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>Intellect Surveiled: Thorstein Veblen and the Organs of State Security

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Second Conference of the International Thorstein Veblen Association
Severance Great Hall, Carleton College
Northfield, Minnesota
30 May - 1 June 1996


Sylvia E. Bartley
Noyo Hill House
Fort Bragg, California

The author holds a Master's Degree in sociology. She is a writer and photographer, as well as co-founder and administrative director of Noyo Hill House, a California public benefit corporation for the preservation of perishable historical source mate_rials and the promotion of public interest in history. She wishes to acknowledge the ready assistance of the staffs of the U.S. National Archives in Washington, D.C., and the Special Collections Department of the Stanford University Libraries. She expresses gratitude as well to her husband and co-researcher, Russell, who helped make sense of an incomplete, often obscure documentary record.

[Nota bene: This paper represents work in progress, wherein archival material is quoted without prior authorization from the repositories of origin. Any published reference to this paper should be framed accordingly.

The years 1918-1919 were the period of Thorstein Veblen's greatest public exposure, during which he served briefly in Woodrow Wilson's Food Administration, then as an editor of The Dial magazine in New York City. Veblen viewed Wilson's internationalist posture as a rare opening to call for fundamental changes in national policy, the only time in his life that he sought direct entree to the world of politics. Finding mostly deaf ears within the government, he turned to an agitated public opinion in the periodical press. Shunned by most political insiders, he chose to disseminate his sharply critical analyses of national and world affairs in the pages of The Dial and The Freeman, and in so doing found the largest audience he would ever know.

Prominent commentators of the day wrung their hands over Veblen's media presence and growing influence. Lamented H. L. Mencken:

[For the entire year of 1918, Veblen] actualy dominated the American scene. All the reviews were full of his ideas. A hundred lesser sages reflected them. ... Everyone of intellectual pretensions read his books. Veblenism was shining in full brilliance. There were Veblenists, Veblen clubs, Veblen remedies for the sorrows of the world. There were even, in Chicago, Veblen girls -- perhaps Gibson girls grown middle-aged and despairing. 1

Behind this public notoriety, however, swirled darker under-currents. The Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917 created the world's first socialist state, which was immediately perceived abroad as an historic threat to capitalism. Latent nativist fears in the United States surmounted class divisions to forge a ground_swell of anticommunism. This fusion of fear and myth, expressed as super-patriotism, would trample professed democratic tenets and quickly led to blatant violations of constitutional rights.

The United States Government first resorted to espionage against its own citizens during the Civil War, while the Veblens were still farming in Cato, Wisconsin. To perform this domestic surveillance, the War Department hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency, which had perfected such practices in previous anti-labor operations against the Molly Maguires. Pinkerton innovations included infiltrating "spies" into workers' organizations and the use of agents provocateurs to frame labor leaders for criminal prosecution. 2

By the end of the first decade of the 20th century, political detective units existed in most U.S. cities. At first they were employed as "bomb squads" against the anarchist movement. Subsequently they were used to gather information on labor organizations and strikes. In a climate of growing war hysteria, the second decade of the century saw the rapid development of collaboration between private and public police networks nationwide.

Laws against criminal syndicalism, sedition and anarchism were enacted. Once foreign-born labor activists and anarchists had been deported, police and private citizens alike turned to identifying home-grown political dissenters. The war-inspired hatred of the foreign "Huns" was now transferred to the newly perceived internal menace of domestic "Reds." The resultant political muscle unleashed against dwarfed anything seen previously and greatly exceeded the constitutional limits of established judicial authority. The salient personages in this federalized paranoia were Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, who had presidential ambitions, and the young John Edgar Hoover, an ambitious card cataloguer recruited from the Library of Congress.


In May and June 1919, bombs exploded in several U.S. cities. In response, Attorney General Palmer reorganized the Justice Department's Bureau of Investigation to include a General Intelligence Division (GID), commonly called the "Radical Division." Zealot and alien-hater Francis P. Garvan was appointed its head. In June, responding to Garvan's sensationalistic claim that a new wave of bombings and terrorist acts would begin on July 4th, Congress authorized an additional half million dollars for the "Radical Division" above and beyond its initial appropriation of 1.5 million dollars. In December of that same year Congress authorized yet another million dollars for "running down reds" and prosecuting them. 3

Garvan brought in J. Edgar Hoover, then 24, to head the GID. While at the Library of Congress, Hoover had compiled a name index of 150,000 radicals, their organizations and publications. At the GID he expanded the index to 450,000 names, thereby increasing the prestige of his new Division. Next he added short bios of identi_fied radicals, which by February 1920 numbered 70,000. He appended press clippings and reports of their speeches and publications for ready ref erence. 4


