1921 February 24

“Release Them All,” Says ACLU About WW I Political Prisoners


The ACLU issued a statement to President Warren G. Harding on this day calling for the release of all 197 persons still in prison for violations of the Espionage Act during World War I. The statement was prompted by President Harding’s release of 24 such prisoners as a Christmas gesture. The ACLU said that all 197 should be released “without discrimination,” since all were convicted on essentially the same charges. One of the 24 pardoned by Harding was Socialist Party leader Eugene V. Debs, arguably the most famous of those convicted during World War I, who was released on December 25, 1921.

Twelve years later, on December 23, 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt finally pardoned all remaining Espionage Act victims who were still in federal prison.

Read: Nick Salvatore, Eugene V. Debs: Citizen and Socialist (1982)

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

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

Read the ACLU FBI File (not the complete file): http://vault.fbi.gov/ACLU

Learn about the ACLU today: www.aclu.org

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