1917 May 11

Bureau of Legal Advice Established to Aid World War I Opponents


When the U.S. entered World War I, in April 1917, a number of organizations quickly appeared to assist opponents of the war in various ways, including providing legal defense. The Bureau of Legal First Aid was organized on this day and later changed its name to the Bureau of Legal Advice in 1918. It provided legal assistance to persons facing government prosecution for their anti-war activities, and handled many of the important cases during the war.

The principal attorney for the Bureau of Legal Advice was Harry Weinberger (see his death on March 9, 1944). Weinberger argued the Selective Draft Cases before the Supreme Court, in which the Court on January 7, 1918 rejected the argument that the World War I violated the Thirteenth Amendment prohibition of slavery.

The Bureau of Legal Advice did not survive the war years (closing in the fall of 1919), but its close ally, the National Civil Liberties Bureau, evolved into the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on January 19, 1920, and became the premier civil liberties defense organization in the U.S.

Learn more: Paul L. Murphy, World War I and the Origins of Civil Liberties in the United States (1979)

Learn more about World War I, the Bureau of Legal Advice, the Civil Liberties Bureau, and the ACLU: Samuel Walker, In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU (1990)

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