1917 September 16

Pacifists Arrested for Protesting WW I, Celebrating the Constitution

 

Anti-war pacifists, associated with the People’s Council, were arrested in Hartford, Connecticut, on this day for a rally opposing the World War I and also celebrating the 130th Anniversary of the U.S. Constitution. The group had been denied permission to use every theater in Hartford, and finally were able to use the Socialist Hall. About half the crowd were anti-war pacifists, and many of the others were soldiers and sailors who supported the war, and local police and federal agents. A stenographer recorded some of the speeches “for the sake of evidence.” Violence erupted before the meeting was shut down by authorities after about an hour.

Mrs. Annie Riley Hale, of New York City, and Alfred Whitehead, chair of the meeting, were arrested and charged with breach of the peace, even though they had not committed any acts of violence themselves.

The repression of dissent during World War I should have been no surprise. In his speech to Congress on April 2, 1917 asking for a declaration of war, President Woodrow Wilson warned that any disloyalty would be met with a stern hand of repression.” And repression there was.

In the early 1920s, the ACLU organized a number of free speech events where people would read the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. Usually, the police arrested the speakers before they could finish. See March 23, 1920, October 12, 1920, May 15, 1923.

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

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