The National Civil Liberties Bureau and the Woodrow Wilson Administration

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

This is part of a series that was introduced earlier.

Roger Baldwin and Crystal Eastman began their work with the Civil Liberties Bureau confident that they had good relations with officials in the Woodrow Wilson administration. Many of these people knew each other from their pre-war work on Progressive Era reform. Beginning in early 1918, however, Military Intelligence and the Justice Department began to regard the Bureau’s work as a violation of the Espionage Act, on the grounds that it encouraged draft age young men to either not register for the draft or refuse to participate if drafted. The documents in this section reveal the deterioration of the relationship between the Bureau and the Wilson administration and the final break. Particularly shocking to modern perspectives, Baldwin tried to maintain the relationship by cooperating with the government, even to the point of offering to cease certain actions and also by providing confidential information to government officials. In the end, the Justice Department raided the Civil Liberties Bureau office (along with the offices of many other organizations) on August 30, 1918.

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These letters from Roger Baldwin to Frederick Keppel, Third Assistant Secretary of War and Newton D. Baker, Secretary of War, June 1917, offers his assurance of his eagerness to cooperate with the Wilson administration. Keppel had been a Dean at Columbia University, and Baker had been a noted reform mayor of Cleveland, Ohio. Baldwin states that “We are entirely at the service of the War Department.”

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This cordial letter of July 7, 1917 from Secretary of War Baker to Roger Baldwin indicates the degree of trust and cooperation that prevailed in the early months of the war.

 

 

 

 

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This cordial letter to Roger Baldwin of September 27, 1917 from Felix Frankfurter, an official in the War Department, thanks Baldwin and other civil libertarians for their helpful efforts and expresses confidence that the concerns of the Civil Liberties Bureau will be resolved. Frankfurter was not directly involved in any civil liberties issues during the war, and did not object to the government’s actions. He became a member of the ACLU National Committee in 1920 and was appointed a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1939.

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