Rodger Baldwin: From The Civil Liberties Bureau to the American Civil Liberties Union

by: Professor Samuel Walker
School of Criminal Justice
University of Nebraska at Omaha

 

This is the first part in a series that was introduced earlier.

Roger Baldwin was director of the National Civil Liberties Bureau (NCLB) from its founding as an organization independent of the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM) in October 1917 until his resignation in September 1918. His resignation followed a U.S. Justice Department raid on the NCLB offices on August 30, 1918, but was primarily prompted by his plan to refuse to submit to the draft. Selective service had been extended to men up to the age of 40, and Baldwin at age 36 was eligible. He was subsequently convicted of violating the selective service act and sentenced to prison. Upon leaving prison in the summer of 1919 he began the work of reorganizing the NCLB into a permanent civil liberties defense organization. The ACLU was subsequently founded in January 1920. The documents in this section relate to these events. Particularly important is Baldwin’s statement to the judge upon being sentenced to prison, which was widely circulated and helped to establish Baldwin’s national reputation (Document # 3).

Reel 14/Vol. 108/p. 195L

With this September 6, 1918 letter, Roger Baldwin resigns as director of the National Civil Liberties Bureau. The letter refers to the U.S. Justice Department raid on the NCLB offices on August 30th and the possibility of the prosecution of NCLB leaders under the Espionage Act. The primary reason for his resignation, however, was the fact that he had bee served with a draft notice and planned to refuse to submit to military service. Selective Service had recently been extended to men up to the age of 40, and he was now eligible.

Reel14/Vol.108/p198R

Reel14/Vol.108/p199R

The September 30, 1918 Minutes of the NCLB Directing Committee discuss Baldwin’s situation with the draft and the organization’s response (Agenda Item # 4). The minutes also cover the NCLB’s eviction from its office at 70 Fifth Avenue, which was probably due to government or public pressure. The landlord, Mr. Plimpton, is a relative of George Plimpton who was a noted editor and author in the 1950s and 1960s.

Reel7/Vol69/p379-386

The Individual and the State(November 1918) is a reprint of Roger Baldwin’s statement to Judge Julius Mayer on October 30, 1918, upon being sentenced to prison for refusing to submit to the draft. Baldwin’s statement immediately attracted attention, was widely quoted and reprinted, and established Baldwin’s national reputation as a person of conscience. This version was reprinted and distributed by the NCLB. It was reprinted during World War II when the issue of conscientious objection to participation in war reappeared. This pamphlet also includes Judge Mayer’s response to Baldwin and pronouncement of the sentence.

Reel14/Vol.108/p.204

These Minutes of a special meeting of the NCLB Directing Committee on October 31, 1918, immediately after Baldwin’s sentencing, record the discussion of possibly publishing Baldwin’s speech to the court. The committee decided not to, and hoped that his friends would publish it privately. The NCLB changed its mind and published and distributed the speech.

Reel5/Vol.44/p.225-6

Reel5/Vol .44/p.230

The first letter, from the NCLB letter to its members, February 21, 1919, includes a letter from Roger Baldwin, who was then in prison for refusing to submit to the draft. In addition to discussing the pending peacetime sedition bill and amnesty for conscientious objectors in prison, he declares that he would not accept any personal pardon that would allow him to be released from prison early. The second letter, undated, is from Baldwin to Albert De Silver objecting to any efforts to obtain a pardon for him.

Reel 14/Vol. 108/pp. 368R

Reel 14/Vol. 108/pp. 369R

These letters from Albert De Silver to Baldwin on July 12, 1919 and July 13(not clear) discuss plans for a welcome home party following his release from prison, to be held at the apartment of Norman Thomas.

Reel14/Vol.108/p.370

The formal invitation to the welcome home party for Baldwin from Norman Thomas, July 17, 1919.

Reel14/Vol.108/p.373

The famous radical Elizabeth Gurley Flynn accepts invitation to the welcome home party for Baldwin, July 18, 1919. Baldwin and Flynn were close colleagues in these years. In 1940, however, they had a falling out when Baldwin engineered the adoption of an ACLU policy barring members of totalitarian organizations from serving in official ACLU positions, forcing her expulsion from the ACLU Board of Directors.

Reel 14/Vol. 108/pp. 366L

The caterer’s bill for the welcome home party for Roger Baldwin at Norman Thomas’s apartment.

 

 

NOTE: For documents on Roger Baldwin’s activities regarding the founding the ACLU in late 1919 and early 1920 see the documents under the topic “The Founding of the ACLU.

For more of the collection that has been digitized you may browse the Finding Aid.