1947 November 23

Clergy Seek Amnesty for Imprisoned WW II Conscientious Objectors


The Committee for Amnesty, representing 545 clergy, educators, and other activists, on this day sent a letter to President Harry Truman asking him to grant amnesty to all the remaining conscientious objectors still in prison for refusing the cooperate with the draft during World War II.

The 1940 Selective Service Act had provided a more generous policy for conscientious objection than had been the case in World War I. Nonetheless, many young men refused on principle to cooperate with the draft, believing that even registering would be for them to recognize the legitimacy of forced conscription for participation in war. An estimated 700 men were still in prison, and thousands more had lost their right to vote because of their imprisonment. Signers of the letter included author Dorothy Canfield Fisher, chair of the committee, the famed scientist Albert Einstein, and New York City Rabbi Stephen Wise, a prominent social justice activist.

One month after receiving the letter from the Committee for Amnesty, on December 24, 1947, President Truman pardoned 1,523 World War II draft resisters.

There is a long history of presidential pardons and grants of amnesty following major wars. On December 23, 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt granted amnesty to all the remaining victims of World War I Espionage Act prosecutions who were still in prison. President Gerald Ford granted conditional pardons to young men convicted of crimes because of their opposition to the Vietnam War or who had fled the country to avoid being drafted, on September 16, 1974. President Jimmy Carter, on January 21, 1977, granted a broader pardon to opponents of the Vietnam War.

Learn more: Cynthia Eller, Conscientious Objectors and the Second World War: Moral and Religious Arguments in Support of Pacifism (1991)

Learn about the rights of COs today at the GI Rights Hotline here.

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