When there are no more memories of heroes and martyrs,
And when all life and all the souls of men and women are discharged from any part of the earth,
Then only shall liberty or the idea of liberty be discharged from that part of the earth,
And the infidel come into full possession.
Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman were arrested on June 15, at 20 East 125th Street, New York. At the time of the arrival of the Marshal and of his minions, late in the afternoon, Miss Goldman was in the room which served as the office of the No-Conscription League and of MOTHER EARTH. Berkman was upstairs in the office of THE BLAST. A number of helpers were in the building at the time, including M. Eleanor Fitzgerald, Carl Newlander, Walter Merchant and W. P. Bales. Mr. Bales, a young man, was arrested without a warrant. The raiding party included, besides Marshal McCarthy, Assistant United States District Attorney E. M. Stanton, Lieutenant Barnitz, of the so-called "Bomb Squad," Deputy Marshals Doran, Hearne and Meade, and Detectives Murphy and Kiely, of the Police Department.
"I have a warrant for your arrest,"
Marshal McCarthy said to Emma Goldman.
"I am not surprised, yet I would like
to know what the warrant is based on," Emma Goldman replied.
Marshal McCarthy answered by producing a
copy of MOTHER EARTH containing an article on the No-Conscription
League signed "Emma Goldman."
"Did you write that?" asked the
Miss Goldman replied that she had written
the article, and in answer to another question said she stood
for everything in MOTHER EARTH, because, she added, she was the
sole owner of the publication.
A few minutes later, the officers mounted
the stairs and arrested Alexander Berkman.
In the meantime, policemen were busy searching
both offices. They found books and pamphlets written by Kropotkin,
Malatesta, Voltairine de Cleyre, Max Stirner, Frank Harris, C.
E. S. Wood, Charles T. Sprading, Gorky, Andreyev, Strindberg,
William Morris, George Bernard Shaw, and many other writers. They
seized everything they could lay their hands on, including a card
index, bank and check books, and thousands of copies of MOTHER
EARTH and THE BLAST, held up by the Post Office. THE BLAST, which
was solemnly pronounced by the newspapers "one of the vilest
things ever sent through the United States mails," contained,
in addition to Berkman's writings, quotations from Victor Hugo
and Edward Carpenter, and articles written by Leonard Abbott and
After the police had rifled the contents
of both offices, the three prisoners were taken down to the street
and rushed in automobiles to the Federal Building. They were joined
by their attorney, Harry Weinberger. There was no opportunity
for arraignment that evening, and the prisoners were locked up
in The Tombs.
On the morning of June 16, Emma Goldman
and Alexander Berkman were brought before the United States Commissioner
Hitchcock. Assistant United States District Attorney Harold A.
Content appeared as prosecutor. "These two Anarchists,"
he said, "are the leading spirits in this country in a countrywide
conspiracy to spread anti-registration propaganda." Mr. Weinberger,
attorney for the defendants, made a motion for dismissal on the
ground that advising anybody not to register is not a violation
of law. "Failing to register, no doubt, is a crime,"
said Weinberger, "but telling people not to do so is certainly
not a violation of the law." The Commissioner is old and
gray; he looked like a relic of the Dark Ages. He held the prisoners
in $25,000 bail each. Weinberger protested against the bail as
excessive, but was not able to change the decision. Later, when
Weinberger and Leonard Abbott approached Marshal McCarthy and
when Abbott protested against the holding of the young man Bales
without warrant or charge, the Marshal became violently abusive
and ordered the ejection of Abbott from the Federal Building.
The prisoners were held in the Tombs practically
incommunicado; it was only with the greatest difficulty that they
were able to communicate with any of their friends. Gross unfairness
was shown in the matter of the bail. When more than enough property
was offered to cover the necessary sum, it was refused by Attorney
Content on the ground of petty technicalities. Many friends offered
money. By June 21, Emma Goldman was free. Four days later, Berkman
was released. In the meantime, the Federal Grand Jury had framed
a formal indictment.
The trial began before Judge Mayer on June
27. Judge Mayer is a German, and he has the Prussian type of face.
It occurred to more than one spectator that the defendants, charged
with the "crime" of fighting Prussianism in America,
were being tried before a Prussian judge. They announced, at the
outset, that they had decided to conduct their own cases. They
made it clear that this decision was not in any way to be construed
as a reflection upon their lawyer. Mr. Weinberger, indeed, had
consecrated himself to this case with conspicuous idealism, and
was still giving advice and suggestions. But they had decided
that, as Anarchists, it would be more consistent to go into court
without a lawyer.
