Choice Between Civil Liberties And National Security In American History

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The post-World War II and 9/11 eras were similar times in U.S. history where the United States government lived in fear. To protect national security from the communist regime, Congress passed an infamous piece of legislation in 1950, known as the McCarran Internal Security Act. The McCarran Act was designed to protect the United States and its best interests both foreign and domestic, from the increased threat brought on by the Soviet Union. Due to the breach in government by the Communist party, the security act allowed the creation of the Subversive Activities Control Board to register members of any Communist organization that resided within the United States borders. The McCarran Act also included an Emergency Detention statute, allowing the presidential authorization to arrest and detain any members who were believed to be a conspiring threat against the United States. This could be via sabotage or espionage in times of suspected corruption within the United States government. The statutes questioned the United States' original thought of the Constitution regarding internal security along with compromising civil liberties. It can be argued that the McCarran Internal Security Act was the most scandalous and inclusive anti-Communist aggression piece of legislation on the domestic front, during the 1950 Red Scare. Similarly, the United States Patriot Act (2001) was a piece of legislation designed to combat a different enemy. Unlike the Soviet Union, the terrorist regime known as Al-Queda attacked the United States by hi-jacking three planes and flying them into significant U.S. landmarks. Although there are many parallels between the two pieces of legislation, both the McCarran Internal Security Act and the U.S. Patriot Act were designed to increase authority in the federal government to ensure national security. This thesis will compare, and contrast both eras in American history while arguing how the decisions that were made to increase internal security conflict with American citizens’ civil liberties.

For many Americans, the post-World War II and Anti-terrorism eras were a time in history that ill represented the values of the United States. The immense fear of Communism and terrorism invaded the United States. Americans were persecuted for their beliefs for the sake of national security. Michael J. Ybarra, author of Washington Gone Crazy: Senator Pat McCarran and the Great American Communist Hunt, went as far as to replace the term “Anti-Communism” with “McCarthyism”. Most scholars view McCarthyism as the period when the actions of the United States government were controlled by fear rather than reason. The McCarran Internal Security Act was the most comprehensive piece of legislation that represents the government's intentions during the second Red Scare (post-1945). This thesis will focus on two different periods, 1945-1955 and 2001-2006. Despite the significant differences in each time frame, these periods best exemplify times in American history when civil liberties came into question to increase national security. Thesis: Through the McCarran and U.S. Patriot Acts, the United States government compromised American citizenship by violating civil liberties to strengthen national security in response to foreign radicalism.

Since the American Revolution, foreign radicalism has negatively impacted how government officials view American citizenship by determining who is eligible to become a citizen and which liberties or rights are granted. Examples of foreign radicalism can be seen throughout history, and have opposed American ideology by challenging the United States'advice to a vision for economic, political, and social equality worldwide. This opposition ignites paranoia within the U.S. government, forcing it to act in an effort to strengthen national security from foreign influences. In turn, strengthening national security gradually strips away civil rights and allows the government to determine citizenship in America. The United States' response to radicalism is represented through the legislation passed during the Civil War Reconstruction Era. Each law progressively evolved, granting the government more power to determine who gains citizenship and natural rights. The McCarran and Patriot Acts are two pieces of legislation that mark complete government control over citizenship.

The rise of communism and the world power of the U.S.S.R rivaled the United States after World War II. This did not prompt the immediate fear of communism within the United States government, nor did the rise of the Bolsheviks in 1918. Instead, these times of special intensity are recognized as the long American tradition of anti-radicalism, dating back to the late nineteenth century. The fear of internal radicalism in the United States can be traced back to 1864 when Socialists, Anarchists, and Communists formed the First International. The First International brought together various labor organizations in Europe, and eventually the United States, to rebel against capitalism. The United States was not influenced by the changes in Europe until thousands of Europeans immigrated to the United States during the early 1870s, bringing their economic views along. At this time, the United States was in the midst of its Reconstruction Era, rebuilding the South and the economy from the aftermath of the Civil War. The U.S. economy was in a fragile state. One can argue the U.S. was entering an economic depression, as labor became the key element of income for a majority of the U.S. population.

