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Overman Committee

Overman Committee

The Overman Committee was a special subcommittee under the Senate Committee on the Judiciary in the United States Senate chaired by Democratic Senator from North Carolina Lee Slater Overman. The committee investigation was headed by Major E. Lowry Humes and investigated foreign (particularly German) propaganda, Bolshevism, and other "un-American activities" in the United States in the late 1910s.

Background

In the Russian Revolution of 1917 the Bolshevik party, led by Vladimir Lenin, and the workers' Soviets, overthrew the Russian Provisional Government in Petrograd and established Marxism-Leninism. Many Americans were worried about the revolution's ideas trickling over into the U.S. as well during the First Red Scare.

Mandate by Congress

The committee was originally charged to investigate charges that "the United States Brewers Association and allied interests" were promoting "un-American activities" in the United States, particularly German ones.

The commission's investigations were expanded to included Bolshevist activities in the country per the order of the Walsh resolution, after a string of events inside of the United States. First, Senator Thomas of Colorado said that there was a powerful organization at work in the country to overthrow the American system of government. Senator Borah of Idaho reported that there was a meeting where, among the advocated, "was the overthrow of our form of government and the substitution in its place of a form of government known as the Soviet government." The senator also reported that the meeting had been attended to by Congressman Mason of Illinois.

Archibald E. Stevenson provided the final spark for action: a witness in front of the Senate, he not only convinced the Senators of the need for a thorough investigation, but also alerted the American public to the threatening link between post-war turmoil and revolutionary radicalism. Stevenson had been an agent of the Bureau of Investigation for the Department of Justice and later served as the director of the Bureau of Propaganda for the Military Intelligence Division of the U.S. Army General Staff.

Investigations

The investigation under Major E. Lowry Humes, as said above, investigated German and Bolshevist elements within the United States.

Count yon Bernstorff, Dr. Dernburg, Boy-Ed, von Papen, Dr. Heinrich Albert, Rintelen were investigated as German propaganda chiefs. The United States Brewers Association, the German-American Alliance, the Hamburg-American steamship line, The League of American Women for Strict Neutrality, and the Sons of Hermann - described as a secret organization paterned after the Masonic fraternity - were organizations investigated.

Final report

The final report was signed off by Senator Knute Nelson of Minnesota, Senator Thomas Sterling of South Dakota, Senator William H. King of Utah, and Senator Josiah O. Wolcott of Delaware, as well as Senator Overman. The report not only talked about propaganda in the country, but what would happen if Marxism-Leninism was instated, and was also over 35,000 words.

The report recommended deporting alien radicals, enacting peacetime sedition laws, and making patriotic propaganda to head off a Bolshevik type of revolution in the United States. Other recommendations included: a permanent law similar to the war time espionage act designed to control "forces of anarchy and violence" and "adequately protect our national sovereignty and our established institutions"; strict regulation of the manufacture, distribution, and possession of high explosives; regulation of "mushroom organizations" and special interests which propagate "notions of government, sociology, benevolence, or what not"; control and regulation of foreign language publications.

The text of the report on Bolshevism is available online for free from the New York Times.

11 June 1919 Overman both reported that advocates of Bolshevism could not "state on oath that he had ever read the Bolshevist constitution" and called them "hysterical and corrupt".

22 March, 1917 Overman said that he had been informed agents of the German government had been "at work among the negroes" of the United States spreading the doctrine of seccession, according to a letter he received from E.B. McKinney of Pellam.

5 April 1918 Overman said it was possible that German spies were employed in a Curtiss airplane plant at Buffalo, and that their work had delayed the making of planes for months. These spies, he said, had weakened joints in the planes so that they collapsed, and he exhibited one of the parts so tampered with to prove his assertion. Overman further advocated that the government commandeer the Curtiss plant and turn out every one of its present employees. "If I were secretary of war, I would commandeer the Curtiss plant and put out every man employed there and hire Americans in their places," Overman said.

As early as 23 February, 1917, Overman had stated that he had been told there were 100,000 spies in the United States.

Effects

The Lusk Committee was established in part because of the Overman Committee.

Letter bombs

May 1, 1919, a year after the end of the committee's inquiries, a bomb was sent in the mail through the Salisbury, North Carolina Post Office addressed to Senator Overman among two other letter bombs sent to other prominent Americans as part of the 1919 United States anarchist bombings.

Criticisms

Some have criticised the committee as simply seeking to "manufacture Democratic campaign thunder". Others have criticized the committee as a "propaganda apparatus" to stoke anti-German and anti-Soviet fears, feeding the Red Scare.

References

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