The defendants asked for a postponement
on the ground that they had so recently been released from prison
that they had had no opportunity to summon witnesses and to familiarize
themselves with their case. They also asked for a postponement
on the ground of Berkman's physical condition. He had sprained
his leg, prior to his arrest, and appeared in court on crutches.
Both of these requests were denied by the Judge. He insisted upon
an immediate trial. Emma Goldman and Berkman were at first so
incensed by the injustice of this decision that they declined
to take part in the proceedings. The trial, as Emma Goldman put
it, was a farce. Later, however, the defendants consented to examine
For three days the examination proceeded. It is certain that never before in a court of "justice" had there been such a questioning of talesmen, and it is to be hoped that some of those who listened, or answered, learned something about real justice and social ideals. Alexander Berkman, who took the lead in the questioning, created an atmosphere that was libertarian and anti-militarist. Among the questions asked were:
"Do you believe in free speech?"
"Do you believe in the right to criticize
"Do you believe that the majority in a community is necessarily right?"
"Would you be biased against the defendants
because they had been active in the labor movement?"
"Would you be biased because they had
"Do you feel that you would be unable
to render a just verdict because the defendants are anti-militarists,
"Do you know what Socialism and Anarchism
"Have you read any Socialist or Anarchist
"Have you attended any Socialist or
Incidentally, Emma Goldman and Berkman managed to convey a great deal of information bearing on the libertarian struggle in many countries. Robert Emmet was mentioned, and George Washington. The birth control movement came in for discussion.
The court-room was packed with friends of
the prosecution, but many friends of the defendants were excluded.
Some were roughly handled. June 27, it happened, was Emma Goldman's
birthday, and, during the lunch hour, some comrades presented
her with a bouquet of red roses.
On June 29, just as the jury was selected,
a number of telegrams were received by the defendants from their
friends, among them the following from Charles Erskine Scott Wood,
of Portland, Oregon. Mr. Wood is a Single-Taxer, poet and art
connoisseur, and was at one time colonel in the United States
"I have wired the judge and attorney
general and prosecuting attorney, and please say to Emma I can
be quoted as believing with her that conscription utterly belies
democracy, and punishment for criticising the government marks
an autocracy in spirit, no matter what the form. Thousands here
share this view."
On Monday morning, July 2, Prosecutor Content
opened his case. He said he would show that the two defendants,
whom he characterized as "disturbers of law and order,"
had both tried in their writings and in their public addresses
to influence the ignorant amongst the men of military age not
to register. The first witness that he put on the stand was Miss
Fitzgerald. He questioned her regarding the No-Conscription League
and the "profits" of THE BLAST. She answered him that
she and her colleagues had worked for the sake of principle and
not for profits. Mr. Content went to the trouble of presenting
newspaper reporters, printers, binders, etc., to testify as to
the contents, printing and binding of MOTHER EARTH, THE BLAST
and No-Conscription literature; but all this, as the defendants
pointed out, was superfluous. They admitted the authorship of
the writings which were the basis of the Government's case. Berkman
looked the student, the intellectual, with his black-rimmed eye-glasses.
Emma Goldman was constantly on her feet, parrying unfair questions,
elucidating doubtful points.
One of the witnesses that Mr. Content put
on the stand was a police stenographer who testified that in her
speech at Harlem River Casino on May 18, Emma Goldman used the
words, "We believe in violence, and we will use violence."
But Emma Goldman denied every having used any such words, and
she was able to call many witnesses who corroborated her statement.
This led to lengthy discussion of the entire question of violence
and of violent methods as a means of advancing Anarchist propaganda.
Emma Goldman and Berkman read to the jury extracts from articles
on this subject, appearing in MOTHER EARTH. The stenographer who
reported the Harlem River Casino meeting was shown to be untrustworthy.
Another stenographer testified, incidentally, that Emma Goldman
was the best speaker he had ever heard. The proprietor of the
Harlem River Casino, called by the prosecution, gave testimony
favorable to the defendants. He said that the meeting of May 18
had been perfectly orderly, in spite of the fact that a group
of soldiers, carrying a flag, had tried to make trouble. A Sergeant
of the Coast Guard, appearing on the witness-stand in uniform,
confirmed this testimony.
During the examination of several of these
witnesses, a military band was playing beneath the open windows,
and patriotic speeches, punctuated by applause, could be heard.
In the street below, a recruiting station had been established.
By a curious irony of fate, militarism and anti-militarism, each
in its most dramatic phase, had been set in juxtaposition.
Alexander Berkman, when he came to present
to the jury the line of argument on which he proposed to build
his case, said in substance: "We admit that we are opposed
to militarism and to conscription. We have been carrying on an
anti-militarist propaganda for twenty-five or thirty years. But
we did not conspire, and we did not advise people not to register.
