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Yates v. United States

Advocating Government Overthrow

Sporadically since its birth, the United States struggled with subversive activity, both real and imagined. During the twentieth century concern about Communism and anarchists, those who advocated violent overthrow of the government, led to racial antagonism including racially-biased legislation and massive government probes into the affairs of aliens and citizens.

The period between 1917 and 1920 is known as the first Red Scare, the word "red" being synonymous with Communism. States enacted sedition laws making it unlawful to advocate violent political change or to be a member of a group that did. Aliens charged with anarchist beliefs were commonly deported. The Justice Department created the Radical Division headed by J. Edgar Hoover, later director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

A second Red Scare surfaced in 1938 with the beginning of World War II. Worries about fascism, Nazism, and Communism led to the formation of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Congress, focusing on preventing communist infiltration of the government, passed the Smith Act of 1940 and the Subversive Activities Control (McCarran) Act of 1950. U.S. citizens, unions, and even Hollywood became targets of investigations as Senator Joseph McCarthy led inquiries in the 1950s to identify Communists at the highest levels of U.S. government.

The Red scares largely ceased by the 1960s as Vietnam War controversies began.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1954 to 1962Yates v. United States - Significance, Advocating Government Overthrow, Further Readings