship against the Socialist party and the IWW, removing their publications from the mail.

State governments also passed laws outlawing opposition to the war and forbidding expressions of revolutionary disloyalty to the American form of government. The Supreme Court upheld convictions under state criminal syndicalism laws, ruling that states could punish revolutionary words spoken with malicious intent that might have a tendency to provoke violence in the future. These rulings revived the doctrine of seditious libel.

War intensified the hysteria over disloyalty in America, but the Red scare reached its greatest heights after the war was over. America in 1919, reported a British journalist, "was hag-ridden by the spectre of Bolshevism. It was like a sleeper in a nightmare, enveloped by a thousand phantoms of destruction." The assault against subversion climaxed in two events: the suppression of the 1919 steel strike and a series of Justice Department raids that rounded up thousands of allegedly subversive foreigners for deportation. The Red scare ushered in the nativist mood and the obsession with 100 percent Americanism that dominated the politics of the 1920s.

Political interventions helped destroy the Knights of Labor, the American Railway Union, the IWW, and the organizing efforts among steelworkers. State violence denied public space to workers and inhibited broadscale political expression. It helped engender, instead, the fragmented and privatized pluralism of the American Federation of Labor. The conservative craft unions of the AFL survived and grew between 1886 and 1920. Nevertheless, the entire labor movement enjoyed little better than an outlaw status before 1935. The repression of labor was more violent and severe in America than it was in any other western, industrializing country. The Supreme Court, in In Re Debs (1891), legalized the use of court injunctions to break strikes; employers enjoyed injunctive relief from strikes that damaged "probable expectancies" of future profit rather than existing real property. Unions were subject to conspiracy prosecutions for boycotting nonunion goods, for having large numbers of strikers present at plant gates, and for inducing workers to break contracts that committed them not to join unions. Courts protected the individual "freedom of contract" of workers at the expense not only of worker collective action but also of political efforts to regulate the conditions of employment. Wage, hour, and child-labor laws were all ruled unconstitutional.

State violence, which controlled peoples of color before the Civil War, repressed postbellum working-class and radical protest. State militias and federal troops were used to break strikes; strike breaking became, with the end of the Indian wars, the most conspicuous function of the regular army. Violence, killings, and massive arrests occurred during strikes. The national state shared its monopoly over legitimate force with corporations and detective agencies. These private bodies conducted surveillance and employed armed men. The conferring of state functions on private groups, a general feature of American politics, played an important role in labor conflicts through the 1930s. Together, state and private action deprived workers before the New Deal of their right to organize.

The 1935 Wagner Act, called labor's Magna Charta, made employer interference with the right to organize into an unfair labor practice. One historian has labeled the act "perhaps the most important civil liberties statute ever passed by Congress.'' Three years earlier the Norris-La Guardia Act had outlawed the use of the labor injunction. The Supreme Court, in Thornhill v. Alabama (1940), extended First Amendment protection to peaceful picketing in labor disputes. Later courts restricted the scope of Thornhill, and the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act removed some of the legal protections for union organizing activity. The percentage of the workforce organized into unions has declined in the past forty years, as the labor movement has lost its central place in the Democratic party and been reduced to narrow, interest group status. Nevertheless, since the 1940s organized labor has been accepted as a legitimate interest in American society.

The organization of industrial workers into the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and the ties of CIO unions to the welfare state and the Democratic party began to eliminate working-class activity as the target of countersubversion. Labor struggles remained important, however, at the origins of the post-World War II Red scare. Communists and their allies controlled several CIO unions. Those unions supported the war and were allied with the Democratic party. When the beginnings of the cold war ended that alliance, the government and its union supporters moved to destroy left-wing labor. The Taft-Hartley Act deprived unions whose officers refused to sign anti-Communist loyalty oaths of the protection of the National Labor Relations Board. The CIO expelled those unions in 1948. Labor-management conflict in the motion picture industry also contributed to the postwar Red scare by helping to generate the Hollywood blacklist. Once the domestic cold war was fairly launched, however, labor was not its central target.

