NY Bureau of Legal Advice/First Aid notes

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Nov. 16, 2010, 10:33 a.m. (view history)



I found two articles dealing with the raid on the NY Bureau of Legal Aid. The first (in the NYT, dated Aug. 29) explains that a raid took place against the Socialist Party, IWW, and "Room 831, 70 5th Ave," which is where the Legal Bureau was held. It goes on to state that Fannie Mae Witherspoon, who led the organization, was running as a Socialist candidate for the Fifteenth District of New York City (which is sort of dubious at best, but requires more research) and, moreover, she had sent letters to New York Governor Whitman that protested the way in which the draft was being conducted. This sort of implies that these two things offer justification for the raid on the Bureau, although they really don't seem at all enough to merit a government raid on the organization. The second article, also from the NYT (dated August 31) cite it as "part of a nation-wide movement" to end anti-war agitation, but offers little more insofar as justification goes. Indeed, at the end of the article, it comments that one of the agents stated that the Bureau existed primarily to "represent men of draft age who sought exemption as conscientious objectors to war." Given that that is a direct quote from the article, which was at least paraphrasing one of the federal agent raiders, it appears that even that was enough to cause the raid.

In the NYT (Aug. 31, 1918), the following individuals are listed as being involved in the activities of the Bureau: John L. Elliott (Chairman), Arthur S. Leeds (Treasurer), Fannie Mae Witherspoon (Secretary). Members of the Executive Committee include Rev. John W. Darr, Fola LaFollette (daughter of the Wisconsin Senator), Jacob Hillquit (possible relative of Morris?), Martha Gruening, Henry Newman, Tracy Mygatt, Jessie Ashley, and Roger Baldwin.

Notes on the relationship between the Civil Liberties Bureau and the Bureau of Legal Advice, drawn in particular from Frances H. Early's A World Without War: How U.S. Feminists and Pacifists Resisted World War I:

- CLB had an office downstairs in the same building as the Bureau, and their executive committees seriously overlapped. Initially, Fannie Mae Witherspoon was given part-time secretarial assistance, initially supplied for free by the CLB. (By Fall 1917, the Bureau had its own).

- The CLB and the Bureau of Legal Advice were frequently confused in the New York Call, and occasionally the former received credit for the latter’s work; CLB had higher visibility during the war because it lent support to other civil liberties groups throughout the country and developed propaganda and lobbying to support its cause

- Possibility that Bureau of Legal Advice given less credit because it was run by a woman (Frances H. Early suggests this)

- Roger Baldwin, leader of the CLB, was determined to lead the movement in defense of first amendment rights during the war. Apparently struggled to work with strong women on an egalitarian basis

- By summer 1917, the Bureau of Legal Advice and the CLB had defined their respective jurisdictions (Baldwin became a member of the executive committee of Witherspoon’s Bureau of Legal Advice at this time). The CLB would coordinate propaganda and lobbying and help establish bureaus for civil liberties everywhere, while the Bureau for Legal Advice would handle local civil liberties work (in New York), including court cases

- Civil Liberties Bureau furnished the Bureau of Legal Advice $250 a month (as did the People’s Council, formerly the Emergency Peace Federation), which meant that Baldwin used money for sway in the Bureau of Legal Advice. The CLB enjoyed financial backing of wealthy individuals and groups, while the Bureau relied on piecemeal contributions. When the CLB was late in December of 1917 to deliver the monthly check, Witherspoon and Baldwin grew increasingly at odds and Baldwin apparently irritated with Witherspoon’s persistence. According to Frances Early, there is no evidence that the CLB sent any more checks to the Bureau of Legal Advice after the spring of 1918.