One of Palmer's early innovations was to create a corps of citizen informers, an idea first proposed by Chicago advertising executive Albert Briggs. By the time the United States entered World War I, more than fifty such groups -- typically comprised of "leading citizens" -- were watching and reporting on their fellow citizens all across the country. In his annual report for 1917, Palmer remarked that:

the American Protective League has proven to be invaluable and constitutes a most important auxiliary and reserve force for the Bureau of Investigation. Its membership, which is carefully guarded, included leading men in various localities who have volunteered their services for the purpose of being on the lookout for and reporting to this department information of value to the Government, and for the further purpose of endeavoring to secure information regarding any matters about which it may be requested to make inquiry. 5

What had begun as the "Slacker Raids" targeting military draft evaders and conscientious objectors soon became a systematic cam_paign to manipulate public fear of "Reds." 6 In the early stages of what came to be known as the "Palmer Raids," entire libraries were seized, "almost by the bale" the Attorney General boasted. Of these confiscated materials, 625 newspapers and periodicals were filed and indexed. Two hundred and fifty-one were classified as "ultra-radical." Three hundred and twenty-five in 25 foreign languages were translated by a corps of 40 multi-lingual translators. Special project studies were made of the Negro press and IWW publications. 7


Against this backdrop it seemed likely that Veblen, the outspoken critic of prevailing orthodoxies, would have attracted the attention of Palmer and his minions. Already in 1932 Joseph Dorfman had made a determined but ultimately unsuccessful effort to obtain Justice Department files on Veblen. 8 What, we wondered, might have been the consequences of Veblen's ideological deviations in an era of nativist super-patriotism and anti-subversive hysteria? Our effort to locate documentation that might shed light on this question represents, in a sense, a continuation of the search initiated by Dorfman over six decades before.

We located several files in the U.S. National Archives (USNA) in Washington, D.C., originating with the Attorney General's office, the Bureau of Investigation (BI), and the Military Intel_ligence of the War Department's Executive Division (MID). Bureau of Investigation files for the period 1908-1922 have been microfilmed and are open to researchers. BI records from J. Edgar Hoover's tenure as Director (began in 1924) through the creation of the Federal Bureau of Invesigation (FBI) in 1935 remain closed to the public and must be requested from the FBI under the provisions of the Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts (FOIPA). 9 Our FOIPA request to the FBI for records pertaining to Veblen in the last years of his life required 18 months to complete and produced only two documents, both of them duplicates of documents from the Attorney General's files which we had obtained previously in a few hours' time at the USNA. 10

Some of the BI documents relating to Veblen had been torn or otherwise mutilated before being microfilmed. Others were listed in the accompanying inventory but do not appear on the microfilm. As the original BI files were destroyed by the FBI after microfilming, those missing documents either survive in other, as yet unidentified Justice Department files or were in fact destroyed and are now irretrievable. Whatever the case, documents discussed here occasionally contain references to others which were not found.

The documents thus far recovered originate with four separate inquiries conducted during Veblen's lifetime. Additionally, Hoover's Bureau of Investigation conducted a posthumous review of its files in response to a query from the Attorney General occasioned by Dorfman's persistent requests for Justice Department records.

Veblen's troubles began soon after publication of An Inquiry Into the Nature of Peace and the Terms of Its Perpetuation (1917). Distressed by Macmillan's failure to promote the book, he approached B. W. Huebsch, who arranged to take it over from Macmillan in February 1918, the same month Veblen joined the Food Adminis_tration. Author Francis Hackett obtained advertising money for the book from Judge Learned Hand, Elsie Clews Parsons and others. Quite independently of these promotional efforts, however, The Nature of Peace attracted growing attention to both itself and its author, not all of which proved benign.

In a letter to the editor of The Detroit Free Press, for example, a Professor William H. Hobbs of the Geology Department of the University of Michigan attacked the "flabby pacifist" who wrote such a "damnable piece of pro-German propaganda," and decried the fact that youth in a state university were being exposed to Veblen's book. Hobbs sent a follow-up letter to The New York Times to complain that The Nature of Peace was being used in classes at Columbia University as well. 11

Hobbs was soon joined by Henry A. Wise Wood, chairman of the Conference Committee on War Preparedness, one of the proliferating citizen informer groups. Having received a copy of Hobbs' initial letter, Wood passed it on to The New York Tribune, together with his own pointed comments. Veblen's "thoughts, logic, and arguments," he declared, "are of the sort that started the Huns on their present mission to conquer the world."' 12

With the help of Ben Huebsch, Professor E. R. A. Seligman and Columbia University president Nicholas Murray Butler, Veblen managed to obtain a retraction from The Tribune. In a lengthy editorial that appeared on 1 March 1918, the editors expressed regret that they had read the "difficult book" only after printing Wood's condemnation. Using extensive quotations from The Nature of Peace, they concluded that it was "one of the most anti-German books in English print." But that did not deter Wood from his attacks on Veblen and his damnable book. Like a humorless bulldog, he persisted in getting his diatribes into print. 13

Behind the public vitriol, meanwhile, the Bureau of Investigation was beginning to develop a file on Veblen, the alleged traitor and radical agitator.


