200 Plus

Response to Dissent Gets Vigorous

By THOMAS P. FARNER | May 31, 2017

When progressive Democratic President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war “to make the world safe for democracy” in April 1917, he set in motion a chain of events that would change America forever. The nation was now divided. If you weren’t 100 percent for the war, then you were the enemy. When a draft was needed to fill the ranks of the Army, anyone opposed fell into that category.

June 5, 1917 was set aside as national registration day, and one of the loudest critics was a 48-year-old Russian immigrant, Emma Goldman. The next day the Bridgewater, N.J., Courier News editorialized.

“It is somewhat surprising that a way has not been found to suppress Emma Goldman, the arch-anarchist of the ‘red’ king, whose whole occupation is spreading sedition, conspiracy and rebellion to constituted authority. Her latest demonstration was the draft riot in the Bronx Monday night at a widely-advertised meeting called for the purpose of urging young men to resist the Government order to register yesterday. For years this woman, with no claim to good citizenship, (has prided) herself upon her defiance of all constituted authority.”

Government censorship had led to rumors and leaks, the worst being that the U.S. Navy had suffered a major defeat off the East Coast. On June 9, Secretary of War Adolphus Daniels announced, “The country is poisoned by rumors of battle and disaster that are absolutely without the slightest foundation in truth.

“Among the most persistent of these false reports is one that declares that a naval engagement has taken place between the German fleet and the combined fleets of England and the United States, and that in this battle sixty English and American ships were sunk or disabled, two of the number being the Pennsylvania and the Texas.

“In elaboration of this falsehood there is the added rumor that the hospitals at the various Atlantic coast naval yards are filled with crippled sailors and marines.”

As a result of this, the secretary declared a gag order.

“Officers, enlisted personnel and civilian employees are therefore directed not to discuss any question relating to the disposition, movements or proposed movements of naval or military forces (including personnel) at any time, except officially, either among themselves or with any person outside the naval service. It should be clearly understood that families and relatives are to be considered as outside the naval service.

“All persons who attempt to obtain prohibited information from persons in the naval service should be regarded with suspicion and reported without delay to the proper authorities.

“Those to whom a knowledge of a violation of this order comes shall consider it a serious official duty to report the matter immediately to the Navy Department for disciplinary action.”

On June 11, the Trenton Times reported that the government was cracking down on dissent.

“The period of leniency has passed and State, county and municipal authorities will join forces in their efforts to detect those who avoided the obligation of placing their names on record.

“Cases of each one who is discovered trying to avoid the military obligation will be brought to the immediate attention of the Department of Justice. Men who have recorded their names are asked to reveal the identity of the slackers. The lists will be posted.

“On conviction each man will be imprisoned and will also have his name recorded for military service later.”

Two new tactics had emerged: have citizens who registered report those who didn’t, and stop and ask young men to show their draft card. It didn’t take long to get results. Two days later in the same paper, “Louis Kramer, the first man to be convicted and sentenced for opposing the conscription laws and failing to register, was given the maximum sentence by Judge Mayer in the United States Court today. Judge Mayer also recommended that Kramer be deported when he has completed serving his sentence.

“On the charge of conspiracy to block conscription, Kramer was fined $10,000 and sentenced to two years in the penitentiary.”

On June 12, the New York Sun reported on one of the first draft raids.

“Police, national guardsmen, detectives, the United States Marshal and deputies took in thirty-one men of suspicious age who could not produce registration cards at the close of the Emma Goldman anti-conscription meeting. … Emma Goldman and her coworkers were stunned at the dramatic coup. The instant Leon Samson, chairman of the meeting, called it to a close solid phalanxes of detectives, soldiers and marshals blocked every exit and United States Marshal McCarthy and Police Inspector Thomas A. Ryan called out with an emphasis not to be mistaken that no man was to leave the hall without showing a Federal registration card.”

The Sun reported of Goldman’s response, “‘Why, it’s an outrage,’ she complained bitterly, ‘It is apparent that most of these men are above conscription age. Some of them are reputable physicians and lawyers. The police are usurping their authority. Are you going to permit it? Are you going to act like a policeman, too?’

“‘If I was a policeman,’ replied Harold A. Content, United States Assistant District Attorney, ‘I’d lock you up.’ Emma shouted some unintelligible response and went into the street, where a squad of police escorted her for several blocks.

“Of the twenty-eight men who were taken into the cellar by the police and deputy marshals, eight were arrested and locked up.”

The Sun on the 15th again covered Goldman as she persisted in her mission.

“Thirty thousand men and women from the heart of the East Side massed around the big triangle of Rutgers Square and Seward Park last night while they watched with eyes which glittered with excitement the operation of a Federal mousetrap for slackers and anarchists.”

Inside, the crowd heard, “Miss Goldman spoke of the ‘unscrupulous imperialism of the United States,’ and of the ‘cruel, bloodthirsty Government known as the United States,’ and then she snarled at the President.

“‘Before election,’ she said, ‘President Wilson told the people he was going to keep them out of war. He promised them heaven and gave them hell. The people have not given their consent to this war. They didn’t want this war. They say it is a law. I defy your law! What right has (New York governor Charles S.) Whitman to send you out to murder your brothers and sisters and sweethearts?’”

As Goldman finished, those inside prepared to leave.

According to the Sun, “At every exit above stairs soldiers in uniform, policemen and deputy marshals blocked egress. The women were permitted to seep through, but the men were halted. Their Federal registration cards were called for. All except thirty-five were able to produce the cards, but many who had cards and were still under the influence of the speeches they had just heard ventured jeering and insulting comments. Thereafter in every instance they made breathless, disordered progress to the street.

“The soldiers passed them along, not too gently, to the police who guarded the entrance doors at the top of a flight of four steps and the police with professional dexterity sent them reeling and spinning down the steps to catch their balance (if they could) upon the sidewalk.

“There may possibly have been a little extra legal, extra constitutional something about this method of clearing the hall.”

The Navy had been gagged to stop leaks and government agents were conducting raids to round up slackers. At the same time, the U.S. Justice Department issued a bulletin saying, “A statement from you in your community showing how the burden of those who have registered has been increased by the failure of the non-registrant would excite the interest of the public in the detection of the slacker. The public should be invited to scan the lists of registered and should be urged to assist in bringing non-registrants to the attention of the police.

“The purpose of this bulletin is to inaugurate at once a vigorous and efficient enactment of the penal clauses of the selective service law against all who have failed or refused to register.”

Within days the lists were being published, and you could check out to see if your neighbor was with you or against you.

Next Week: Shutting women up.


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