1917 October 28

NCLB Report: Anti-War Minister Kidnapped, Beaten Near Cincinnati


The National Civil Liberties Bureau (NCLB) on this day released a report on the kidnapping and beating of socialist and anti-war activist Rev. Herbert Bigelow. Self-styled patriotic vigilantes took him to northern Kentucky, near Cincinnati, for the beating. The incident was just one of many vigilante attacks on opponents of the war in the first year of American involvement in World War I. Because of his stature, however, the attack on Rev. Bigelow became one of the most highly publicized vigilante attacks.

By 1918, Military Intelligence was spying on the National Civil Liberties Bureau because of its aid to conscientious objectors and defense of the free speech rights of ant-war activists. See the government burglary of its offices on March 6, 1918 . On August 30, 1918, the Justice Department raided the NCLB offices in New York City and seized all of its records. For several weeks it appeared possible that all the NCLB leaders would be arrested under the Espionage Act. In the end, they were not.

On January 19, 1920, Roger Baldwin transformed the NCLB into the ACLU, and he served as its Executive Director for the next 30 years, establishing himself as the foremost spokesperson in the country on free speech and civil liberties..

Read the Civil Liberties Bureau Report, The Outrage on Rev. Herbert S. Bigelow of Cincinnati, Ohio (October 28, 1917): http://libcudl.colorado.edu/wwi/pdf/i71168011.pdf

Learn more about the history of the NCLB and the ACLU: Samuel Walker, In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU (1990)

Learn about the ACLU during times of national crisis: https://www.aclu.org/aclu-history-defending-liberty-times-national-crisis

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