Earlier Red scares developed out of class conflicts between labor and capital in which the state served mostly as the agent of the capitalist class. The Soviet Union replaced the immigrant working class as the source of anxiety in the decades after World War II. The combat between workers and capitalists was supplanted by one between Moscow's agents (intellectuals, government employees, students, and middle-class activists) and a state national-security apparatus.

Both the postwar Soviet Union and the radical labor movement of an earlier period posed genuine threats to dominant interests in American society, although the nature and extent of those threats are a matter of controversy. There were also real conflicts of interest between white Americans and peoples of color. But the countersubversive response transformed interest conflicts into psychologically based anxieties over national security and American identity. Exaggerated responses to the domestic Communist menace narrowed the bounds of permissible political disagreement and generated a national-security state.


The cold war marks the third major moment in the history of countersubversion. In the first moment whites were pitted against peoples of color. In the second Americans were pitted against aliens. In the third, which revolves around mass society and the state, a national-security bureaucracy confronts the invisible agents of a foreign power.

Throughout American history the subversive has threatened the family, property, and personal and national identity. But three shifts-from visibility to invisibility, from the body to the mind, and from the American individual to the national-security state-distinguish the first Red scares from their cold war descendant. First, subversives were alien in earlier Red scares, and they looked visibly different from Americans. Communists in 1950s mass society were indistinguishable from everyone else. Second, as the visible differences that stigmatized subversives disappeared, it became all the more important to discover who was under foreign control. Instead of standing simply for savagery and disorder, the subversive was the instrument of an alien order. That combination was not new in itself; it harked back to claims that foreign powers controlled American Indians and that the pope directed American Catholics. But the shift in emphasis from the deranged subversive body to the calculating alien mind justified the third departure in countersubversive history, the rise of the national-security state.

In July 1919, without congressional authorization, the attorney general's office created the General Intelligence Division (GID) within the Justice Department. Its purpose was to infiltrate and collect information on radical organizations. The GID borrowed the techniques of labor G espionage and surveillance employed by private corporations and detective agencies. It was headed by J. Edgar Hoover, a twenty-four-year-old former cataloguer in the Library of Congress, who had moved to a clerkship in the Justice Department's Enemy Alien Registration unit. Hoover boasted of his role in breaking the 1919 steel strike. He and Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer supervised the alien raids of 1919-20.

Hoover also made a series of sensational charges against alleged radicals. Blaming subversives for the 1919 race riots (and thereby not only imagining conspiracies that did not exist but also making blacks the perpetrators rather than the victims of the outrages), Hoover attacked black leaders for being under Bolshevik influence. He charged them with being "openly, defiantly assertive" of their "own equality or even superiority." Hoover established files on alleged subversives. He investigated and tried to discredit people who opposed his actions, like the noted civil libertarians Zechariah Chafee, Jr., and Felix Frankfurter.

Attorney General Harlan Stone terminated the GID in 1924, the year he reorganized the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Stone placed Hoover in charge of the entire FBI and ordered the FBI to limit its investigations to actual violations of federal law. In violation of Stone's memorandum, the FBI continued to collect information on radical labor and political organizations. Moreover, Hoover's appointment meant that the United States was unique in combining criminal detection and political surveillance in a single agency. Stone placed in charge a man trained in political countersubversion rather than law enforcement. Hoover's rise to head the FBI confirmed the confusion between crime and radical dissent at the heart of the American fear of subversion.

Franklin Roosevelt secretly rescinded Stone's restrictions on the FBI in 1936, reactivating it as a political surveillance agency. But although Roosevelt occasionally used Hoover for intelligence against his own political adversaries, he was not aware of the large-scale expansion in bureau activities that began under his presidency. Hoover was creating a secret political police to infiltrate, influence, and punish dissenting political speech and action.

Other branches of the federal government also developed countersubversive instruments. The House of Representatives created a committee to investigate un-American activities in 1938. In 1940 Congress passed the Smith Act, making it a crime to advocate, or conspire to advocate, the overthrow of the government by force or violence. Congress attached this prohibition to the Alien Registration Act, perpetuating the association of aliens and sedition.

