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THE LIFE AND TIMES OF EMMA GOLDMAN
A Curriculum for Middle and High School Students

No­Conscription League Manifesto, 1917
(from Records of the Department of War and Military Intelligence Division,
Record Group 165, National Archives)

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Original document housed
in the Records of the
Department of War and
Military Intelligence Division,
Record Group 165,
National Archives,
Washington, D.C.
CONTEXT: Once the United States entered World War I in April 1917, President Wilson signed a Draft Bill setting June 4th as Registration Day for men aged twenty­one to thirty­one. Emma Goldman and her colleague Alexander Berkman helped organize the No­Conscription League which held a series of antiwar rallies to discourage young men from registering for the draft. There follows a copy of the manifesto that the group circulated to over 100,000 people. On June 15, 1917, Goldman and Berkman were arrested and charged with conspiracy to obstruct the draft. After they were found guilty, the judge sentenced them to two years in prison and recommended their deportation once they had served their sentence.

NO CONSCRIPTION!

CONSCRIPTION has now become a fact in this country. It took England fully 18 months after she engaged in the war to impose compulsory military service on her people. It was left for "free" America to pass a conscription bill six weeks after she declared war against Germany.

What becomes of the patriotic boast of America to have entered the European war in behalf of the principle of democracy? But that is not all. Every country in Europe has recognized the right of conscientious objectors­­of men who refuse to engage in war on the ground that they are opposed to taking life. Yet this democratic country makes no such provision for those who will not commit murder at the behest of the war profiteers. Thus the "land of the free and the home of the brave" is ready to coerce free men into the military yoke.

No one to whom the fundamental principle of liberty and justice is more than an idle phrase, can help realize that the patriotic clap­trap now shouted by press, pulpit and the authorities, betrays a desperate effort of the ruling class in this country to throw sand in the eyes of the masses and to blind them to the real issue confronting them. That issue is the Prussianizing of America so as to destroy whatever few liberties the people have achieved through an incessant struggle of many years.

Already all labor protective laws have been abrogated, which means that while husbands, fathers and sons are butchered on the battlefield, the women and children will be exploited in our industrial bastiles to the heart's content of the American patriots for gain and power.

Freedom of speech, of press and assembly is about to be thrown upon the dungheap of political guarantees. But crime of all crimes, the flower of the country is to be forced into murder whether or not they believe in war or in the efficacy of saving democracy in Europe by the destruction of democracy at home.

Liberty of conscience is the most fundamental of all human rights, the pivot of all progress. No man may be deprived of it without losing every vestige of freedom of thought and action. In these days when every principle and conception of democracy and individual liberty is being cast overboard under the pretext of democratizing Germany, it behooves every liberty­loving man and woman to insist on his or her right of individual choice in the ordering of his life and actions.

The NO­CONSCRIPTION LEAGUE has been formed for the purpose of encouraging conscientious objectors to affirm their liberty of conscience and to make their objection to human slaughter effective by refusing to participate in the killing of their fellow men. The NO­CONSCRIPTION LEAGUE is to be the voice of protest against the coercion of conscientious objectors to participate in the war. Our platform may be summarized as follows:

We oppose conscription because we are internationalists, anti­militarists, and opposed to all wars waged by capitalistic governments.

We will fight for what we choose to fight for; we will never fight simply because we are ordered to fight.

We believe that the militarization of America is an evil that far outweighs, in its anti­social and anti­libertarian effects, any good that may come from America's participation in the war.

We will resist conscription by every means in our power, and we will sustain those who, for similar reasons, refuse to be conscripted.

We are not unmindful of the difficulties in our way. But we have resolved to go ahead and spare no effort to make the voice of protest a moral force in the life of this country. The initial efforts of the conscientious objectors in England were fraught with many hardships and danger, but finally the government of Great Britain was forced to give heed to the steadily increasing volume of public protest against the coercion of conscientious objectors. So we, too, in America, will doubtless meet the full severity of the government and the condemnation of the war­mad jingoes, but we are nevertheless determined to go ahead. We feel confident in arousing thousands of people who are conscientious objectors to the murder of their fellowmen and to whom a principle represents the most vital thing in life.

Resist conscription. Organize meetings. Join our League. Send us money. Help us to give assistance to those who come in conflict with the government. Help us to publish literature against militarism and against conscription.

NO­CONSCRIPTION LEAGUE
20 East 125th St., New York.


Questions on the Manifesto:
  1. What is the man in this illustration doing? What statement is he making through his actions?

  2. According to the manifesto: what is a conscientious objector? How does the conscription of citizens into the military threaten individual liberty? What group gains and what group loses from conscription?

General Questions on This Exhibit:
  1. In addition to the points made in the No­Conscription League platform, what other reasons might justify refusing to serve in the military?

  2. In which other American wars were men conscripted to fight? Has the United States been the only country to have conscientious objectors?

  3. Today, what is the government position toward conscientious objectors?

  4. Research newspapers and magazines to learn about the experience of conscientious objectors during the Gulf War or the Vietnam War. Does the strength of public support or opposition to wars influence the decision­making process of conscientious objectors and their subsequent treatment?


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