Red Web - Blair Coan

A Plot That Failed

Had the United States Government not acted as it did and when it did in the crisis precipitated by the railway strike of 1922, the action necessarily taken by the federal Department of Justice by duly legalized court procedure, it is not at all outside the realm of probability that the transportation system of the country would soon have been completely paralyzed and the country at the mercy of organizations dominated and directed by radical elements. Once legal authority over the means of distributing the necessities of life among the people of the country had been broken down or surrendered, those who break down that authority or those to whom that authority is surrendered have vested in themselves the power of dictatorship. Fortunately for the country, this authority, vested in the government, was not surrendered by those responsible for its maintenance—the President, primarily, and the Attorney General as the chief law-enforcing officer of the administration—nor was it broken down by the radical forces which strove so determinedly to break it down.

No sooner had the initial step been taken by Attorney General Daugherty to redeem the country from industrial paralysis and a "class war" the potential results of which it would be impossible to estimate, than the "Get Daugherty!" slogan became paramount among the reds, and almost at once it became the cry among the pinks and radicals of every shade.

The bill in equity, under which the government proceeded, was filed in the federal court at Chicago on September 1, 1922, and on that date the preliminary restraining order was issued by Judge James H. Wilkerson of the federal bench. It was but ten days later that Oscar E. Keller, a pink "progressive" representative in Congress from Minnesota and a member of the National Council of the People's Legislative Service, arose on the floor of the house and "impeached" the Attorney General in a resolution charging "malfeasance in office."

Already it has been shown that the People's Legislative Service, of whose Executive Committee Senator La Follette was chairman, was one of the units affiliated with the Socialist party and "all radical and labor organizations" in the organization of the Conference for Progressive Political Action. Already it has been shown that the People's Legislative Service was the link which connected the sundry radical organizations of the country—red as well as pink—with the legislative branch of the government. And already it has been shown that the director of the People's Legislative Service was the socialist, Basil M. Manly, and that powerful influences in the "Service" were the chiefs of the railroad brotherhoods, including William H. Johnston, secretary-treasurer and member of the Executive Committee, who also was president of the International Association of Machinists and chairman of the Conference for Progressive Political Action.

"Get Daugherty!"

Daugherty was given to understand that he would be got." Obviously the threat had a purpose, and the purpose was obvious. If Daugherty, who was not the kind who could be persuaded from performance of a public duty, and who, it had now become pretty well known, was not given to making compromise with the foes of the government he was serving—if Daugherty could be intimidated, if he could be made to fear for the safety of his future political life, he might perhaps be dissuaded from pressing the government's case. It was with this in mind that the promoters of the railroad strike proceeded to act. They may or may not have been then aware that their case was hopeless in the federal courts and that the government was almost certain to come through victorious, but with their connections with the legislative branch of the government, through the People's Legislative Service and its "bloc" in the House and Senate of the Congress, they were unquestionably of the opinion that they could intimidate Daugherty and that they might be able to "get" him by means of "impeachment" proceedings instituted in the House.

Now, in this they had the backing of every radical organization in the country, but particularly did they have the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union. It was only a week or so before the issuance of the temporary restraining order in the railway strike that special agents of the Federal Department of Justice had cooperated with state authorities in a raid on a secret and illegal gathering of communists held in a sequestered woods near Bridgeman, Mich. This raid was productive of two barrels of documentary proof of communistic conspiracy against the government of the United States, not the most trifling of which proved of value to the government in meeting the issues presented by the court proceedings instituted to save the country from industrial paralysis and outlawry manifest in the railroad strike. Large amounts of this evidence have since been placed on record before a Senate committee whose chairman, Senator Borah, of Idaho, notwithstanding the sensational character of the documents, continues to favor a resolution calling for recognition of the Bolshevik Russian government and trade and diplomatic relations between the United States and the banditti who control and operate the soviet oligarchy.

In the raid at Bridgeman, a number of the communist conspirators, neglecting to make a getaway when warned of the presence of a federal government agent by William Z. Foster, who made the discovery, were arrested. Those arrested included Caleb Harrison, who, with Jacob H. Hartman, was one of the organizers of the Friends of Soviet Russia, heretofore referred to: William F. ("Big Bill") Dunne, of Butte, Mont., and New York City, and others who have figured in this narrative or will figure in it in the discussion of later events connected with it.

