Appeal to Reason was founded by Julius Wayland in 1897. The socialist journal was a mixture of articles and extracts from radical books by people such as Tom Paine, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, John Ruskin, William Morris, Laurence Gronlund and Edward Bellamy.
Julius Wayland moved to Girard, Kansas, and in 1900 employed Fred Warren as his co-editor. Warren was a well-known figure on the left and managed to persuade some of America's leading progressives to contribute to the journal. This included Jack London, Mary 'Mother' Jones, Upton Sinclair, Kate Richards O'Hare, Scott Nearing, Joe Haaglund Hill, Ralph Chaplin, Stephen Crane, Helen Keller and Eugene Debs. By 1902 its circulation reached 150,000, making it the fourth highest of any weekly in the United States.
According to John Graham, the author of Yours for the Revolution (1990): "During political campaigns and crisis, copies of single issues reached 4.1 million - a world record... The Appeal succeeded at a time when millions of people spoke of the cooperative commonwealth with hope, expectation, and meaning."
In 1904 Fred Warren commissioned Upton Sinclair to write a novel about immigrant workers in the Chicago meat packing houses. Wayland provided Sinclair with a $500 advance and after seven weeks research he wrote the novel, The Jungle. Serialized in 1905, the book helped to increase circulation to 175,000. When published by Doubleday in 1906, the novel was an immediate success. Within the next few year it was published in seventeen languages and was a best-seller all over the world.
In 1905 William Haywood (general secretary of WFM) and Charles Moyer (president of WFM), were both been kidnapped in Colorado and taken to Idaho to stand trial for the murder of Frank R. Steunenberg, the former governor of Idaho. This upset Warren as a few years earlier the authorities had refused to arrest and charge William S. Taylor, the former governor of Kentucky, with the murder of the progressive politician, William Goebel. Taylor fled to Indiana where he became a wealthy insurance executive.
Fred Warren wrote an article about the William Goebel case in Appeal to Reason and advertised a reward of $1,000 for anyone willing to capture William S. Taylor and to take him back to Kentucky. As a result of this article Warren was himself arrested and charged with encouraging others to commit the crime of kidnap. After a two year delay was found guilty and sentenced to six months hard labour and a $1,500 fine. Soon afterwards the governor of Kentucky, Augustus Everett Willson, pardoned Taylor, Caleb Powers, and four other people for their part in the murder.
Julius Wayland and Fred Warren were once again in trouble in 1911 when they published a series of articles in the Appeal to Reason about corruption and homosexuality in Leavenworth Prison. Although senior figures running the prison were dismissed, Wayland and Warren were charged were charged with sending "indecent, filthy, obscene, lewd and lascivious printed materials" through the post.
As the popularity of the Appeal to Reason increased, so did the attacks on Julius Wayland and Fred Warren. The paper's offices were repeatedly broken into in an effort to find evidence of criminal activity. Research was carried out about Wayland's ancestors and reports in the Los Angeles Times claiming that they had been involved in cases of arson and murder. In 1912 the newspaper reported that Wayland was guilty of seducing an orphaned girl of fourteen and who had died during an abortion in Missouri.
Julius Wayland, depressed by the recent death of his wife and the continuing smear campaign against him, committed suicide on 10th November, 1912. He left a suicide note that said: "The struggle under the competitive system is not worth the effort." After Wayland's death his children won considerable damages after they sued the newspapers about these libelous stories.
At the time of his death, Appeal to Reason was selling 500,000 copies a week. The following year circulation reached 760,000. However, the new owner of the journal, Walter Wayland, fell out with Fred Warren. In August, 1913, Warren resigned and Louis Kopelin became the new managing editor. Wayland, unlike his father, was not a committed socialist and sold a third of the journal to a wealthy banker, Marcet Haldema-Julius.
On the outbreak of the First World War the Appeal to Reason opposed America's entry into the conflict. This was also true of most journals in the United States but after the USA declared war on the Central Powers in 1917, the journal came under government pressure to change its policy. This became more of a problem after the passing of the Espionage Act. Under this act it was an offence to publish material that undermined the war effort. Other radical papers such as The Masses decided to cease publication but in order to continue, Louis Kopelin decided to support the war.
After the war, the attorney general, A. Mitchell Palmer, became convinced that Communist agents were planning to overthrow the American government. Palmer recruited John Edgar Hoover as his special assistant and together they used the Espionage Act (1917) and the Sedition Act (1918) to launch a campaign against radicals and left-wing organizations.
On 7th November, 1919, the second anniversary of the Russian Revolution, over 10,000 suspected communists and anarchists were arrested in what became known as the Palmer Raids. Palmer and Hoover found no evidence of a proposed revolution but large number of these suspects were held without trial for a long time. The vast majority were eventually released but Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, Mollie Steimer, and 245 other people, were deported to Russia.
As a result of this Red Scare people became worried about subscribing to left-wing journals and sales of Appeal to Reason fell dramatically. Walter Wayland, who had no strong interest in politics or publishing, decided to cease publication in November, 1922.