Ironically, Veblen's BI file opens with a one-page typescript from the Trinity College Department of History (Hartford, Connecticut), dated 23 January 1918. The typescript contains six excerpts from pages 121 (two), 145 (one), 175 (two) and 177 (one) of The Nature of Peace. Handwritten notations indicate that it had been hand delivered by an unnamed party from the College to the Connecticut State Council of Defense, one of the citizen informer groups.'4

A copy of the Trinity typescript was forwarded from this local body to the Council of National Defense (CND) in Washington, D.C., which passed it on to the Department of Justice together with a cover letter explaining the document's origin. The cover letter was signed by William G. Tanssig, Assistant to Chief of State Councils Section.

The Department of Justice replied to the CND in a letter dated 30 January 1918 and signed by Special Assistant to the Attorney General John Lord O'Brian. O'Brian cautioned the Council that the overall effect of The Nature of Peace could not be determined from the Trinity College excerpts. He added that the Justice Department had not examined Veblen's book but that it appeared "to be a scientific and philosophical analysis of the causes of the war by an author of high standing in the field of economics and sociology," and that unquestionably loyal periodicals had praised it. 16

Next came an irate citizen's letter penned on stationery from the Hotel Leatherock ("New and Modern Throughout, We Strive to Please"), in Cherryvale, Kansas. Written by L. H. Crawford of Decatur, Arkansas, it was addressed to the Department of Justice and included a clipping about The Nature of Peace from The Kansas city Times. "Are we to sit by and let this man who poses as a loyal American citizen spread his damnable pro-German poison in this country?" Crawford railed. "As an American citizen willing to give my all even to my life for my country, I demand this man be arrested and put where he belongs." 17

O'Brian acknowledged receipt of Crawford's letter and the enclosed clipping about Veblen on 9 March, reassuring Crawford that the Justice Department was giving the matter its "earnest attention.111a Later that same month the Bureau of Investigation's St. Louis field office contacted the U.S. Postmaster in Columbia, Missouri, requesting that he secure and forward a copy of The Nature of Peace.'9 The requested volume was obtained from the Missouri Store Book Co., in Columbia, and sent to the Acting Special Agent in Charge of the St. Louis field office, J. J. McLaughlin.20 McLaughlin forwarded the book to his superiors on the first day of April.21

A Miss Grace Dodson of Goldwater, Kansas, addressed a complaint to President Wilson about The Nature of Peace. Although her letter is missing, the file contains a reply sent by the "Chief" of the Bureau of Investigation dated 3 April 1918. 22 The President had forwarded her letter to the Bureau, where it was receiving "careful attention." Lines drawn from "Veblen" and "Nature of Peace" with "over" handwritten at the top indicate that something more was on the back of her letter, but the reverse side was not microfilmed. Several days later Bureau Director A. Bruce Bielaski received a memorandum from agent "A.H.P." stating that Veblen's book was "one of the keenest, deepest and most thoughtful works of analysis of the causes of war and peace." Besides, it had been favorably reviewed in "perfectly loyal publications." The memo writer had been "wanting to get hold of a copy for a long time," and he assured Bielaski that he would read it and "report whether there is anything in it which warrants the fear of the American Defense Society." Incidentally, he notes, "Prof. Veblen is here in Washington in Government service with the Food Administration." 23


Elements of the political establishment also responded unsym_pathetically to Veblen's writings on Germany. Some of the inside political opposition he experienced while in government service is reflected in a letter addressed to Richard Melancthon Hurd in January 1918 by then former president Theodore Roosevelt:

"My dear Mr. Hurd: Will you look over the enclosed letter by President Luther? If the book [The Nature of Peace] is as he describes, and I am confident that his quotations from it are accurate, I quite agree with him that Mr. Thorstein Veblen ought to be in jail. Is there anything that our [American Defense] Society can do in the matter? 24

Internal government concerns about potential threats to the nations's security are summarized in the Annual Report of the Attorney General for the year 1918, where Palmer notes that "the use which our enemies have made of propaganda as a method of warfare has been especially dangerous in any country governed by public opinion." The number of complaints filed under the Espionage Act, Palmer stated, had been "incredibly large."

Every day hundreds of articles or passages from newspapers, pamphlets, books, or other printed matter, transcripts of speeches, reports of private conversations, etc., have been reported to officials of the department for decision as to whether or not the matter justified prosecution under the espionage act. 25

Palmer acknowledged that "systematic disloyal propaganda became a failure during the first year of the war." This kind of propaganda "reached its height in the autumn of 1917, but gained no great headway and was declining by January 1, 1918." 26 Nonetheless, he went on to complain that:

the work of the department in this connection has been handicapped at times by activities of self-appointed committees or associations of citizens who, ignorant of or dissatisfied with the scope of the Federal laws or jurisdiction, have sought to supplement them by extra-legal measures of intimidation and punishment. This department has made every effort to put down disorders of this character, but most of these activities lay outside of its reach and in control of local authorities. 27

The Attorney General's praise of "the services of disciplined citizen volunteers" was reserved exclusively for the "members of the American Protective League," which had been "created with the approval of the Attorney General" and "under the direction of the Division of Investigation" and comprised some "250,000 members scattered throughout the United States."28


