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Senator Lee Slater Overman of North Carolina, photograph by B. M. Clinedinst, ca. 1904

Senator Lee Slater Overman from North Carolina served in Congress from 1903 to 1930. In addition to chairing the Senate’s investigatory committee on German and Bolshevik propaganda, he wrote and sponsored the Overman Act of 1918, which gave President Woodrow Wilson wide-ranging powers to coordinate government agencies during World War I.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Senator Lee Slater Overman of North Carolina

Investigating "Un-American" Activities and Restricting Immigration

World War I led to widespread concerns and speculation regarding threats to national security and democracy. Fear of “un-American” activities in the United States prompted the Senate to form the Overman Committee in 1918, which investigated possible pro-German, Bolshevik, and other activities and propaganda deemed dangerous to the nation. Public concern about the ethnic composition in the country and competition from foreign workers, meanwhile, pressured Congress to pass several laws in the early 1920s that banned or significantly restricted the number of immigrants admitted to the United States.

The nation having engaged in the greatest war in history with the purpose of saving the world for democracy, now emerges from that struggle confronted with the paramount duty of preserving democracy for the world.

“Senators Tell What Bolshevism in America Means,” The New York Times, June 15, 1919

Until now we have proceeded upon the theory that America was “the refuge of the oppressed of all nations,” and we have indulged the belief that upon their arrival here all immigrants were fused by the “melting pot” into a distinctive American type.

“America of the Melting Pot Comes to End,” The New York Times, April 27, 1924