1942 February 6

Attorney General Biddle Urges Lawyers to Defend Civil Liberties in Wartime


In a speech to 1,000 people at a Brooklyn Bar Association dinner on this day, Attorney General Francis Biddle advised lawyers to defend civil liberties during wartime. Unfortunately, he ignored his own advice two weeks later, on February 19, 1942, when he put aside his deep reservations and consented to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order authorizing the evacuation of the Japanese-Americans from the West Coast. Biddle had opposed the idea of mass evacuation, but finally gave in when he realized he had lost the argument.

With the exception of the evacuation and internment of the Japanese-Americans, there was no massive suppression of civil liberties in World War II, as there had been during World War I. There were some violations of free speech (see, for example, the Great Sedition trial, April 14, 1944), but they were relatively isolated incidents compared with the previous war.

Learn more; read Biddle’s memoirs: Francis Biddle, In Brief Authority (1962)

Learn more: Richard W. Steele, Free Speech in the Good War (1999)

Learn more about civil liberties under President Roosevelt: Samuel Walker, Presidents and Civil Liberties From Wilson to Obama (2012)

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