The army's involvement in domestic intelligence began formally in 1917 with the establishment of a domestic Corps of Intelligence Police and a Washington-based staff component, which together constituted the Military Intelligence Division (MID). They had taken part in the "Slacker Raids" and strikebreaking in collaboration with the American Protective League (APL). After the war the Justice Department disbanded the APL, which reorganized itself as the American Patriotic League and subsequently entered into a collaborative relationship with MID. 29

On 26 February 1918, Captain Roy F. Britton filed a report to the Chief of Military Intelligence in the War Department from the Boatmen's Bank Building in St. Louis, Missouri. It was accompanied by two newspaper clippings from The St. Louis Republic of 25 February, along with excerpts from The Nature of Peace. Britton reported that "through Mr. Pallen of The Republic, I had Dr. [A. Ross] Hill, President of the University, interviewed in Kansas City," and noted that the enclosed clippings set forth Dr. Hill's statement. He observed in addition that, "even if the book had been pro-German as charged, its limited readership would have rendered its impact marginal except for the sensational publicity afforded it by the press." 30

On 7 March 1918, Britton sent a second report concerning Veblen and The Nature of Peace to his chief at the War Department. It gave extensive coverage of President Hill's statement on Veblen's behalf. 31

From these two documents created by Military Intelligence, we Page 14
see that Captain Britton was not just observing and reporting to his superiors in Washington, but actively intervening in events. There appear to be no surviving communications from the War Department in response to Britton's reports. What is clear from these two documents is that Britton was the person responsible for Hill's intervention with the press on Veblen's behalf.

Had the wartime censors kept a close eye on Veblen's mail, they would have found ample evidence of his loyalty in family correspondence. On one occasion in 1918, for example, his wife wrote her teenage daughter Ann that "the present day 'Radicals' in America are mostly pro-German passifists [sic] & Bolsheviki and are no friends of ours." Should young Ann hear any of them speak at all about Veblen's government position, "it would only be for the purpose of hurting his work, as they are, no doubt, pro-German, so don't," she admonished, "talk with any of them. You must keep in mind that we are most bitterly opposed to any kind of pro-German propaganda or sympathizers." 32


Another situation affected by the controversy surrounding Veblen and The Nature of Peace was the effort made in 1918 by former students and colleagues to secure him a temporary position at Cornell University. The Executive Committee minutes of Cornell's Board of Trustees for 9 March 1918 record that "arrangements have been made for securing Thorstein B. Veblen as Professor of Economic Institutions for the year 1918-1919 at a salary of $3500 of which $2500 is to be contributed to the University." The appointment was approved and the details of the outside contribution, as well as possible further service, were referred to a sub-committee of the university's president and the chairman of the Board. 33

One month later, however, on 13 April 1918, a terse entry in the Board minutes records that negotiations to retain Veblen on a temporary appointment had been discontinued. 34

University of Missouri president A. Ross Hill surmised that Cornell's rejection of Veblen stemmed from the public attacks on his books, while those most immediately involved in the effort to secure the appointment for Veblen concluded they had shown too much anxiety in their approach to Cornell authorities. There appear, however, to have been three additional factors that may have influenced Cornell's decision to back away from Veblen.

The first was a virulent ad hominem attack by Stanford University president John C. Branner, a man of pro-military sympathies who, perhaps offended by a too hasty reading of Veblen's book, Imperial Germany, communicated his ill regard for Veblen to Cornell authorities just two weeks before the decision not to employ him. Branner wrote to Professor Edwin H. Woodruff, who passed his letter on to Cornell's President Schurman.

The second factor, admittedly speculative, is the possible dissemination of detrimental accusations by wartime postal censors, who would soon declare Veblen's Imperial Germany "unmailable" and may also have monitored his correspondence with IWW Secretary_Treasurer, Maurice G. Bresnan.

The third was apparent Justice Department concern over Veblen's contacts with the Wobblies, about which he was interviewed by Department officials.


In a letter to Cornell dean Edwin H. Woodruff, dated 28 March 1918 and marked "Private," President John C. Branner of Stanford answered questions Woodruff had put to him about Branner's erst_while colleague, Thorstein Veblen. "My dear Woodruff," he wrote.

You managed to pick out a mighty disagreeable subject for these disagreeable times. It is.. remarkable [how]...certain scholars...stand ready to forgive or. forget anything a man does who...contribut[es] to their particular brand of scholarship. This man Veblen is a good example; but I would about as lief send my children to sit at the feet of Treitske [Trotsky] and be done with it, to say nothing of his moral character.

In the remainder of this letter Branner gives news of family and mutual friends. "Speaking of my children,!' he writes, "John has been in France since November last, Co. B., 25th Engineers.... I tried to enlist myself, but they won't take me seriously.... During the civil war I tried three times to enlist in the Confederate army, but failed every time, chiefly because I wasn't old enough; now I am not young enough. 36

On the same date, Branner wrote Woodruff a formal response to the latter's query about Veblen:

Dear Mr. Woodruff:- I not only have no objection to telling you what I know and. . think about Veblen, .1 am of the opinion that educational institutions should cooperate to keep the sources of inspiration for our young people free from contaminations.