Nazism provided the occasion for the emergence of the national security apparatus. Communists, who were to be its major targets, actually helped develop the countersubversive ideological rationale. The first prosecutions under the Smith Act, welcomed by the Communists, were of leaders of the Trotskyist Socialist Workers party. Within a few years the Communist party would be the target of Smith Act prosecutions. In the period after World War II, as in the decades before it, Communists and their alleged sympathizers have been the major targets of the suppression of political dissent.

In March 1947 President Harry Truman announced he was sending military aid to Greece and Turkey to defend their regimes against Communist attacks. In that same month the president established a new government-loyalty program. Declaring Communism a domestic as well as a foreign menace, he set the stage for the Red scare of 1947-54. All present and prospective government employees were to undergo investigations of their loyalty, with each government agency establishing its own loyalty review board. How was loyalty to be established? Loyalty boards gave great weight to past beliefs and memberships. They asked questions about political views and social practices. Such questions included, "Do you ever have Negroes in your home?" "Do you read Howard Fast? Tom Paine? Upton Sinclair?" Loyalty boards relied heavily on information supplied by anonymous informers, who included former Communists, FBI infiltrators, and ordinary citizens who claimed to have derogatory knowledge of those against whom they informed. Accused employees were not entitled to hear the specific charges against them or to know the names of government informers. The burden of proof lay on the accused individual, who had to establish not only that he or she had been loyal in the past but also that there were no reasonable grounds to expect disloyalty in the future.

An estimated 13.5 million workers, 20 percent of the labor force, were subject to loyalty programs in government and sensitive private industry. Other nations facing greater political instability instituted no elaborate loyalty tests for government employment. The historic American fear of subversion was spawning a government bureaucracy, whose growth marked a sharp, institutional break with the past.

The criteria for determining loyalty included past or present membership in any organization designated as subversive by the attorney general. The attorney general's authority to issue such a list, wrote civil Iibertarian Alan Barth, gave him "perhaps the most arbitrary and far-reaching power ever exercised by a single public official in the history of the United States." The attorney general's list played a major role both inside and outside the government. "Its aim," explained Attorney General Tom Clark, was "to isolate subversive movements in this country from effective interference with the body politic." The attorney general could proscribe any organization and thereby deprive individuals who had once belonged to it of government employment. The list was also used to deny employment to individuals in the private sector and to stigmatize political opponents.

The Truman and Eisenhower administrations moved against alleged subversives in society as well as in government. Communist party leaders were arrested and convicted under the Smith Act. The government denied passports to anyone whose travel was "not in the interests" of the United States, including the black singer and actor Paul Robeson. Hundreds of aliens were arrested for deportation in early 1948 alone, and prominent resident aliens like Charlie Chaplin were denied reentry. The State Department also moved to deport naturalized citizens. When Rose Chernin resisted such efforts as head of the Los Angeles Committee for the Protection of the Foreign-Born, the government tried to deport her, too. During the years of the cold war and the Korean War, the Supreme Court excluded Communists and Communist-sympathizers from the protections of the Bill of Rights. But in Yates v. U.S. (1957) the Court ruled that those convicted of conspiracy to advocate the overthrow of the government by force must be shown to have urged others "to do something rather than merely to believe in something." That decision, which freed Rose Chernin and other Communist leaders convicted with her, effectively ended prosecutions under the Smith Act.

National-security agencies of the government greatly expanded their activities under Presidents Truman and Eisenhower. The FBI perfected its two major countersubversive weapons, surveillance and files. By 1960 the bureau maintained 430,000 files on individuals allegedly connected to subversive activities. Private citizens cooperated with the bureau in reporting suspicious behavior. Harvard professor Henry Kissinger opened a letter sent to a participant in his international relations seminar and communicated its contents to the Boston FBI office. The FBI also kept an index of those who posed a danger to national security and who should be rounded up during a national emergency. The index contained the names of writer Norman Mailer and of Senator Paul Douglas, a liberal Democrat and anti-Communist.

