1917 July 4

“Jails Are Waiting For Them” – New York Times Greets Civil Liberties Bureau


As the repression of dissent intensified in the early months of the U.S. involvement in World War I, the editors of The New York Times greeted the formation of the National Civil Liberties Bureau on this day with an editorial headlined, “Jails Are Waiting For Them.” The Civil Liberties Bureau had begun three months earlier as a committee of the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM), directed by Crystal Eastman and Roger Baldwin. The CLB was dedicated to providing assistance to young men seeking status as conscientious objectors to participating in the war, and then when the repression of dissent increased, to the defense of freedom of speech and press. The leaders of the AUAM, however, were uncomfortable with the CLB’s criticisms of the Wilson administration, and as a result they agreed that the Civil Liberties Bureau should become a separate organization (see July 2, 1917).

The editors of the Times clearly did not appreciate the irony of an editorial on the Fourth of July that promised to jail those who were fighting for the rights of American citizens.

The Justice Department raided the offices of the National Civil Liberties Bureau on August 30, 1918 and seized all of its records. For a few weeks it appeared that all of the civil liberties leaders might be prosecuted under the Espionage Act, but it never happened. After the war it was reorganized as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), on January 19, 1920.

Read: Samuel Walker, In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU (1990)

Find Original Documents (with annotations) on the Founding the Civil Liberties Bureau:

Watch a documentary on ACLU founder Roger Baldwin: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ND_uY_KXGgY

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

Learn about the ACLU today: https://www.aclu.org/

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