"[C]onscription is unconstitutional because the Thirteenth Amendment forbids slavery and involuntary servitude [...]"
"[A]ny man who urges another not to register on June 5, or argues that the registration order is illegal and need not
be obeyed, or who intimates that one required to register can safely refrain from registering [...] has committed the
crime of treason against the United States and may be punished by death."
This page is first in a series of materials (mostly newspaper clippings) that pertain to the controversy surrounding conscientious objection at the dawn of America's involvement in World War I and HWLD's obvious investment in the cause. Additionally, a line of correspondence concerning Franklin Roosevelt, a man named 'Ned,' and the Office of Naval Intelligence ambiguously dated Monday October 21st was included – this particular item may have something to do with the Zimmerman Telegram (stay tuned).
The initial reason these primary sources caught my eye was that it was unusual (thus far) to find a jumble of smaller papers grouped together on the reels – typically, there's one document per page/per scan. Looking more closely, I was excited to find draft registration cards (I have a passion for bureaucratic forms; it must be the sociologist in me). In the images below, the section for race on the second example provides important insight into how race was conceived at the time and, in turn, institutionalized (or vice versa). Apparently, one could be either 'White,' 'Negro,' 'Oriental,' or 'Indian (citizen or noncitizen)' – the rigid distinctions are noteworthy. Could someone check off more than one race? Of all the races, it's ironic (or perhaps grimly understandable) that American Indians would be specifically compelled to divulge their citizenship status as part of their racial identity when it's their land that the United States occupies.
The newspaper article that HWLD clipped was published June 3, 1917 and is only an excerpt of a longer one that can be found here. It seems a recurring tendency in socially liberal protest (be it for women's suffrage or conscientious objection) to hark back to slavery as the ultimate denunciation of an oppressive rule of law. How common was this overall? How was this interpretation received by contemporaries? And, more specifically, how did people of color negotiate the (appropriated) language of these (mostly white) women and men if and when their interests intersected?
I was surprised to learn that conscientious objectors were threatened with the death penalty. Of course, the Swarthmore Peace Collection provides better background on the fate of these men than the empty threats of a single man. Yet the censorship of pacifist activists was to be expected, given the context. Indeed, the Espionage Act was passed less than two weeks after the article was published. How did the threat of penalty affect HWLD and his compatriots' efforts? How did he personally feel about this legislation? It's times like these I wish I could see his side of the correspondence and not just the letters he himself saved. Despite all the archival efforts on his end, he remains, in some sense, a kind of voiceless historical actor who is only brought to life through his papers and the words of others contained in them. How does one go about tracking down his own words?
Lastly, the mysterious strip of paper:
"Letter from Franklin Roosevelt saying he will be glad to
take up the question about Ned with the Office of the Naval
Intelligence and will try to have the records straightened out.
He hopes the next time Ned is interviewed, he will explain fully."
No year, no signature. After some rough calculations, it would seem that 1918 would be the year when October 21st was a Monday – which seemed about right. A Google search with keywords 'Franklin Roosevelt,' 'Ned,' and 'Office of Naval Intelligence' gave me two excerpts from the books Roosevelt and Churchill: Men of Secrets by David Stafford and Cloak and Dollar: A History of American Secret Intelligence by Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones. Edward Bell ('Ned' to Roosevelt, who was a Harvard friend and classmate) was a diplomatic/intelligence liaison between America and Britain. It is through his hands that the Zimmerman Telegram was received by FDR. However, this news broke out in the early months of 1917 – so whether this letter has to do with such a seminal event remains to be seen.
Box 2 [Reel 71.1] Folder 6, Page 38: Conscientious objector documents & correspondence (potentially concerning the Zimmerman Telegram)
in the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana Papers (DG 011), Swarthmore College Peace Collection.