The FBI relied heavily on wiretaps and bugs. Eisenhower's attorney general, Herbert Brownell, authorized break-ins to install wiretaps. Brownell boasted that FBI investigations covered "the entire spectrum of the social and labor movement" in the country. Under the COMINFIL program, the bureau did not wait to act until it had evidence of Communist activity; rather it infiltrated any organization where it suspected it might find Communists.

Hoover kept files on the private lives of congressmen and other prominent Americans. He used information from those files to intimidate or discredit people critical of the FBI. Fear of reprisals helps explain Hoover's political untouchability during the half-century he headed the bureau. His mass and elite popularity also stemmed from the American obsession with Communism and with the equation of the fight against Communism with the fight against crime.

The transformation of political dissent into criminal disloyalty was fed by sensational accusations of espionage in the late 1940s against Alger Hiss, Judith Coplon, and Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. Congressman Richard Nixon, who rose to national prominence through the Hiss case, described it as "a small part of the whole shocking story of Communist espionage in the United States." Hiss, accused of transmitting confidential state department documents, was convicted of perjury. The Rosenbergs were executed for, in Judge Irving Kaufman's words, "putting into the hands of the Russians the A-bomb." Judge Kaufman accused the Rosenbergs of responsibility for Communist aggression and American deaths in Korea. Hiss and the Rosenbergs may well have passed confidential information to the Russians; their guilt is still in dispute. But the Rosenbergs neither gave the Soviet Union the atomic bomb nor caused the Korean War. Their highly publicized trial and unprecedented death sentences helped to justify the governmental obsession with national security and to identify opposition to American policies in the cold war with criminal, treasonable disloyalty.

Truman and his anti-Communist, liberal supporters distinguished the Communist party from legitimate political oppositions. The Communist party, they argued, was an international conspiracy to overthrow American government, taking orders from a foreign power. Soviet expansion into Eastern Europe, the Berlin blockade, and the invasion of South Korea required, in their view, a firm American response. Anticommunist liberals rightly called attention to Soviet expansion, to the monstrous crimes of the Russian state against its own people, and to Moscow's direction of the American Communist party. Some members of the party were probably spies and murderers, just as some agents of the American state were. But the assault on Communists and Communist sympathizers focused not on actual crimes but on memberships' beliefs, and associations. It thereby spread by its own logic to so-called fellow travelers, people who associated with Communists, shared their beliefs, and might secretly be responsive to party direction.

The Truman administration initiated the postwar anti-Communist obsession, but its logic turned it against those who had given it birth. Congressional Republicans found the Democratic administration itself sympathetic to Communism. Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin was the most prominent Republican to accuse Truman of "coddling" Communists. Accusations by McCarthy and other Republicans intensified the pressures on government employees for political conformity.

Congressional committees investigated the political associations of private citizens and government employees. Individuals were forced to name the names of their alleged Communist associates, take the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination, or go to jail for Contempt of Congress. The major function of these degradation ceremonies was neither to discover crimes nor to make new laws but, rather, to stigmatize individuals, proscribe political ideas, and turn community members against one another. Like the effort to break up Indian tribes and like the labor injunction, the ritual of naming names atomized political association. As Tocqueville had foreseen, isolated individuals faced the opprobrium of public opinion. They also faced reprisals from private employers and from the state.

Senator McCarthy gave his name to the atmosphere of suspicion and political fear that dominated America from 1947 until after the end of the Korean War. McCarthy's use of the Red scare against both the Truman and Eisenhower administrations led scholars to call the domestic Red scare McCarthyism and to interpret McCarthyism as popular hysteria against responsible, elite policymakers. Such views ignored McCarthy's institutional support-in the Republican party, in Congress, and among local elites. Labeling the Red scare McCarthyism also deflected attention from the origins and continuation of countersubversive practices within the executive branch; from the growth of a national security bureaucracy; and from the association of Red scares with liberal, Democratic presidents. Democratic chief executives, from Andrew Jackson to Lyndon Johnson, forged a strong, personal presidency and carried out a messianic, expansionist foreign policy. From the 1830s to the 1960s they were the major presidential sources of Red scares.

