The Story of The American Legion Part 12

Assent from the audience.

MR. GASTON: "I second that."

THE CHAIRMAN: "It isn't necessary to have a resolution to that effect.

The discussion would be germane to the question before the house."

MAJOR FOSTER (of Missouri): "Gentlemen, on May 18, 1917, the Congress of these United States passed an act defining what should be done in regard to conscientious objectors. That act, as you are all probably familiar with, says nothing about the I.W.W.--the so-called humanitarian, the slacker, and the anarchist, and yet for some unknown reason about 135 such cattle were shipped out to Camp Funston, segregated, were not required to do military service, were tried for disobedience to a lawful order in time of war, duly convicted, sentenced to prison, and a large Majority of them pardoned out of the penitentiary within two months.

"These men, and I want you to get the importance of this, are not ordinary, poor, misguided, fanatical men, but the large number of them were college graduates. Take the case of Lundy in Chicago and Berger and Greenberg and all of them. Seven of them were cases so serious that the court, of which I was a member, sentenced them to death.

Within three weeks the order came from Washington restoring them to honorable duty. These men who were dismissed from Leavenworth and who were tried by this court made the statement before the court to prove their conscientious scruples that they did not accept pay from the Government, nor did they, but when they were dismissed at Fort Leavenworth and honorably restored to duty and given discharges with honor, they took every dollar and cent that the Government sent or the officials in Washington said should be paid to them and they carefully counted it and it amounted to between four and six hundred dollars each, and they went home with it.

"You all know who is responsible for this condition. You all know that this convention should condemn it. And here is one more point I want to put before you and I want you to get this carefully. One of the men we tried, Worsman, has been pardoned. Here is a letter he sent out. I will not read it all.

(The caucus requests him to read it all.)

It is sent out to the press and to everyone. Here is a book that has the expressions before the court that all these men made and they stand on that as being proper.

"This letter says: 'The committee who sends you this letter are, for the most part, near relatives or close friends of young men now serving long terms in the disciplinary barracks at Fort Leavenworth because of loyalty of principle. Nearly all of them are your fellow workers and except for those in what we call the religious group,--trade unionists--the public knows little of their unhappy fate, even less than the other political or labor prisoners because they have been sent to prison by military court-martials and some have not even had the hostile publicity of a public trial in court.

"'The war is over; whether these men were right or wrong, they were utterly sincere. Even military prejudice has to concede that, and the sufferings they have unflinchingly borne prove it many times over, but the point for the country to get just now is that right or wrong, they cannot now have any adverse effect upon the military policy of the Government to keep them in prison.' Here is the dangerous thing--'We are trying to educate public opinion, and particularly labor opinion, to the point where it will demand the release of these brave and sincere young men. We say "labor," because we know when labor really demands a thing, it gets done.' There is the dangerous thing, gentlemen, the direct connecting up of the I.W.W., the so-called international socialists and anarchists who were tried, convicted, and later pardoned by our War Department,--the direct connecting up between that element and those like the fellow who was sentenced to prison and who is sending out this letter, and this great and dangerous Bolshevism that is creeping into this country and is, I am afraid, more dangerous than many of us realize. I want to see this caucus go on record--don't be afraid--as strong as you can against this fellow. The officers who served on those courts know what we had to endure. We had to treat them respectfully; we were obliged to do that. Let me tell you a few things, if you don't know them, about what happened in the guardhouse among those men. They would not do a thing; they wouldn't make their own beds. They wouldn't flush the toilets in the guardhouse, and some red-blooded American soldiers had to go and pull the chain for them. I say you can't send out a message to these people too strong in condemnation of this type and of the action of the War Department or whoever is responsible for the solace and the protection that has been thrown around the man who hid under the cloak of an act of Congress that was designed to take care of the conscientious objectors, and there is no conscientious objector under that act except a man whose religious creed forbade him to take part in the war in any way. I thank you." (Applause.)

THE CHAIRMAN: "Gentlemen, the question has been called. All those in favor of the motion as amended will vote 'aye.'"

The motion was unanimously carried.

The general comment at the time was that Major Foster's address summed up the opinion of the caucus on the War Department's action in regard to the objector, conscientious or otherwise.

