1917 June 4

President Woodrow Wilson, Cabinet Approve Vigilante American Protective League


The American Protective League (APL) was a private organization sanctioned by the U.S. Justice Department that functioned as a private vigilante force during World War I. In the so-called “Slacker Raids,” APL volunteers rounded up thousands of young men suspected of evading the draft (July 3, 1917; September 14, 1917; September 3, 1918). On this day, President Woodrow Wilson and his Cabinet discussed and gave official sanction for the APL, even though some expressed doubts about its legality.

APL volunteers carried official Justice Department badges and, even though they did not have arrest powers, they detained and arrested people anyway. At its peak, the APL had over 200,000 members in about 600 cities. The abuses of the APL became so great that the Justice Department finally curtailed its activities in the fall of 1918.

Read the candid history of the APL (which freely admits to law-breaking): Emerson Hough, The Web: Revelation of Patriotism (1919)

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

Learn more about President Wilson and civil liberties: Samuel Walker, Presidents and Civil Liberties From Wilson to Obama (2012)

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