In understanding the power of the countersubversive imagination in American political life, it is essential to attend to mass fears of Communism and to the -tyranny of public opinion and pressures for political conformity. Red scares cannot be reduced to mass hysteria, however. Similarly, advertising and the mass media and their impact on political demonology do not simply reflect popular desires. Mass opinion has institutional sources. Hollywood, discussed in chapters 1 and 8 of this volume, was one center of opinion formation during twentieth-century Red scares; Madison Avenue was another. Insofar as the mass public is concerned, the significance both of movies and of advertising from the 1920s until the present lies less in mass countersubversive political mobilization and more in the displacement of politics by private life.

Advertising, which came of age in the 1920s, responded to the political turmoil of the postwar years. Influenced in part by the consumer-oriented political reforms of the Progressive period, advertisers proposed to replace workers-as-producers, who engaged in class conflict, with workers-as-consumers. Mass society would replace class society, since goods bound together people at antagonistic ends of the political spectrum.

The political concerns of some advertising executives dovetailed with more widely shared reliance on consumer goods to promote personal happiness. The exploitation of the psychological function of commodities had much in common with therapeutic approaches to politics. The language of self-fulfillment in both arenas promoted personal dependence, in the one case on the institutions of the helping professions, in the other on new products that could cure personal anxieties.

Advertisers proclaimed not consumer dependence but consumer democracy. Through purchases, buyers were "constantly participating in ... their industrial government," claimed department store magnate Edward Filene. "The masses of America have elected Henry Ford. They have elected General Motors," said Filene, "and all the other great industrial and business leaders of the day." By presenting the corporation as a source of goods for sovereign consumers rather than a structure of market or workplace power, Filene legitimated private concentrations of power and directed voter-consumers away from political challenges to the corporation. The ads and surveys that determined consumer preferences, explained market researcher Edward Bernays, marked a "Declaration of Independence" from traditional democratic ideas. Such arguments moved in post-World War II America from advertising into the political arena itself. Social scientists who had engaged in market research or were adapting its survey techniques defined political democracy on the model of consumer democracy. Arguing that direct public participation was dangerous, they restricted democracy to offering the masses a choice between elite institutions.

The advertising industry, which reached its maturity in the 1950s, promised a suburban utopia of pacified private life. The Red scare enforced that utopia. Both advertising and countersubversion stigmatized un-American activities. External coercion and internal influence worked together, as they had in Indian policy and asylum reform, to domesticate the self and make it safe for political freedom.

But the 1950s American dream contained within it the seeds of its own disintegration. The optimism about private life that Hollywood and the advertising industry had helped to create formed a generation that would turn to political action to fulfill personal desires. Responding to the dominant culture's subordination of politics to personal life, the New Left made the personal political. New Left activists entered political life as the anti-Communist politics of the cold war were culminating in Vietnam. Expansion against Asian Communists generated opposition from the "new barbarians" (as their critics called them) in America. This symbolic reenactment, at home and in Asia, of the conflict between civilization and savagery coalesced with a black protest movement in which the original New Left cadres had been formed. The racial politics of American history, in a massive return of the repressed, took over the country in the 1960s, producing in response a massive state repression of political dissent. That repression climaxed in presidential usurpations of power and in the only resignation of an American president. In the 1980s the Reagan administration has avoided the political opposition that brought Nixon down because it has benefited from comparisons with the perceived haplessness of Ford and Carter and because it has concentrated its intimidation on the margins and beyond the borders of the United States.

The end of the Korean War, the Senate censure of Joseph McCarthy, and Supreme Court decisions in several civil liberties cases all reduced political suppression in the latter 1950s. The Court declared the attorney general's list illegal and in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964) ruled that prosecutions for seditious libel violated the First Amendment. The national-security surveillance bureaucracy was still firmly in place, however, and the rise of the civil rights and New Left movements in the early 1960s triggered a broad campaign of intimidation.

