1917 August 23

Socialist Mayor of Minneapolis Promises to Protect Rights of Anti-war People’s Council

 

In a striking departure from events in other cities, the mayor of Minneapolis, a Socialist Party member, promised to protect the rights of the anti-war organization The People’s Council.

Four months after the U.S. entered World War I, repression of anti-war activity was sweeping the country. Vigilantes were physically attacking anti-war activists, the Post Office had banned anti-war publications from the mail, and the Justice Department had arrested prominent anti-war leaders, notably the famed anarchist Emma Goldman. In virtually every city, repressive actions by the police and/or vigilantes was tolerated.

Minneapolis Mayor Thomas Van Lear’s tolerance for dissent was not surprising. The Socialist Party had emerged as the leading opponent of American involvement in the war. As a result, it suffered repressive attacks by the federal government. Its newspaper was barred from the mails and its leader, Eugene V. Debs was convicted under the Espionage Act in 1918 and sentenced to ten years in prison. The party was gravely weakened by the attacks and never fully recovered.

The People’s Council, officially the People’s Council of America for Democracy and the Terms of Peace, grew out of a series of organizations that had opposed U.S. entry into World War I beginning in 1914, and was officially formed in 1917. It immediately suffered repression and soon was virtually destroyed.  A successor organization survived briefly into the early 1920s.

 

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