The accusation that the Legion was being formed for political purposes has been frequently referred to in this account of the organization and there follows an instance which shows very clearly the attitude of the delegates toward anything that might tend to give to the caucus a political savor. Just after Major Foster's address the chairman held up his hand for silence.

"One moment before the next resolution is read," he said: "I am informed that one of the newspapers of St. Louis has circulated blanks among the delegates asking them to indicate thereon how they intend to vote in the next national election in this country. I would point out to those who are gathered here that this is a very improper suggestion and that the action should be repudiated by the men here filling out none of these blanks."

This statement was greeted both with anger and applause, the former at the paper's action, the latter because of the chair's suggestion, and Mr. Wickersham of New York made a motion that none of the blanks should be filled out and that no delegate should take part in such a poll. It carried unanimously and with acclamation. The blanks were not filled out and the men distributing them were ordered to leave the theater, which they did.

This is the nearest approach to a poll that took place at the St.

Louis Caucus so far as I am able to ascertain. In fact it would have been quite impossible to take a poll except in the theater and I have been assured by men sitting in widely different parts of the house that no such poll was taken. The delegates' living quarters were in widely scattered parts of St. Louis and it would have been impossible to have got any large number of them together to take a poll except during the meeting in the theater.

Despite this fact, despite the motion of Major Wickersham, and its passage by acclamation, reports were circulated after the caucus, to the effect that a poll had been taken and that it showed so many votes for this man and so many votes for that one. The effect of that statement, while not doing widespread damage, caused the Legion leaders a great deal of embarrassment and a great deal of effort to correct the false impression among those not present at St. Louis to the effect that the caucus had a political complexion.

Following the refusal to allow a poll to be taken, the secretary read the following resolution:

"WHEREAS certain aliens during the emergency of the war sought to evade military duty by reason of their status as aliens, and

"WHEREAS, such an act indicates a lack on the part of such aliens of the proper spirit of Americanism, therefore be it

"RESOLVED that this caucus assembled urge upon the Congress of the United States the adoption of such measures that may be necessary to bring about the immediate deportation from the United States for all time of these aliens."

This resolution covered a subject very near the heart of Sergeant Jack Sullivan, the vice-chairman. He was on his feet immediately saying:

"I agree with the gentleman from Massachusetts, Comrade Herbert, that this is not the time to urge upon Congress but to demand of Congress and I offer you, sir, this as a substitute resolution:

"WHEREAS, there was a law passed by the Congress of these United States, July, 1918, known as an amendment to the Selective Service Act giving persons within the draft age who had taken out first papers for American citizenship the privilege of turning in said first papers to their local exemption board and thereby becoming exempt from service,

"WHEREAS, thousands of men within draft age who had been in this country for many years and had signified their intention to become citizens, took advantage of this law and thereby became exempted from military service, or were discharged from military service by reason thereof, and have taken lucrative positions in the mills, shipyards, and factories, and

"WHEREAS, in this great World War for Democracy the rank and file of the best of our American manhood have suffered and sacrificed themselves in order to uphold the principles upon which this country was founded and for which they were willing to give up their life's blood, if necessary, to preserve, and

"WHEREAS we, the American Legion assembled are of the opinion that these would-be Americans who turned in their first papers to avoid service are in our opinion neither fish, flesh, nor fowl and if allowed to remain in this country would contaminate the 100% true American soldiers and sailors who will return to again engage in the gainful pursuits of life. Therefore, be it

"RESOLVED: That we, the American Legion in convention assembled in St.

Louis, this 8th, 9th, and 10th day of May, 1919, numbering millions of red-blooded Americans, do demand the Congress of these United States to immediately enact a law to send these aliens who withdrew their first papers and thereby avoided service, back to the country from whence they came, for we want them not, neither do we need them. The country which we live in and were ready and are now ready and willing to fight for is good enough for us and this country, which they live in and prospered in, yet were unwilling to fight for, is too damned good for them to remain in. Therefore, be it further

"RESOLVED, that a copy of these resolutions be sent to each and every member of the House and Senate of our United States and a copy be given to the public press."

"Respectfully presented "(Signed) Sgt. JACK SULLIVAN.