Eventually, German and Italian immigrants shared anti-capitalist ideals with Americans, sparking tension between economic classes, and resentment against American capitalism. The first event that pushed American workers toward adopting anti-capitalism ideals began with the national strike in 1877. The national strike was a “manifestation of deep-seed discontent.” American railroad employees in Baltimore and Ohio received a wage reduction, they protested by walking out and were replaced by cheap immigrant labor. Infuriated by the discontent, American railroad workers engaged in violent conflict resulting in the government becoming involved by sending police and militia. The 1877 labor strike influenced the creation of the Americanized version of the First International, the International Working People’s Association (IWPA), and inspired a chain of domestic anarchism like the Pittsburgh Manifesto and the Haymarket Square bombing in Chicago. These rebellious acts collectively demonstrate anarchism. They are examples of domestic radicalism originally brought on by foreign values, creating paranoia surrounding immigration into the United States.

The quick spread of the ideology behind Anarchism throughout the United States was worrisome for the government. In the late 1880s and into the early 1890s, anarchist groups became popular through the use of violence as propaganda. They spread influential art and informed the public on how to construct homemade bombs and ways the American population could join by contributing to their rebellious message. This quickly led to the Haymarket Square bombing in early May of 1886. An unidentified person threw a bomb into a protest killing seven policemen. The bombing was a retaliation for violence involving a police officer the day prior but should have been a peaceful protest. However, the damage was done. The Haymarket Square bombing led to the nation’s first Red Scare. Historian Paul Avrich stated it best, “A fear of subversion seized the country, triggering a campaign of radical-baiting rarely if ever surpassed”. The bombing caused Americans nationwide to fear not only Anarchists but the immigrants. European immigrants, specifically the Germans and Russians, provided support for radical labor in Chicago because they favored a “collective autonomous commune”. In contrast to communism, anarchists favored the use of violent force. It did not matter if they were tasked by a group leader; some individuals would simply commit violence because they believed it was their duty as an anarchist. Unfortunately, that duty resulted in the death of President McKinley.

Moreover, as the American public thought the worst was behind them, one anarchist made their worst fears come true. On his way to Buffalo, New York, President McKinley was shot on a train, on September 6th, 1901. The shooter, Leon F. Czolgoz, accepted the charge by signing a confession stating he committed the act. Color did not believe in any form of “ruler,” and took it upon himself as an anarchist to assassinate the president. This devastated the American public. Just voted in for his second term, McKinley received much love and national support from the American public. His assignation resulted in the legislation of the Anarchist Exclusion Act.

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Rather than putting the sole blame on Czolgosz, there was a national consensus for holding Anarchism in general as the culprit for McKinley’s death. This led to the Alien Immigration Act of 1903, also known as the Anarchist Exclusion Act. Congress passed this bill to disallow “anarchists or persons who believe in or advocate the overthrow by force of the government of the United States, or the assassination of public officials” from immigrating into the United States. The act limited how many anarchists and radicals were allowed to enter the United States. In addition, the Anarchist Exclusion Law was the first federal law authorizing the federal government to exclude or deport American citizens or foreigners based on their ideological beliefs, associations, and/or expressions.

Moving forward to wartime, World War I not only signified the first international conflict, but it presented the United States with a new face of radicalism. Although the Great War officially began in 1914, the United States did not enter until April of 1917. This, however, does not mean they were not involved prior. Since the beginning of the war, the U.S. shipped war materials to Great Britain and France to aid them against the central powers. Aiding allies were considered intervening in foreign affairs which violated the non-intervention policy implemented by the radicalistic allies. Due to a high European immigration rate and multiple known radical groups, President Woodrow Wilson called on congress to pass legislation to prevent any radicalistic from committing espionage. The Espionage Act of 1917, prohibited anyone that resided within U.S. borders from obtaining any form of incriminating information relating to the national defense with intent or reason to believe that the information may be used against the United States by opposing nations. The 1917 Espionage Act was the second act that granted the federal government more control of citizenship based on the present national security threat. This bill will be recited often by the state and federal governments in response to the rise of the Soviet Union.

