1921 July 27

President Harding Meets With WW I Amnesty Advocates


On this day, President Warren G. Harding met with a delegation of political activists, who asked him to grant amnesty to people who had been convicted under the Espionage Act during World War I. The amnesty crusade was one of the major civil liberties issues of the 1920s. President Harding did not grant a general amnesty, but on December 25, 1921, he pardoned Socialist Party leader Eugene V. Debs, who was serving a 10-year prison sentence for his Espionage Act conviction.

On June 11, 1922, the ACLU and pacifist groups formed the General Amnesty Committee to coordinate the campaign for amnesty for Espionage Act victims still in prison.

The amnesty effort continued until December 23, 1933, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt finally pardoned all remaining victims of Espionage Act prosecution who were still in prison.

Learn more about the WW I prosecutions: Stephen Kohn, American Political Prisoners: Prosecutions Under the Espionage and Sedition Acts (1994)

Read about the birth of the ACLU during WW I: Samuel Walker, In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU (1990)

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