Your question as to whether he is in the habit of getting into the papers by startling statements I cannot answer. and it doesn't seem important. for I know things about his conduct as a man. . .that so completely overshadow his itching for newspaper notoriety that I never gave the matter of his conduct in relation to such things a second thought.

That he is an able man seems to be recognized by scholars in his specialties, but scholars are doing mankind no service when they back for a professorship in our colleges a person who is unfit to associate with decent men, to say nothing about decent women, and least of all with young people.

Veblen married the daughter of the president of Carlton [sic] College, a woman of the finest character and breeding, and he broke her heart with brutal deliberation and drove her to the verge of insanity or beyond. She now lives in a hut near the old Cedro Cottage just across the S. Francisquito Creek from Stanford University, crushed, broken, and more pathetic than any victim of German brutality in northern France.

It was generally understood. . .that he was an advocate of free love, but I paid no particular attention to the rumors. My knowledge of his character is based on a collection of letters.. between him and his wife before she got a divorce from him. These letters were shown to Jordan and me, and. . .are my warrant for saying that I do not consider him proper company for man or beast. I have been told that he has reformed. I do not believe that such men reform; they simply change their bases of operations, cover up their moral rottenness, and manage to divert attention from it by the devices practised by such people. At bottom he is a Hun and he will remain one.

You are at liberty to show this to President Schurman.

Woodruff's response to Branner, dated 4 April 1918, was brief and to the point. "I am immensely grateful for your letter, and I think the information that you afford, which has been conveyed to the proper authority, is going to stop the project."37


In early 1918, the mainstream media carried much commentary on the de facto censorship being exercised by postal and other government agencies at the time. Wartime censorship extended to civilian associations as well. The Committee on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure of the American Association of University Professors, for example, declared that it was "the right and duty of the 'academic authorities' to dismiss the officer who, without violat_ing the law, is in their judgment acting in a manner contrary to that required by the national interest." 38 [emphasis added]

Veblen's term in the Food Administration lasted from 19 February to 30 June 1918. Early on he made a tour of the Midwest to determine prevailing agricultural conditions, which led to his memorandum entitled, "Using the I.W.W. to Harvest Grain." There was some related correspondence between Veblen and IWW Secretary-Treasurer Maurice G. Bresnan, who operated out of Chicago. In a letter dated 8 April 1918, Bresnan refers to Veblen's communication of two days before requesting the pertinent facts, which he now provides. In addition, Bresnan sends Veblen several affidavits from IWW workers testifying to their mistreatment by legal authorities and town officials. Veblen includes the affidavits as exhibits appended to his official report. 39

Considering Veblen's heightened public exposure and the prevailing official hostility toward the IWW, it is conceivable that U.S. postal censors advised wartime autorities of this correspondence and that word of Veblen's "pro-Wobbly" attitude may have reached Cornell administrators as well. In this period, moreover, Veblen joined a number of others in signing a public appeal for funds to defend the 101 IWW leaders charged in Chicago with "conspiring to obstruct the selective draft and hindering the government's war work." Veblen opined openly that the long prison terms being meted out by Judge K. M. Landis were evidence of hysteria bordering on insanity. 40


On 12 April 1918, Veblen was interviewed by Special Assistant Attorney General John Lord O'Brian, Assistant Attorney General Alfred Bettman and unspecified others in O'Brian's Justice Department office. Dorfman notes that Veblen regarded the interview as a "special pleading." Dorfman also states that Bettman was initially unsettled by Veblen's personal appearance but was favorably im_pressed by his obvious intellect, of a caliber rarely found in government service. 41

A Bureau of Investigation agent identified only as "A.P."prepared a memorandum on the Veblen interview, which he forwarded to O'Brian with a copy to Bielaski. The subject of the interview, according to this memorandum, had been "The Nonpartisan League and I.W.W." 42

"I thought it might be well, for the purpose of reference, to summarize the statements made to us yesterday by Professor Thorstein Vebelin [sic]," wrote the unnamed agent. His summary of Veblen's main points coincides with Dorfman's general discussion of the subject, which was written without benefit of Justice Department sources. 43 At the end of his memo "A.P." reports that he had talked to a friend in Minneapolis the evening before and posed Veblen's analysis of the situation in the upper Midwest to him. The friend had agreed with Veblen, he writes, adding that "the growth of the League is due to real grievances of the farmers," which has now "grouped the farmers, farm laborers and the city laborers on one side of a hot class conflict." 44

The date of this BI memo, 13 April 1918, coincides exactly with the entry in the minutes of the Cornell Board of Trustees that records the decision not to appoint Veblen to a teaching post for the 1918-1919 academic year.

