The Birth of the Civil Liberties Bureau and The National Civil Liberties Bureau,1917-1919

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.

The fight for civil liberties during World War I originated with the Civil Liberties Bureau (CLB), formed as a committee of the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM) immediately after the United States declared war on April 6, 1917. Led by Crystal Eastman and Roger Baldwin, the Bureau lobbied Congress and the Wilson administration regarding provisions for conscientious objectors in the Selective Service Act and provided advice to young men facing the draft. Leaders of the parent AUAM, however, soon thought these activities would alienate the administration of President Woodrow Wilson and as a result the Bureau became a separate organization, the National Civil Liberties Bureau in the fall of 1917. In 1918 Military Intelligence began investigating the NCLB for violations of the Espionage Act, and finally on August 30, 1918 the Justice Department raided the NCLB office and seized its records. (See the documents in the topic, The National Civil Liberties Bureau and the Woodrow Wilson Administration.) Prosecution appeared possible, but never occurred. In January 1920 the NCLB was reconstituted as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). (See the documents in the topic, The Founding of the ACLU.)

Reel7/Vol.69/p.345-351

 

 

 

 

 

The AUAM pamphlet, Concerning Conscription, circa May-June 1917, presents its views regarding selective service and conscientious objection to participation in war, while Congress was debating the selective service bill. The principal issues involved the criteria for eligibility as a conscientious objector.

Reel3/Vol.16/p.3

The AUAM handbill, circa May-June 1917, while Congress was still debating the selective service bill. It attacks the idea of a draft and argues for a completely voluntary system for military service.

 

 

 

Reel7/Vol.16/p.4

Reel7/Vol.16/p.5

These three April 1917 letters between the AUAM and Secretary of War Newton D. Baker reflect the close and cordial relations between members of the Wilson administration and the civil libertarians in the early months of the war. These individuals knew each other from their pre-war progressive reform activities. Baker, for example, had been a reform mayor of Cleveland, Ohio. The AUAM memorandum here sets forth its views on what categories of people should be eligible for conscientious objector status. The cordial relations ended in the spring of 1918 when Military Intelligence and some Justice Department officials concluded that the NCLB was violating the Espionage Act.

 

This May 15-17, 1917 correspondence with Frank Walsh, a Kansas City, Missouri, attorney discusses a possible legal challenge to the constitutionality of the draft. Walsh was a prominent Progressive Era reformer and advocate of the labor movement. Some antiwar and pacifist leaders regarded the draft as a violation of the Thirteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court eventually rejected this argument.

 

 

 

 

 

The AUAM pamphlet, Constitutional Rights in War-Time (May 1917) represents the organization’s first formal statement of the range of civil liberties issues at the outset of the war.

 

 

Continue reading

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.

Reel2/Vol.15/p.4

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.”

Reel2/Vol.15/p.7L

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.

 

 

 

 

Reel2/Vol.15/p.23R

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.

Continue reading

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.