The American Civil Liberties Union was interested particularly in the "impeachment" of the Attorney General because of the Bridgeman raid, but it was interested, too, because of the government's interference in the railroad strike. The National Committee of the American Civil Liberties Union includes William Z. Foster, a participant in the secret gathering of communists near Bridgman. William H. Johnston, as heretofore noted, is also a member of the committee, as also is Morris Hillquit. It is not here important to mention the names of the reds and pinks who constitute the imposing list of others who are members of the committee or hold executive official positions in the "union." But it is here appropriate to remind the reader that a considerable number of the personages dominant in the Civil Liberties Union also became leading factors in the subsequent operations of the Labor Defense Council, an organization of strictly communist origin but drawing to it for cooperative purposes various radical groups including some unions of the American Federation of Labor, the Socialist party and others.

Congressman Keller, a Minnesota radical, elected to Congress by the reds and pinks of his district, a Plumb plan advocate and the supporter of sundry socialistic pieces of proposed legislation, was the man picked to start the "Get Daugherty!" proceedings in the House. On the 11th of September, while the Attorney General was engaged in the important business of conducting the government's case, first to obtain a temporary injunction and then to obtain a final order of the court making the injunction permanent, Keller arose in the House and said:

"Mr. Speaker, I impeach Harry M. Daugherty, Attorney General of the United States, for high crimes and misdemeanors in office."

"When the gentleman rises to a question of this high privilege," said the Speaker, "he ought to present definite charges at the outset."

"The Chair means such charges as acts of the Attorney General?"

"Yes; definite charges."

"Very well," said Keller, "I will do so. First, Harry M. Daugherty, Attorney General of the United States, has used his high office to violate the Constitution of the United States in the following particulars: By abridging freedom of speech; by abridging freedom of the press; by abridging the right of the people peaceably to assemble."

And then followed a list of "high crimes and misdemeanors" which, tripped of the soapbox verbiage in which Keller enumerated them, were as follows:

Daugherty had conducted himself in a manner arbitrary, oppressive, unjust, and illegal. He had used the funds of his office to prosecute "individuals and organizations for certain lawful acts," these acts being, of course, those attending the conspiracy behind the railroad strike and the attempted paralysis of the nation's transportation systems.

He had failed to prosecute others "individuals and organizations," notably "big business" and "malefactors of great wealth."

A resolution accompanying the charges thus voiced by Mr. Keller, in a speech typical of the radical soapbox orator, was referred to the House Committee on Judiciary. Five days later the committee held a meeting to hear such evidence as the accuser of the Attorney General had to offer. But he had none to offer.

Therefore the following remarkable colloquy:

"The committee should take the charges that I make, and they are true until they are proven not true," said Keller.

"Is it your contention," inquired Congressman Yates, of Illinois, in unfeigned surprise, "that this committee ought now to report this resolution favorably without any showing whatever by you?"

"I have made my charges," Keller protested, "and they are true until they are proven not true."

Had Representative Keller been familiar with the method of conducting trials in the bolshevik tribunals of soviet Russia, which he may or may not have been, he could not have presumed more accurately to have introduced the method in the United States. He was reminded by the committee that in the United States the burden of proof is upon the accuser, and that the accused is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. In Russia the process is precisely the opposite.

"I have made my charges," said Keller, "and they are true until they are proven not true!"

Please note the character of the charges—at the very outset a cry against the abridgement of "free speech," "free press" and "peaceable assembly." The interest of the American Civil Liberties Union in "getting Daugherty" is readily apparent. "The advocacy of murder, unaccompanied by any act, is within the legitimate scope of free speech," Roger N. Baldwin, director of the "union," has said. "All of them (the members of the organization) believe," Baldwin also said, "in the right of persons to advocate the overthrow of government by force and violence."

Which is precisely the kind of "free speech" and "free press" that was wanted by the radicals in the course of the railway strike—the kind of "free speech" and "free press" the Attorney General of the United States was committing "high crimes and misdemeanors" to abridge. It was the kind of "free speech" and "free press" to which William H. Johnston, president of the International Association of Machinists, chairman of the Conference for Progressive Political Action, and secretary-treasurer of the People's Legislative Service, subscribed and gave his sanction to as a member of the National Committee of the American Civil Liberties Union.