Whether or not there is a connection has yet to be determined. Subsequently, head Food Administration statistician Raymond Pearl submitted Veblen's memorandum on using IWW labor -- which he thought excellent -- to Herbert Hoover at the War Board, where it was discussed at some length. One War Board member recorded that "it caused some consternation" due to the aspersions it cast on government bodies and its implied acceptance of the IWW. Further requests for input from Veblen ceased. 45 Veblen might well have commented in his dry way that his government service "died of it."

Veblen did receive another invitation to continue in government service, however, through Jett Lauck, a former Chicago student who was then executive secretary of the War Labor Board. Lauck offered him a salary of $4800 a year. Veblen felt that he would not find "congenial" a group chaired by Frank Walsh and ex-President Taft. But Lauck assured him that he would find a great many "radicals" on the staff and Veblen tentatively agreed to it. He discussed the possibility of doing "piece work" for Felix Frankfurter, perhaps sketching out a reconstruction policy for labor. 46

When the opportunity developed to join The Dial staff, however, he abandoned government service for the proffered editorial position at the much reduced salary of $2500. He moved his family from Missouri to New York City in the fall of 1918 and began writing for The Dial the following February.

In the spring of 1919 the Postmaster of the City of New York wrote Veblen's publisher, B.W. Huebsch, that Imperial Germany was no longer mailable under the provisions of the Espionage Act. Concurrently, the Committee on Public Information, a propaganda arm of the U.S. Government, requested Huebsch's permission to reprint certain chapters from that same volume. Commenting on this ironic divergence of perceptions in The New Republic, William Hard wrote: "The Committee on Public Information thought that the book was damaging to Germany. The Post Office thought it was damaging to America."47 All the super-patriots were jumping to their own contradictory conclusions.

In June 1919 Attorney General Palmer ordered a mass roundup of alien radicals for deportation "to save the country," baldly exceeding the Justice Department's constitutional mandate. There had to be a mass sweep Palmer insisted, because "the individual agitators were so migratory in their habits and so cautious in their oral utterances that it was quite difficult, if not impossible, to pick them off one by one. 48

The raids began on 7 November 1919 -- not coincidentally the second anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution -- in twelve U.S. cities. Hundreds from the Union of Russian Workers were arrested, netting 243 deportable aliens. They also netted the prominent anarchists Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, who were subsequently deported. Hoover refused to investigate the resulting charges of lawlessness, demanding instead that defense attorneys be "disbarred from further practice before the immigration authorities."49

These raids proved to be the dry run for the coming crackdown on communists, in which warrantless searches "authorized" by blank warrant forms to be filled in ex post facto became accepted practice. By the end of 1919, Palmer had convinced Congress to ignore Justice Department abuses and to vote the Department an additional million dollars on the Attorney General's vague assurance that "the money will be expended largely in prosecution of the Red elements in this country, and running down the Reds." 50 Hoover oversaw the entire operation, but Attorney General Palmer led the charge.


The fourth group of documents in government investigative files on Veblen originates in the Seattle, Washington office of the U.S. Secret Service and dates from the fall of 1919. Through the blizzard of paper can be seen a professional informer working his wiles on gullible police agents all too ready to pay for tailored information. Thomas B. Foster, Agent in Charge of the Treasury Department Field Force, Division of the Secret Service for the District of Puget Sound, filed a report to headquarters on 22 November 1919 concerning Veblen as an alleged revolutionary. An informant for the Tacoma Police Department by the name of Louis Loewer, Foster advised,

reports that Julius Davison, a Canadian Jew of Russian parentage, has told him that Thorsin Veblin [sic] is alleged to be the man who will do in America, within the next two years, what Linine [sic] and Trotsky have done in Russia. Veblin, he says, is a professor at the University of Chicago and writes for The Dial, a revolutionary paper. Davison also told him, Loewer claims, that Veblin is receiving funds through the same underground method as de Valera, the so-called President of the Irish Republic. 51,

This document bears the initials and codings of J. Edgar Hoover, the recently appointed head of the Bureau of Investigation's "Radical Division." It had been passed on to the Bureau by acting Secret Service chief Joseph E. Murphy. 52

Assistant BI Director Frank Burke, in turn, forwarded copies of the Secret Service report ("Thorsin Veblin as Lenine/Trotsky") to the Bureau's Chicago and Seattle field off ices. 53 Three months later agent J. Spolansky filed a report from the Chicago field office on "Thorsin Veblin," who was allegedly engaged in "Bolshevik activities." Spolansky reported that, following Burke's communication of the previous December, he had inquired about Veblen at the Universities of Chicago and Illinois but had been informed that no professor by that name was employed at either institution. 54

A second agent in the Chicago field office, Louis Loebl, reported to headquarters at the same time on "Thorsin Veblin, alleged I.W.W." After a lengthy repetition of all the preceding letters and reports leading to his door, Loebl wrote that "one Thorsin Veblin is alleged to be a professor at the University of Chicago and active in Communist and I.W.W. propaganda work."