The No-Conscription League refused to commit itself to a policy
of definitely advising young men not to register. We decided to
leave the matter to the conscience of each individual." All
this was substantiated by the testimony of a conscientious objector
who declared that he had gone to the office of the League for
definite counsel and had been unable to get such counsel. It was
further confirmed by a letter of Emma Goldman, referred to by
Miss Fitzgerald. In this letter Miss Goldman said that so long
as she was not in danger of arrest under the registration law,
she would not advise young men not to register; she added that,
as a matter of principle, she would not tell a man to do a thing
or not to do a thing, "because if I would have to tell him
what to do, he would have no strength of character and courage
to stand by what he is doing." The position of Emma Goldman
and of others connected with the League was: "Each man must
decide the issue for himself. As a conscientious objector, he
has to decide for himself." Anna Sloan, Helen Boardman, Rebecca
Shelly and Minna Lederman all testified that they had never heard
Miss Goldman urge violence or non-registration.
When the offices of the No-Conscription
League were raided by the police, a newspaper published an account
of a mysterious bank deposit of $3,000. It was hinted that the
money had come from pro-German sources. On July 5, James Hallbeck,
eighty years old and a native of Sweden, testified that he had
given Emma Goldman a check for $3,000 as a contribution to her
work. So the "pro-German" bubble was pricked.
John Reed and Lincoln Steffens, magazine
writers, testified that they had known Emma Goldman and Berkman
for many years, and that they did not regard either as "violent."
Bolton Hall, Single-Taxer and writer, said that he was a member
of the Free Speech League. Asked by the Judge what the principles
of the League are, he said:
"It believes in activities tending
to promote liberty, and particularly free speech. We have long
fought for free speech. We do not believe in putting any restraint
on it. We hold that limiting free expression of opinion is the
best way to foster insurrection. We are never afraid to listen
to any expression, even if we believe it wrong, but we have decided
that the individual must bear the consequences for anything he
"Does that mean that you permit free
speech even when it is opposed to law?" queried Judge Mayer.
"We believe the constitutional guarantee
of free speech makes free speech of every kind permissible,"
"In other words, the League permits
free speech though it may be contrary to existing statutes,"
the Judge again asked.
"I think that is free speech,"
Hall asserted he had always known Emma Goldman
believed in educational work, and in benefiting people through
educational activities. He said he had never known her to advocate
violence, or to deny any principle which she preached.
Leonard Abbott, Chairman of the Ferrer Association
and President of the Free Speech League, was sure that Emma Goldman
had not urged violence at the Harlem River Casino meeting. He
said that he had expected she would take a more extreme attitude
than she did take. Questioned by Berkman in relation to the educational
work of the Ferrer Association, in which both Emma Goldman and
Berkman had had a share, Abbott spoke at some length of the Children's
School in Stelton, New Jersey, created as a memorial to the Spanish
martyr, Francisco Ferrer.
"Does the Ferrer School teach children
to disobey the laws of the country?" Mr. Abbott was asked.
"It teaches them," he replied,
"to criticise all laws and to prepare themselves for a Free
"When you speak of criticising laws,
do you include the laws of this Government?" Judge Mayer
asked the witness.
"Yes," was the reply.
"Why was Francisco Ferrer executed
by the Spanish Government?" the Judge asked the witness.
"He was executed because he loved liberty
and human rights," said Abbott.
"Wasn't he executed upon false testimony?"
asked Miss Goldman, springing to her feet.
"Yes," was the reply.
Revolutionary and patriotic music clashed
toward the end of the trial. At one moment the clear strains of
the Marseillaise floated in through the open windows from bands
accompanying the Russian Commission, which was marching past City
Hall with its streaming red banners. This happened just as Miss
Goldman read from her writings passages to the effect that war
was only in the interests of the working class when it aimed at
the overthrow of the capitalist system. When she read her "New
Declaration of Independence," setting forth the right of
the masses to overthrow a tyrannous and iniquitous government,
the band suddenly burst forth with the "Marche Militaire,"
France's new song of revolution and freedom.
Twice the bands played "The Star-Spangled
Banner." Everybody was ordered to rise. The first time, a
young girl refused to do so, and was ejected by court attendants.
The second time Stephen Kerr and another man were led from the
room for refusal to stand, whereupon the Judge said: "Any
man who refuses to stand will be taken from the room, and will
not be permitted to come back." Emma Goldman and Alexander
Berkman remained seated.
The trial occupied eight days and came to
an end on Monday, July 9. Alexander Berkman spoke for two hours.