It was very soon revealed that Keller had no proofs in support of his charges, but that the whole scheme was to get before the committee some choice oratory from representatives of the striking railway workmen and others similarly interested in "free speech," "free press" and the right of "peaceable assembly."

Confronted with the demand of the committee for "proofs," Keller could do nothing but seek delay. The hearing was, therefore, postponed until a later date, and continued to be postponed from time to time because the accuser of the Attorney General was "not ready." In the meantime he continued to make denunciatory speeches in the House, for consumption by the press generally and the radical press particularly. To the October, 1922, issue of the Locomotive Engineers' Journal, on the eve of the Congressional elections, he contributed an article entitled "Why Daugherty Should Be Impeached," a diatribe of sensational but unsupported charges, chiefly to the effect that the Attorney General had illegally prosecuted and persecuted the "working class;" i.e. reds, rioters and industrial war conspirators—but had shown extreme partiality to "malefactors of great wealth."

Samuel Gompers, always loud in his protestations of "conservatism" and his want of sympathy for "radicalism," but always, nevertheless, playing into the hands of the reds in his great fear of losing power as the head of the American Federation of Labor, issued a blast in the official organ of the American Federation of Labor, saying:

"It is the purpose of the American Federation of Labor to do everything possible to bring the impeachment proceedings to a successful conclusion. Labor will participate in the proceedings through its representatives, through its counsel, and through the presentation of testimony of witnesses,"

Thus was revealed the hand of Gompers. The committee found it impossible to get Keller to produce proof of his charges, and it had almost as much difficulty in finding out who helped Keller prepare the charges. It did find out, eventually, that one Jackson Ralston, an attorney for the American Federation of Labor,—the same Jackson Ralston of the group of pink lawyers employed to defend radicals in court and calling themselves the National Popular Government League,—who had sought by similar means to "get" Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer,—had helped with the preparation of some of the charges. It learned also that Samuel Untermyer, the chairman of the Finance Committee of the People's Legislative Service, had helped with the preparation of some of them.

As time went on, however, Keller found himself deserted by Untermyer, and Ralston unwilling to assume any great responsibility in making good with the charges. In December, 1923, the committee finally got some "evidence," but it was principally on the side of the accused.

Keller himself became disgusted and refused, even when served with a subpoena, to appear.

"If there had been no strike and the shopmen had continued at work and had not struck, you would have had no complaint to make to the Attorney General at present, would you?"" Congressman Hersey at one of the hearings asked of Thomas Q. Stevenson, an attorney for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen, who had been advertised as a 'star' witness for the 'prosecution.'"

"Probably not, sir,' was Stevenson's reply, and the witness, displaying quite plainly his unwillingness to make the admission, did admit, nevertheless, that "impeachment" of the Attorney General appeared to be without very substantial basis.

The witnesses who did appear to present the case for the "prosecution" plainly revealed the motive behind the charges, but they revealed nothing in the way of evidence to support them. All that was left for the committee to do, after a fiasco that would have been a colossal joke had it not been a preliminary to a more ambitious frameup based upon similar motives, was to report to the House that "It does not appear that there is any ground to believe that Harry M. Daugherty, Attorney General of the United States, has been guilty of any high crimes or misdemeanor requiring the interposition of the impeachment powers of the House,"—a report which the House adopted January 23, 1923, by a vote of 204 to 77, a small group of pink Democrats voting in the negative with the radicals, elected as Republicans or Democrats but wearing the colors of the People's Legislative Service. And all that was left for those who had made Keller their tool, and had sought this means to intimidate the Department of Justice and "get" its chief officer, was to babble "whitewash."

Denouncing the proceedings of the committee as a "whitewash," even before they had been completed but after Keller had abandoned them and gone south "for his health," the radical weekly newspaper, Labor, official organ of the railroad brotherhoods and the Conference for Progressive Political Action, said:

"Congressman Keller has already served notice on the Attorney General that unless the latter gets out of public life the impeachment fight will be renewed as soon as the new Congress convenes."

But Keller retired to an undoubtedly comforting and comfortable oblivion. The execution of this threat, intended to be conveyed by the big chiefs of the railroad brotherhoods through their official publication, was left to abler and more daring hands—hands more resourceful, and restrained even less, perhaps, by scruples.

"Have patience," was in effect the counsel of Burton K. Wheeler, of Butte, Montana, to the reds of his own State, "and leave it to me, I'll get Daugherty!"