In 1962 the FBI placed Martin Luther King, Jr., leader of nonviolent mass protests against southern segregation, on its list of those to be arrested in a national emergency, and Hoover began a campaign to discredit him. Accusing King of being under Communist influence, Hoover obtained Attorney General Robert Kennedy's permission to tap his phone. The FBI already had under surveillance the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. At the same time, the FBI refused to protect the civil rights of people whose legal protests against segregation resulted in police and mob violence against them. The rise of a mass movement against the war in Vietnam, after Johnson's election in 1964 and his escalation of the war, led to a vast expansion of the government's political intimidation.

The decade from 1965 to 1975, marked by antiwar and student protests, urban black ghetto uprisings, and impeachment proceedings against Nixon, was the most turbulent period of the century. Presidents Johnson and Nixon believed that Moscow was behind the antiwar movement. Johnson's vice president, Hubert Humphrey, charged that the "international Communist movement" had "organized and masterminded" demonstrations against the draft. Under Johnson the CIA developed an illegal domestic surveillance network; its existence was denied under oath by Director Richard Helms, who had set it up. Between 1967 and 1971 army intelligence collected information, as the Senate Intelligence Committee later reported, on "virtually every group seeking political change in the United States." The FBI vastly expanded its surveillance activities, including break-ins. The bureau expanded its COINTELPRO program which went beyond infiltrating dissident groups (COMINFIL) to actively disrupting them.

Under COINTELPRO, FBI agents forged letters, set political associates and marital partners against one another, got people fired, and instigated violence. A staff report of the Senate Intelligence Committee called COINTELPRO a "sophisticated vigilante operation aimed squarely at preventing the exercise of First Amendment rights of speech and association." Political activists could not be sure whether those with whom they worked were comrades, informers, or provocateurs. COINTELPRO, according to one confidential FBI document, would "enhance the paranoia endemic in these circles, and will further serve to get the point across that there is an FBI agent behind every mailbox.

The techniques of political repression had changed dramatically by the post-World War II period. Brutal and public in the Iast decades of the nineteenth century, intimidation was carried on by private as well as public bodies. It became bureaucratized and more centered in a state apparatus during the Red scares following both world wars. As state surveillance intensified after World War II, violent intimidation decreased. Political repression went underground, intimidating by its invisibility. Surveillance worked by concealing the identity of its actors but letting the existence of its network be known. Like warders in Jeremy Bentham's model prison, the panopticon, the surveillants planted in subversive organizations could see without being seen. The political activist, like Bentham's or Rush's prisoner or Tocqueville's democratic man, was always to wonder whether he or she was being observed. The state was carrying on a hidden war against the bonds of trust that make political opposition possible.

National security supplanted un-American activities during the cold war as the major justification for suppressing political dissent. At the same time that it increased political surveillance, the national-security bureaucracy expanded its system of classifying government documents. By keeping its policies and political disputes secret, the State took politics out of the public realm. To publicize confidential government proceedings was, under those circumstances, not to engage in political controversy but to endanger the national security. The Nixon administration thus prosecuted Daniel Ellsberg for making public the Pentagon papers. This classified set of materials on American involvement in Vietnam contained nothing to endanger the national security but much to endanger the justifications for the continued prosecution of the war.

Public prosecutions played an important role in the suppression of political dissent. The Johnson administration prosecuted the pediatrician Benjamin Spock, Yale chaplain William Sloane Coffin, and other antiwar leaders for counseling opposition to the draft Spock was proscribed from advising the young men who had been raised on his childcare book. The Nixon administration initiated the third great Chicago conspiracy trial. In an eerie reenactment of the Haymarket affair, it prosecuted eight leaders of the antiwar movement-some of whom had never met-for conspiracy to riot. The indictment made antiwar activists responsible for the police violence that had erupted against protesters at the 1968 Democratic convention.

Violence, which had receded during the cold war, reemerged as a weapon of political punishment during the war in Vietnam. Law enforcement officers killed a black student at Jackson State, South Carolina, in 1967 and four Kent State, Ohio, students three years later. Urban police departments used agents provocateurs against militant, northern black ghetto organizations. Chicago police, with FBI cooperation, raided Chicago Black Panther headquarters and killed two leaders of the party.

