1915 November 15

American Union Against Militarism, Forerunner of the ACLU, Founded


Anti-war activists, seeking to prevent the U.S. from entering the war in Europe, met on this evening and founded the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM). Under the leadership of Crystal Eastman, the AUAM effectively fought a possible U.S. military intervention in Mexico in 1916. After the U.S. entered the European war on April 6, 1917, Eastman and a new staff member, Roger Baldwin (born January 21, 1884), created the Civil Liberties Bureau (CLB) within the AUAM to assist young men seeking conscientious objector status.

Within just a few months, however, prominent members of the AUAM objected to Eastman and Baldwin’s criticisms of the Wilson administration, and the CLB became an independent organization, the National Civil Liberties Bureau (NCLB). Eastman withdrew because of ill health, however.

After the war, Roger Baldwin transformed the NCLB into the American Civil Liberties Bureau (ACLU), on January 19, 1920.

Crystal Eastman’s brother Max Eastman was also an outspoken critic of U.S. involvement in World War I. He was editor of The Masses, the most prominent radical magazine in the pre-war years. The government first banned The Masses from the mails because of its opposition to the war. See July 7, 1917; July 24; 1917, and November 2, 1917. And on two occasions the government tried unsuccessfully to prosecute Max and the other editors of The Masses. See April 27, 1918.

Learn more: Samuel Walker, In Defense of American Liberty: A History of the ACLU (1990)

And more about Crystal Eastman: Blanche Weisen Cook., ed., Crystal Eastman on Women and Revolution (1976)

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