Emma Goldman then spoke for something over an hour. Mr. Content
summed up for the Government in a speech not quite an hour long.
After listening to the speeches, the members
of the jury filed out of the court-room. They deliberated for
thirty-nine minutes. It was late in the afternoon. Judge Mayer
came into the court-room at 6 o'clock. The Clerk called the roll
of the jury, and then turned to Frank M. White, the foreman, and
asked him if a verdict had been agreed upon. Mr. White replied
that the jury had agreed.
"What is your verdict?" the Clerk
"Guilty," the foreman replied, in a voice that could be heard in the corridors.
Emma Goldman was immediately on her feet.
"I move," she said, "that
this verdict be set aside as absolutely contrary to the evidence."
"Denied," replied Judge Mayer.
"I then ask that sentence be deferred
for a few days, and that bail be continued in the sum already
fixed in our case," Miss Goldman added.
"Motion denied," said the Judge.
The clerk then took the pedigrees of the
defendants. Berkman said he was born in Petrograd about forty-seven
years ago, that he was single, and not a citizen of the United
States. Miss Goldman said she was born in Kovno, Russia, in 1869,
was single, and that she was not a citizen by application, although,
she added, her father had died an American citizen.
Judge Mayer announced that he was about
to impose sentence and asked the defendants if they knew of any
reason why sentence should be deferred.
"I think it only fair to suspend sentence and give us a chance to clear up our affairs," Berkman said. "We have been convicted simply because we are Anarchists, and the proceeding has been very unjust." Emma Goldman also protested against the way in which they were being railroaded to prison.
Then came the sentence. Judge Mayer stood,
while the defendants remained seated.
"In the conduct of this case,"
said Judge Mayer, "the defendants have shown remarkable ability,
an ability which might have been utilized for the great benefit
of this country had they seen fit to employ themselves in behalf
of this country rather than against it. In this country of ours,
we regard as enemies those who advocate the abolition of our Government,
and those who counsel disobedience of our laws by those of minds
less strong. American liberty was won by the forefathers, it was
maintained by the civil war, and to-day there are the thousands
who have already gone, or are getting ready to go, to foreign
lands to represent their country in the battle for liberty. For
such people as these, who would destroy our Government and nullify
its laws, we have no place in our country. In the United States
law is an imperishable thing, and in a case such as this I can
but inflict the maximum sentence which is permitted by our laws."
The Judge imposed a penalty of two years
in prison, with a fine of $10,000 in each case. He instructed
Mr. Content to communicate the record of the conviction to the
immigration authorities for such action as those authorities might
see fit to take when the prisoners had served their terms. Under
a new Federal law an alien, twice convicted of a crime, may be
deported by the Government to the country from whence he came.
As the Judge finished pronouncing sentence,
he declared the court adjourned and started to leave the bench.
Emma Goldman at once arose.
"One moment, please." Judge Mayer
turned and faced her.
"Are we to be spirited away in a speedy
manner? If so, we want to know now, right now," she said.
"You have ninety days in which to file
an appeal," replied the Judge.
"Well, how about the next hour or so?"
Miss Goldman demanded.
"The prisoners are in the custody of
the United States Marshal," Judge Mayer answered, and for
the second time he started to leave the room.
"One more word," Miss Goldman
said, "I want to thank your Honor for refusing us the two
days which are given even to the most heinous of criminals."
The prisoners were spirited away, by midnight trains and with indecent haste. Emma Goldman was taken to Jefferson City, Mo.; Alexander Berkman to Atlanta, Ga.
The vindictive sentences inflicted upon
them and the injustice of the entire trial can only have the effect
of strengthening the libertarian and Anarchist movement in America.
Their imprisonment is likely to accomplish
even more for the no-conscription movement and for anti-militarism
than their agitation. The very fact that they are behind the bars
ought to make clear to even the dullest mind that the Prussianism
that America has set out to combat, by force of arms, is already
enthroned in this country.
The crime of Emma Goldman and Alexander
Berkman was that they fought for liberty.
Their heroism consists in their willingness
to make what even the militarists admit is the supreme sacrifice--the
sacrifice of their own bodies and of their own freedom.
It is marvelous to think that Alexander
Berkman, after serving fourteen years in a Pennsylvania prison
with spirit unbroken, is still willing to go to jail again in
behalf of the liberties of the people.
The example of Emma Goldman and Alexander
Berkman is inspiring, and will serve as a beacon light for many
a year to come.
LEONARD D. ABBOTT
Go to Next Excerpt
Document maintained at: http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/Goldman/Writings/Essays/TrialSpeeches/trialandconviction.html by the SunSITE Manager.