1917 November 1

National Civil Liberties Bureau Reports Government Censorship


The National Civil Liberties Bureau (NCLB) on this day sent a report to its members on the increasing government censorship of dissent against American participation in World War I. The NCLB began as a committee of the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM) in April 1917, became an independent organization on July 4, 1917, and was devoted to fighting the suppression of free speech and providing assistance to young men seeking conscientious objector status during the war.

Because of its criticisms of government policy, it too was a victim of the suppression of dissent during the war. Its publications were barred by the U.S. Post Office in the summer of 1917. In the letter to its members on this day, it apologized to its members, explaining why they “haven’t heard from us.”

Military Intelligence began spying on the NCLB in 1918 (see March 6, 1918), and on August 30, 1918, the Justice Department raided its offices and seized its papers. For a few weeks thereafter, it appeared that leaders of the NCLB might be prosecuted under the Espionage Act. They were not, and World War I ended that November.

On January 19, 1920, Roger Baldwin reorganized the NCLB into the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

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

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

Go to the ACLU website: https://www.aclu.org/

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