1917 September 14

“Civil Liberty Dead,” Proclaims The Nation Magazine


Following another round of massive “slacker” raids, in which government officials and private vigilantes indiscriminately rounded up thousands of young men who were suspected of evading the draft, The Nation magazine proclaimed “Civil Liberty Dead” on this day. A total of 60,187 men were seized in New York, but only 500 of those seized in Manhattan proved to be actual draft evaders. Meanwhile, 3,000 men were seized in Detroit. “Slackers” was a derogatory term for young men believed to be avoiding the draft in World War I. Alleged “slackers” were arbitrarily rounded up on mere suspicion that they were evading the draft, and seized and held without any standards of due process.

The raids were conducted by the American Protective League (established on June 4, 1917), a national organization of private citizens which had been authorized by the U.S. Attorney General, conducted most of the raids. APL members carried government-issued badges but did not have law enforcement powers. See the earlier “slacker raids” on July 3, 1917.

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

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

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

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