- The work of both organizations began to overlap increasingly over the problem of conscientious objectors, and Baldwin apparently did not like sharing control (sort of a perfectionist in that he wanted to assume total responsibility for everything)

- IMPORTANT: Baldwin received a note from F. P. Keppel, Third Assistant Secretary of War, who told Baldwin that he had received telegrams from the Bureau of Legal Advice, and apparently, Keppel had been informed by the Military Intelligence Division of the War Department that the Bureau of Legal Aid was under Baldwin’s auspices as part of the Civil Liberties Bureau. Keppel then commented that “the Military Intelligence Branch feels that the same attitude has been adopted by the Department toward the Civil Liberties Bureau.” Baldwin corrected Keppel, explaining that the two were different organizations and explained the differences in the two. Although the Military Intelligence Division continued to watch the Bureau of Legal Advice, it decided that its members were of no immediate danger to national security. However, according to Frances Early (this perhaps merits more research), “relations between the War Department and the new civil liberties bureaus, which had been fairly congenial in the early months of the war, deteriorated in response to the insistent demands by the bureaus for just treatment of conscientious objectors and other political prisoners who were under military authority.” YET it was Department of JUSTICE officials who raided the offices of the Bureau of Legal Advice and the Civil Liberties Bureau, who were unhappy with the influence of the civil liberties movement on public opinion, as Frances Early puts it.

This brings up a few questions: 1.) With the IWW cases, the Justice Department, the War Department, and the Labor Department were clearly not on the same page, and that might be the case here, thereby creating some confusion among the War Dept. (who, after monitoring the Bureau of Legal Advice, determined that there was nothing of concern there) and the Justice Dept. -- basically miscommunication. I can try to flush this out more by looking at the Wilson Papers and/or see if I can get some records of the Justice Dept.) 2.) I ordered the New York Call. Might be helpful... or might be confusing, given what Early contends here. 3.) Is it possible that in addition to or instead of confusion between the Justice Dept. and the War Dept. it was confusion between the Bureau of Legal Advice and the CLB? If so (and they were in the same building), this would explain why they were raided, given the rather ominous tone of Keppel's note to Baldwin, although this would open up a new set of questions regarding the administration's (or at least, the War Dept.'s) +suspicion of the CLB.

Are we right in thinking that the main aim of the Bureau was to provide legal help.In other words to help COs and others in the Courts of law and before tribunals?Did this aspect of their work, then become submerged in a more wider political and support strategy?

Barry: To respond to your questions, it's true that the Bureau's job was to provide legal help, in the form of advice/counsel, as we have previously stated. However, it dealt with more than just COs. Although cases of COs was a large aspect of the Bureau's work, they also dealt with other civil liberties violations, primarily those regarding free speech (the firing of teachers, for instance) and the personal behavior issues (arrests for speaking about the war on the street, for example). These issues were dealt with on a piecemeal basis, so the division of labor between the CLB and the Bureau of Legal Advice needs to be clarified a bit more, which I've done in the article itself. That is, the Bureau was to deal with civil liberties cases in New York, but only insofar as people in New York came to the Bureau offices and requested assistance on civil liberties cases. They only had one general counsel, which was Recht. Although the Bureau does seem to have shifted and altered over time, this was a function of the war and the CLB. That is,  in 1917 - 1918, it offered legal counsel for a range of civil liberties issues, but in particular COs, and its purpose shifted only a) due to the end of the war, when its existence as an organization to defend civil liberties in wartime collapses, and it begins to take on cases of COs in prison (advocating for a general amnesty) and early deportee cases, and b) the CLB was much bigger and much more financially equipped to deal with the problems of civil liberties emerging outside of the war, so over time, it assumed the Bureau's functions (especially since the Bureau basically just ran out of funding).

Also, I'm not sure if I ever sent you this, but there's a finding aid for the Charles Recht papers at NYU here: http://dlib.nyu.edu/findingaids/html/tamwag/recht.html. It might be helpful for us, as he would define exactly which cases he took on and thus what the role of the Bureau is in that way. Part of the problem I'm running into here is that sources are really scanty -- there's the Frances Early book, but there's a lot left unexplained there about what we're trying to figure out, and I'm still waiting on the NY Call for this period (which covered the Bureau a lot more than the mainstream newspapers I'm currently working with do).

Annie:As we chatted about on Friday I think I have mis-read this group.I had them in my head as a rather small,very legal group that advised men on their legal rights as possible  COs, and for that matter,their chances of becoming COs.Now I sense it was much broader.I figure that any group that works with 5000 cases has to have a sizeable superstructure