Loebl notes that Division Superintendent E. J. Brennan had instructed him to consult various city directories and to make inguiries at the Universities of Chicago and Illinois, as well as at the Post Office. All his efforts to obtain information about Veblen's location had failed. He sent a copy of his report to the New York field office, "inasmuch as it is alleged that subject writes articles for The Dial," and provided the magazine's street address on the chance that "subject's whereabouts might be ascertained through that source." 55

Despite the fact that the BI had known of Veblen's association with the University of Missouri, were aware that he had been working for the Food Administration, and had themselves interviewed him in Washington, D.C., they now inexplicably sought to locate him at an institution he had left a dozen years before, as well as at another with which he had never had an affiliation. Spolansky's report of his unsuccessful attempt to find Veblen in the Chicago area is stamped "Radical" and carries the coding "R 5," apparently signifying degree of priority. 56 The other documents in this grouping are classified in the same manner.

On 16 March 1920, A. A. Hopkins filed a report from the Los Angeles field office concerning "Thorsin Veblin," suspected of "I.W.W. and Communist Activities." Hopkins, too, had received a copy of the Seattle Secret Service report, whose main points he summarized: according to Tacoma police informant Louis Loewer and a "Canadian Jew of Russian parentage" by the name of Julius Davison, Veblen would "do in America within the next two years what Lenine and Trotzky have done in Russia." To that end, Veblen was said to be receiving "underground funding." 57

On 9 March 1920, Special Agent in Charge Frank L. Garbarino had reported from Seattle that he had been unable to locate either Louis Loewer or Julius Davison in his district. Loewer had left a forwarding address at the Tacoma post office to "General Delivery" in San Diego, California. Garbarino had requested that the San Diego field office attempt to locate Loewer, obtain a statement from him regarding Veblen and submit it to the Chicago office.

Loewer had in fact relocated to southern California and was interviewed by the Bureau of Investigation on 15 March 1920. Hopkins detailed this interview in his report of the following day, noting that Loewer was now employed as an informant on "radical matters" by the Los Angeles County District Attorney.

In Los Angeles Loewer again stated to Bureau agents that while employed by the Tacoma Police Department "on radical matters," he had met Julian Davison, a Canadian Jew of Russian parentage who, he now added, "was an active radical organizer there." Loewer reiterated his assertions that "Thorsin Veblin" was a professor of economics at the University of Illinois [sic] and a writer for The Dial, "a revolutionary paper."

To this familiar formula Loewer added that "Professor Thorsin Veblin is acquainted with Lenine and Trotzky." He charged that Veblen was receiving funds through "underground channels." Davison, he claimed, was by his own admission "a delegate for the Communist Party" and a "representative of the Soviet Russia in the Northwest. "

Finally, according to Hopkins, Loewer stated that he had last seen Davison in Tacoma, Washington sometime in December 1919. He had referred Hopkins to Captain Strickland of the Tacoma Police Department, who, Loewer averred, would have his reports on Davison. Copies of Hopkins' report were sent to Seattle, Tacoma, Chicago, and Fresno, California. 59

Finally, on 21 March 1920, BI agent Charles Petrovitsky reported from Tacoma, Washington on the reports Loewer claimed to have filed with Tacoma Police Chief Strickland concerning Julius Davison. Captain Strickland stated that he had no such report, Petrovitsky advised. Loewer had been employed by Strickland "to run down radicals in this district," having bragged about his ability and supposed "connections with the New York Police, Vancouver, B.C. police, etc."

Loewer, according to Strickland, "never brought in a reliable piece of information but obtained several hundreds of dollars from him on practically false pretenses." Strickland would not vouch for Loewer on the stand inasmuch as his reports were "unreliable and sensational fabrications." Strickland, concluded Petrovitsky, "is a reliable man. His opinion regarding information given by Loewer is given much credit by this Agent." 60

It appears, then, that "Julius Davison, Canadian Jew of Russian parentage," as well as the rest of Loewer's colorful information about "Veblin, the American Lenine or Trotsky," were familiar fabrications on Loewer's part for the express purpose of milking the Tacoma Police Department for money. When that source dried up, he quickly found another in southern California.

Whether or not Veblen was aware of the investigative files he was generating is unclear. He expressed his views publicly and incisively, however, on the damage he saw being done to the nation's constitutional fabric by the official lawlessness of the day. In what he called Dementia Praecox,

differences of opinion were erected into statutory crimes, to which extravagant penalties were attached. Persons charged with these new-found statutory crimes were then convicted on a margin of legal interpretation. In effect, suspected persons were held guilty until proved innocent, with the doubt weighing against them. In one of these episodes of statutory frightfulness, that of the far-famed "Lusk Committee," some ten thousand persons were arrested on ungrounded suspicion, with extensive destruction of papers and property. The foreign language press was laid under disabilities and the use of the mails was interrupted on general grounds of hysterical consternation. On the same grounds circulation and credence were given to extravagantly impossible fictions of Bolshevik propaganda, and the I.W.W. were by interpretation erected into a menace to the Republic, while the Secret Service kept faithfully on the job of making two suspicions grow where one grew before. Under cover of it all the American profiteers have diligently gone about their business of getting something for nothing at the cost of all concerned, while popular attention has been taken up with the maudlin duties of civil and religious intolerance." 61