In 1917, Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks overthrew the Russian government. In turn, the United States was faced with a new radical threat. Once in control, Lenin granted the soviets complete power over the newly established U.S.S.R. With the influence of the largest European state, the Soviet Union began a global revolution through the spread of communism. This unprecedented challenge opposed American ideology. In 1918, Russian citizens rebelled against Lenin and the Bolsheviks, sparking causing a civil war. The United States and its allies took the opportunity to fight against the Red Russians (Bolsheviks) by supporting the White Russians (Russian Rebels). Unfortunately, neither the United States nor the allies, could provide much long-term support to the White Russians, allowing the Red Russians to overpower the rebels, and take over the fallen Russian state. The rise of the Soviet Union is significant because its communist influence reached American soil, where new domestic communist parties began to form.

The worldwide spread of communism hit the United States in 1919 when the CPUSA (Communist Party of the United States of America) officially formed. The United States entered its worst nightmare. They were already preoccupied with other radicalistic groups and the holy grail of foreign radicalism was being advocated for now by American citizens. The CPUSA was made up of smaller branches of communist groups like the SPA (Socialist Party of America) and the CPA (Communist Party of America). These two groups expanded into other smaller organizations to represent the diversity of American citizens. However, until the beginning of the Great Depression, the CPUSA recruitment rates were low. Around 1932, in the early years of the Depression, the CPUSA began recruiting unemployed Americans, exponentially expanding the organization. Throughout the rest of the 1930s into the 40s, the CPUSA continued to expand, causing paranoia within the state and federal governments. In response to the massive growth, the state governors used subversions of the 1917 Espionage Act along with other constitutional laws in an attempt to deport communists from out of the United States. This act is a prime example of the power the government has obtained through these bills.

With inspiration from the Anarchist Exclusion Act and the 1917 Espionage Act, Congress passed the Smith Act of 1940. The Smith Act, formally known as the Alien Registration Act of 1940, made it illegal:

  • to advise, counsel, urge, or in any manner cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty by any member of the military or naval forces of the United States; or
  • to distribute any written or printed matter which adviceto, counsels, or urges insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty by any member of the military or naval forces of the United States.

For this section, the term “military or naval forces of the United States” includes the Army of the United States, as defined in section 1 of the National Defense Act of June 3, 1916, as amended (48 Stat. 153; U. S. C., title 10, sec. 2), the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Naval Reserve, and Marine Corps Reserve of the United States; and, when any merchant vessel is commissioned in the Navy or is in the service of the Army or the Navy, includes the master, officers, and crew of the such vessel.

The Smith Act was Congress’s response to the rapid growth of the Communist regimes in hopes this bill will maintain the amount of American radicalism within U.S. borders.

It shall be the duty of every alien now or hereafter years of age or older in the United States, who is fourteen years of age or older, has not been registered and fingerprinted under section 30, and remains in the United States for thirty days or longer, to apply for registration and to be fingerprinted before the expiration of such thirty days.

The registration will be important in setting up the McCarran Act. Similar to the Alien and Sedition Acts, the Smith Act was used to serve in the second world war to prevent anti-war aggression and foreign subversion of the war efforts. There is a good amount of similarities between the Smith Act and prior legislation. As previously stated, the legislation behind the Smith Act was inspired by the 1903 Anarchist Exclusion Act and the Espionage Act of 1917, which strengthens national security but violates civil liberties. There is a continued pattern between the legislation passed and the continued power granted to the federal government. While the McCarthy era is primarily focused on the investigation of anti-communism, many Americans overlook the legislation that restricted immigration and violated civil liberties.

Democratic Senator Pat McCarran of Nevada dominated the legislative side of McCarthyism. Elected into Congress in 1932, McCarran was by no means a “New Deal” Democrat or a Roosevelt supporter. McCarran believed in a strict separation of powers, meaning he considered many of Roosevelt’s New Deal programs as the executive branch overstepping his Congressional power. F.D.R. used the Great Depression to make the government vast enough that Congress would become overwhelmed and could no longer operate efficiently, granting the president and his cabinet with immense powers and authority. Once he was elected into Congress, McCarran attached himself to anti-communism. At first, McCarran’s opposition to anti-communism stemmed from foreign policy. He was one of the first to believe that communism was the cancer of the United States; therefore, he did whatever he could to prevent any affiliation between the United States and the Soviet Union. As communism grew in the aftermath of the Second World War, McCarran believed that communists were secretly working their way into the United States through immigration, so he quickly shifted his focus to battling domestic communism.  

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