1919 July 4

Police Threats Cancel Civil Liberties Bureau Meeting at Carnegie Hall


World War I ended in November 1918, but the attacks on alleged radicals that began during the war continued into the post-war period, which became known as the Red Scare (see the Palmer Raids on November 7, 1919, and January 2, 1920). On this day, the New York City police issued threats of arrest that led to the cancellation of a meeting by the National Civil Liberties Bureau.

During the war, the NCLB had provided assistance to young men seeking conscientious objector status and protested violations of free speech and the prosecution of dissenters and labor union radicals. The government responded by censoring the NCLB’s publications (November 1, 1917), spying on the organization and burglarizing its offices (March 6, 1918), and then on August 30, 1918 raiding its offices in New York City and seizing all of its records. For a few weeks it appeared the all the NCLB leaders would be arrested and prosecuted under the Espionage Act, but that did not happen. The government’s hostility continued after the war, as the even on this day indicates.

On January 19, 1920, the NCLB was reorganized into the American Civil Liberties Union under the leadership of Roger Baldwin.

Learn more about the birth of the ACLU: Samuel Walker, In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU (1990)

Learn more about civil liberties and the war: Paul L. Murphy, World War I and the Origins of Civil Liberties in the United States (1979)

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

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