On 28 May 1920 charges of unconstitutionality were brought against Attorney General Palmer by twelve of the nation's most prominent jurists, including Veblen's friend Felix Frankfurter. 62 Insistent denials notwithstanding, Palmer was forced to admit that he had knowingly exceeded his legal authority. Citizen and Congressional outrage at the blatant assault on constitutional guarantees started the pendulum swinging back against the super-patriots. By the 1922 presidential campaign, Palmer had gone from media star and presidential contender to an object of ridicule in political cartoons. Palmer's co-conspirator, J. Edgar Hoover, slipped from public view into the inner recesses of the Justice Department, where he bided his time quietly until his appointment two years later as chief of the Bureau of Investigation. Veblen, meanwhile, lent his voice to the chorus of protest against the recent abuses of constitutional authority.


The final group of Justice Department files concerning Veblen was generated posthumously as a consequence of Joseph Dorfman's persistent attempts to obtain government records of which he appears to have learned from Isador Lubin, a former Veblen student then employed in the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics. They provide a certain closure to this facet of Veblen's life, at the same time as they offer perspective on the instruments of power and coercion in the United States then and now.

On 28 September 1932, Dorfman scribbled a handwritten request for information about Veblen to the Justice Department on Columbia University letterhead. It was obviously written in haste and contained errors that would have been caught and corrected.

"I am engaged in a biography of the distinguished economist, Thorstein Veblen," he wrote. "During the war, I understand com_plaints were lodged with the department over his Imperial Germany and the Nature of Peace [sic] and The Nature of Peace. I would appreciate any details on the matter and shall of course treat the data as confidential." 63

Assistant Attorney General Nugent Dodds replied to Dorfman immediately upon receipt of the latter's request. "I beg to advise you," he wrote, "that infrmation obtained by the Department through official sources is considered as confidential and according to a long established policy.. .cannot be divulged." 64

Dorfman assured Dodds in a second letter that he was not interested in who had lodged the complaints, but only in their substance. He noted that there were many rumors about Veblen and that he wished to make his biography "as accurate as possible." 65 To which Dodds again replied that it was not Justice Department policy to divulge confidential information. 66

More than a year passed before Dorfman contrived a new approach to the Justice Department. He turned to his friend, Isador Lubin, and asked him to intervene on his behalf from his government post in the Labor Department. Lubin crafted a careful letter on official letterhead and addressed it directly to Attorney General Homer Stille Cummings in mid-December 1933. He made a point of his personal knowledge of the wartime complaints lodged against Veblen and argued that inasmuch as Veblen had been dead for four years, revealing those complaints would be of purely historical interest. 66

Cummings had his executive assistant, Ugo Carusi, pass Lubin's letter on to J. Edgar Hoover with a handwritten notation at the top: "Hoover- What have you & what do you suggest? C." Hoover drafted an internal memorandum, in which he judiciously described the contents of Veblen's Bureau of Investigation file:

I have read the attached communication to the Attorney General, dated December 16, 1933, from Mr. Isador Lubin, re_questing information relative to complaints received by the Department of Justice concerning Thorstein Veblen during the war.

I am transmitting, ... the Division file on this matter...there is very little... tangible material contained therein. The Bureau of Investigation. secured a copy of a book written by Professor Veblen entitled The Nature of Peace. There is no comment on it in the file. There is a press clipping dated February 25, 1918, from a Kansas City newspaper in which the book is referred to as German propaganda. There is. . .a memorandum dated April 5, 1918.. .that the American Defense Society claimed.. .the publication was disloyal....a further memorandum dated April 8, 1918, to the...Chief of the Bureau stated...this book had received a favorable review in loyal publications and that Professor Veblen was then in Washington...with the Food Administration. A further memorandum... narrat(es) a personal conference between Professor Veblen and...the Bureau of Investigation in April, 1918, in which the Professor gave his views. . .of a (possible) crop virtue of a shortage of labor...and indicating that.. prosecu_tions of members of the I.W.W. should be dropped except...where the proof of unlawful action was very strong. In November 1919, in a communication addressed to the Chief of the Secret Service, forwarded to the Department of Justice, Veblen is alleged to America the...Lenine and Trotsky in Russia. It is also stated...that...he wrote for The Dial.. .termed a revolutionary paper. There might be considerable doubt as to the accuracy of this characterization of The Dial. At that time...the statement is made that Veblen was a Professor at the University of Chicago.

This is all of the information concerning Professor Veblen found in the files of this Division.

Very truly yours, (s) J. Edgar Hoover, Director68

Hoover forwarded the Bureau's Veblen file to Carusi, together with the above memorandum. Carusi then replied to Lubin in a manner which demonstrates how deeply the culture of secrecy was already entrenched in official Washington. "Confirming telephone conversation recently had with Miss Jay, our files disclose little or nothing which would be of use to your friend in the writing of a biograph [sic] of Thorstein Veblen. The file only contains a few scattered complaints and newspaper clippings."69



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