The Great War and the Creation of the AAUP

This year, 2014, is the centennial of the outbreak of war in Europe which quickly escalated into the senseless slaughter of World War I. Charles Schenck, a secretary of the Socialist Party, opposed the draft during The Great War, a term that many used to describe World War I. He wrote an enduring, magnificent pamphlet that is a major exposition against conscription using constitutional argumentation and towering rhetoric: “Democracy must come from liberal education…You are a citizen, not a subject…Do you know that patriotism means a love for your country and not hate for others?”

He was arrested and sentenced to six months in prison during the Wilsonian, “War to make the world safe for democracy.” That applied perhaps to the world outside of Jim Crow America. Just four years after the founding of the AAUP, in the infamous, landmark case, Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919), Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote the unanimous opinion for the Supreme Court equating Schenck’s rhetoric with “falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.” Holmes established the “clear and present danger” doctrine that exempted speech from First Amendment protection if it advocated the “evil” that Congress had chosen to “prevent.”

Holmes is considered an iconic judicial figure due to slovenly analysis of his decisions. Suppressing speech becomes almost ritualistic as the Supreme Court ruthlessly applied the Espionage Act (1917) to silence antiwar speech both during the carnage of the war and the postwar period. Note the Obama Administration has charged Edward Snowden under the Espionage Act for “unauthorized communication of national defense information” and “willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person.” Mr. Snowden had revealed the National Security Agency’s monstrous spying upon millions of American citizens. Fortunately the heroic defender of democracy and civil liberties has been granted asylum in the Russian Federation.

Next year is the centennial of the founding of the American Association of University Professors. It emerged during The Great War but before the United States formally entered the war with the deceptive title of “associated power” in 1917. The Association was founded in large measure as a delayed reaction to Jane Stanford’s dismissal of Edward Ross in 1900 for his opposition to railroad monopolies, support of free silver and racist hatred of Asians whom he felt were unfit for immigration. Mrs. Stanford was a co-founder of Stanford University and widow of railroad magnate Leland Stanford. It is interesting to note that the Ross firing was inspired in part for his reactionary racist views and that the AAUP was founded to protect professors in their extramural utterances whether progressive, socialist or racist in nature. While the precise reasons for Ross’s firing are ambiguous at best, the persecution for his views were quite clear as Mrs. Stanford ordered his dismissal from the professoriate.

Both free speech and especially academic freedom were novel concepts at the time. Schenck the socialist is incarcerated as a political prisoner under the “clear and present danger” doctrine of suppression as Congress and the Supreme Court work in tandem to disallow antiwar or anticonscription speech. Ross, the mercurial sociologist and eugenicist, is fired for his opinions on a panoply of issues of public concern by a powerful university official with unlimited income and bourgeois power. The connection between the two events is unmistakable. Government and university officials were increasingly oppressive as critics of the realm were thrown in jail for months or years for opposing American militarism, and expelled from academia for irritating university officials.

The founding of AAUP, as will be noted in additional posts on this topic, should be contextualised in the nationwide effort to silence antiwar resistance to state authority. There was both a rising tide of state oppression and academic-viewpoint cleansing that makes the John Dewey-Arthur O. Lovejoy founding of the AAUP even more daring and impressive.

The Schenck pamphlet titled “Assert Your Rights” was a two-sided document. This is its first page. For the entire text see here:

Assert Your Rights:

The Socialist Party says that any individual or officers of the law entrusted with the administration of conscription regulations violate the provisions of the United States Constitution, the supreme law of the land, when they refuse to recognize your right to assert your opposition to the draft.

In exempting clergymen and members of the Society of Friends (popularly called Quakers) from active military service the examination boards have discriminated against you.

If you do not assert and support your rights you are helping to “deny or disparage rights” which it is the solemn duty of all citizens and residents of the United States to retain.

In lending tacit or silent consent to the conscription law, in neglecting to assert your rights, you are (whether knowingly or not) helping to condone and support a most infamous and insidious conspiracy to abridge and destroy the sacred and cherished rights of a free people. You are a citizen: not a subject! You delegate your power to the officers of the law to be used for your good and welfare, not against you.

They are your servants; not your masters. Their wages come from the expenses of government which you pay. Will you allow them to unjustly rule you?

No power was delegated to send our citizens away to foreign shores to shoot up the people of other lands, no matter what may be their internal or international disputes.

To draw this country into the horrors of the present war in Europe, to force the youth of our land into the shambles and bloody trenches of war crazy nations, would be a crime the magnitude of which defies description. Words could not express the condemnation such cold-blooded ruthlessness deserves.

Will you stand idly by and see the Moloch of Militarism reach forth across the sea and fasten its tentacles upon this continent? Are you willing to submit to the degradation of having the Constitution of the United States treated as a “mere scrap of paper”?

No specious or plausible pleas about a “war for democracy” can becloud the issue. Democracy cannot be shot into a nation. It must come spontaneously and purely from within.

Democracy must come through liberal education. Upholders of military ideas are unfit teachers.

To advocate the persecution of other peoples through the prosecution of war is an insult to every good and wholesome American tradition.

You are responsible. You must do your share to maintain, support, and uphold the rights of the people of this country.

In this world crisis where do you stand? Are you with the forces of liberty and light or war and darkness?

4 thoughts on “The Great War and the Creation of the AAUP

  1. I know that AAUP was feckless in that context as it was during the McCarthy Era. What I was explicitly writing about was the state of repression during World War I created an oppressive assault on speech that complemented egregious violations of academic freedom. The birth of the AAUP under such adverse circumstances is most laudable. It was time of great fear and even a slight penetration of orthodoxy should be acknowledged despite its limitations a century ago.

  2. Pingback: Debs’s Merry Christmas, World War I and the Tarnished Legacy of A.A.U.P. Co-founder Arthur Lovejoy | The Academe Blog

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