1969 July 11

Dr. Spock’s Conviction for Conspiracy to Oppose Vietnam War Draft Overturned


The convictions of Dr. Benjamin Spock, Rev. William Sloan Coffin, Michael Ferber and Mitch Goodman for conspiracy to aid and abet resistance to the draft during the Vietnam War were overturned on this day on legal technicalities by the First Circuit Court of Appeals. The decision did not address First Amendment issues, and at the trial the defendants had been unable to raise the issue of war crimes by the U.S. in the Vietnam War.

The indictment and trial of Dr. Spock in particular had been an embarrassment to the administrations of President Lyndon Johnson and, later, President Richard Nixon. Dr. Spock was the most famous pediatrician in America, as the author of the enormously popular book, Baby and Child Care, first published in 1946.Dr. Spock and his co-defendants had been indicted January 5, 1968.

A key document in the prosecution was the Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority (September 27, 1967), one of the most important statements of the anti-war movement.

In addition to the Spock case, the Vietnam War created a number of civil liberties crises. They include (1) the lack of a Congressional Declaration of War as required by the Constitution (June 3, 1970); (2) threats to freedom of the press in the Pentagon Papers case (June 30, 1971); (3) spying on the anti-war movement by the CIA (August 15, 1967); (4) threats to freedom of expression, for example high school student protests (February 24, 1969); censorship of television programs (February 25, 1968); and directly and indirectly some of the events that led to the Watergate Scandal (May 9, 1969; January 27, 1972).

Read about the case: Jessica Mitford, The Trial of Dr. Spock (1970)

Watch Dr. Spock debate the Vietnam War: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVzM-efsxw0

Learn more about Dr. Spock: Lynn Bloom, Doctor Spock: Biography of a Conservative Radical (1972)

Learn more about the anti-Vietnam War movement: Thomas Powers, The War at Home: Vietnam and the American People, 1964–1968 (1973)

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