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.
World War I ended on November 11, 1918, but the repression of civil liberties continued unabated. The most well-known event was the so-called “Palmer Raids,” which actually involved two sets of federal mass arrests of alleged radicals, in November 1919 and early January 1920. The leaders of the NCLB began thinking about transforming the organization into a permanent one devoted to the defense of civil liberties. The key person was Roger Baldwin, who was convicted of violating the Selective Service Act in October 1918 and sent to prison. After his release in the summer of 1919, he made a cross country trip to work as an industrial laborer. Upon his return to New York in late 1919 he began the planning for the new organization, which was established as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in January 1920.
This undated and unsigned memorandum, Suggestions for Reorganization of the National Civil Liberties Bureau, was probably written by Roger Baldwin (see his initials in the upper right hand corner), probably in late 1919. It represent his thoughts on reorganizing the National Civil Liberties Bureau into a permanent civil liberties organization. Note that in the first paragraph the primary focus is on working people (“the cause we serve is labor”). No name for a permanent organization is suggested at this time. When the ACLU is officially constituted, it is evident that discussions about the agenda for a national organization had expanded to include a broader range of civil liberties issues.
This undated memorandum by Roger Baldwin was probably written in early January 1920 and summarizes the work of the NCLB from October 1917 to January 1920. It was undoubtedly written as part of the discussions to reconstitute the NCLB into a permanent civil liberties organization.
The decision to create the American Civil Liberties Union is recorded in these Minutes of the Conference to Reorganize the National Civil Liberties Bureau, January 12, 1920. Note the concern (Item #3) about including the names of Roger Baldwin and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn because they had been prosecuted and convicted of federal crimes during the war. The objections were rejected, and their names were included. The first action by the new ACLU was to protest the proposed peacetime sedition law being considered by the House of Representatives (Item #7). The 1918 sedition law had expired with the end of the war, but the proposed peacetime law did not pass.