"Delegate from Seattle, State of Washington."

"I move you, sir, the adoption of this resolution."

"Now, gentlemen, I have a telegram from Seattle which I will read. It is addressed to Jack Sullivan, St. Louis.

"'Executive Board American Legion of Liberty authorizes you to advocate before the St. Louis Convention as part of the Americanization program, that the organization bring its influence to bear throughout the United States to secure enactment by Congress of laws making it possible to deport alien slackers who avoided military service by renouncing their citizenship and signing affidavits that they would return to the country from which they came. A bill providing for their deportation introduced by Senator Jones of Washington failed to pass the last session of Congress because the demand for its passage from the State of Washington was not backed up by other States. Demand upon senators and representatives from their own constituents that a law should be passed to deport these slackers would probably result in action by the special sessions of Congress of nearly three hundred aliens who escaped military service in Seattle by renouncing their right to become citizens. Twenty-seven per cent, were shown to be I.W.W.'s of the thousands who thus escaped military service. Throughout the country a large percentage are probably of the element which is seeking to undermine American institutions. They still remain despite their affidavits that they would leave the country and there is no existing law under which they can be deported.

The first move towards making this country one hundred per cent.

American should be the elimination of aliens who are opposed to our Government and institutions and who poison the minds of others by their teachings. Every senator and representative should be urged to back legislation for the elimination of this element and we hope that this work will be adopted by the convention as part of the national program.

"'(Signed) American Legion of Liberty, "'NORMAN E. COLES, _Secretary_.'"

When Sullivan finished reading, he began one of the most stirring addresses made before the convention:

"Now let's not be afraid to put the cards on the table and say to the Congress of the United States that we are not afraid to trample on the toes of the diplomats of these alleged neutral countries who do not want legislation of this kind to pass," Sullivan plead. "We have the interest of the man who donned the khaki and the blue and when the ships bring the boys from over there, they must take back these alien slackers. We would be derelict in our duty to the boys who gave their all when they went over the top; we would be untrue to ourselves and the institutions and principles for which we fought if we did not see to it that these people were sent back.

"I was born in the State of Massachusetts and I was taught that citizenship meant something. As a boy I went out West where I learned that American citizenship meant something to the people of the West.

"To-day we are here from all parts of the country. We are not from any section alone, because we are all Americans, This is an organization of Americans. This should be a country of Americans and if our citizenship means something, the swine who come from other countries should be taught that it means something like what McCrae said:

'"When from failing hands we throw the torch to you, Be yours to hold it high; If ye break faith with us who die, We shall not sleep though poppies grow in Flanders' field.'

"Let's make this unanimous and do it now and say to the boys in Siberia and France that we are going to see to it when they get back here that those damned alien slackers are not going to be here, or if they are, they are going to be on the dock at Hoboken to go back to their own countries because they don't belong here and we are not going to allow them to remain."

[Illustration: "Jack" Sullivan of Seattle First Vice-Chairman of the St. Louis Caucus]

[Illustration: Chaplain J.W. Inzer of Alabama]

Sullivan was seated amid prolonged cheering; it was his big slap at Bolshevism. When Colonel Lindsley restored order Colonel Ralph Cole of Ohio was recognized.

"The delegation from Ohio has authorized me to second this motion," he said. "This seems to be a unanimous caucus. There is harmony here. The most impressive fact in relation to this assembly is the militant spirit of Americanism that has been manifested. I chanced to be Assistant Adjutant of the 37th Division when the time came for the naturalization of aliens who were in the American Army. Thousands and thousands of young aliens came up and raised up their right hand and pledged fidelity to the American Constitution, and to fight for the supremacy of the American flag, but, there was a certain small element, a certain small percentage that refused to take the oath of allegiance and they appealed to the Constitution and their rights under the law and they were exempted from military service. And I say to you, gentlemen of this convention, any alien that will appeal to the law in order to avoid military duty has no right to the opportunity of peace in America." Here there was prolonged applause.

"There was an outbreak in the State of Ohio of Bolshevism a few days ago, but I want you gentlemen to know that it was put down. It was hit by the soldiers who returned from France, the rank and file of our boys.

Chapter end

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