Although political repression helped destroy the Panthers, it broadened opposition to the government and its war in Vietnam. Repression helped split the protest movement into a violent fringe on the one hand, enraged at and isolated from American life, and a vast, more amorphous, liberal opposition on the other. The Nixon administration's public statements stigmatized opponents of its Vietnam policies as members of the violent fringe. The administration's covert operations moved against the large, respectable antiwar movement as well. Nixon also tried to intimidate long-established American political institutions. He even antagonized the traditional centers of countersubversion, the FBI and the CIA, by trying to centralize their operations in the White House. The significance of Nixon's activities and the ultimate cause of his downfall lay in his systematic application to politics of techniques long accepted for use against alleged subversives. By his surveillance and intimidation of political opponents and the press, Nixon recreated the hostility to legitimate opposition that lay behind the Alien and Sedition Acts.

Nixon's resignation was followed by the end of the Vietnam War and the political turmoil that surrounded it. The suppression of political opposition that climaxed under Nixon had, it was widely felt, endangered the constitutional fabric of the nation. Gerald Ford's attorney general, Edward Levi, promulgated rules limiting the FBI to law enforcement and bringing its actions under the law. FBI officials were convicted of authorizing illegal burglaries. Former CIA director Helms, indicted for perjury, pleaded nolo contendere to a lesser charge; he received a suspended sentence and a fine of two thousand dollars. The House and Senate Internal Security Committees were abolished, and Congress established an Intelligence Oversight Committee.

Neither the national-security bureaucracy nor the rationale for countersubversion was subjected to fundamental challenge, however. The Supreme Court ruled in 1980 that former CIA agent Frank Snepp violated the terms of his employment by failing to clear his book manuscript with the agency. Snepp disclosed no classified information; the Court's decision implied that anyone who worked in the national security bureaucracy permanently waived his First Amendment right to publish without prior restraint.

Ronald Reagan extended the Snepp principle in his 1983 "Presidential Directive on Safeguarding National Security Information." Officials who handled sensitive, classified material, according to the executive order, would have to submit to lie detector tests and agree not to say or write anything on national-security matters, even after leaving the government, without first getting official clearance. That rule would allow an administration to censor critics who had once worked for the government and who differed with it on matters of defense, foreign policy, or internal dissent. These provisions were shelved after a public outcry, but officials are still being required, under another portion of the directive, to acknowledge in writing that they face legal penalties for unauthorized disclosures for the rest of their lives.

The government has also acted to prevent aliens with dangerous opinions or associations from entering the United States. America has been protected from such figures as Isabel Allende, widow of the murdered president of Chile; George Woodcock, anarchist historian; and Farley Mowat, author of Never Cry Wolf. The Justice Department is prosecuting Sanctuary workers for criminal conspiracy to import illegal aliens, because the Sanctuary Movement is offering a refuge inside the United States to Central American victims of U.S.-sponsored state terrorism. And in Regan v. Wald (1984) Supreme Court Justice Rehnquist, ruling in the name of national security, gave the executive branch broad authority to curtail the rights of American citizens to travel abroad.

The Reagan administration has also issued new FBI guidelines that, unlike the Levi rules, permit surveillance without evidence of crime. The new rules allow the infiltration of "violence-prone" groups that engage in the "advocacy of" criminal acts or have the "apparent intent" to commit crimes. Perhaps acting under these guidelines, perhaps disregarding them, the FBI spied in the early 1980s on such peaceful antiwar groups as the Physicians for Social Responsibility. The president also granted the CIA authority to conduct surveillance within the United States.

The alleged menace of international terrorism provides the rationale for these executive actions. The Soviet state is accused of directing small bands of terrorists, mostly from the Third World, to commit acts of political violence. This theory of international terrorism not only permits the American government to sponsor its own acts of surveillance and state terror. By merging savages (from the first moment in American political demonology), revolutionaries (from the second), and Soviet agents (from the third), the theory of international terrorism also encapsulates and brings up to date the entire history of American countersubversion.

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