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Commission of Public Safety

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Commission of Public Safety; members meeting in the Capitol

America's entry into World War I created a climate of fear of "otherness" and suspicion about the allegiance of those who expressed reservations about joining in a conflict that was not of our making. Minnesota's long-established German population was not spared from the frenzy of anti-German feeling that swept the nation. German citizens who expressed any hesitancy about having to fight against Germans risked being seen as disloyal. Who were the enemies among us? Not only the Germans, but all immigrants, those who spoke a foreign language, those who belonged to unions and supported strikes and those who belonged to suspect organizations such as the Nonpartisan League or the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

"Patriotism" became a powerful political weapon, legitimized by the creation by the Minnesota Legislature of the Commission of Public Safety, whose excessive jurisdictional latitude allowed for unbounded control and trampling of civil rights. The Alien Registration Act of 1918 required all aliens to register, to declare their holdings, and to state why they had not become citizens. Foreign language instruction was discontinued in many schools. Foreign language speakers were disparaged as unpatriotic. It was a dark chapter in the history of Minnesota, a state usually thought of as progressive.

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Minnesota Historical Society Library • 345 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55102-1906 • 651-259-3300