Roger Nash Baldwin

Roger Nash Baldwin

Roger Nash Baldwin was born in Wellesley, Massachusetts, on 21st January, 1884. After graduating from Harvard University in 1905, Baldwin taught sociology at Washington University in St. Louis (1906-09).

Baldwin was a pacifist and on the outbreak of the First World War joined with Abraham Muste, Norman Thomas, Scott Nearing and Oswald Garrison Villard to form the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR).

Soon after the outbreak of the First World War, Baldwin, Crystal Eastman, Jane Addams, Lillian Wald, Paul U. Kellogg and Oswald Garrison Villard established the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM). Wald became the AUAM's president and Eastman its executive director. Over the next couple of years the AUAM lobbied against America's possible involvement in the war. It also campaigned against conscription, the arms trade and American imperialism in Latin America and the Caribbean. Baldwin replaced Crystal Eastman as the AUAM's executive director in 1916. The following year Baldwin, Eastman and Norman Thomas established the National Civil Liberties Bureau (NCLB).

In 1918 Baldwin was imprisoned for his public support of conscientious objectors. While in prison he met fellow radicals, Agnes Smedley and Mollie Steimer. Smedley had charged with diseminating birth control information. Steiner had been imprisoned for circulating leaflets in opposition to United States intervention in the Russian Civil War.

After his release in 1919 Baldwin joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Baldwin later recalled: "I was a member of it for a very brief period in which I tried to earn an honest living with my hands. I was experimenting with manual labor, as a preparation, I thought, for a possible role in the labor movement. I lasted about four months. I came to the conclusion that I was better suited for something else. Clarence Darrow once said that it's a lot easier to be a friend of the working man than a working man. I found that out."

In 1920 he joined with Norman Thomas, Jane Addams, Chrystal Eastman, Clarence Darrow, John Dewey, Abraham Muste, Rex Stout, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Upton Sinclair to form the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Baldwin was appointed as the first director of the ACLU and over the next thirty five years was involved in the campaign against the Palmer Raids, the Espionage Act, the Tennessee Anti-Evolution Law, Jim Crow, McCarthyism and Racial Segregation.

Roger Nash Baldwin died on 26th August, 1981.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Statement issued by the Roger Baldwin, Crystal Eastman and Norman Thomas for the Civil Liberties Bureau (2nd July 1917)

It is the tendency even of the most 'democratic' of governments embarked upon the most 'idealistic of wars' to sacrifice everything for complete military efficiency. To combat this tendency where it threatens free speech, free press, freedom of assembly and freedom of conscience - the essentials of liberty and the heritage of all past wars worth fighting - that is the first function of the AUAM today. To maintain something over here that will be worth coming back to when the weary war is over.

(2) Agnes Smedley, letter to Florence Lennon (1st April 1924)

Roger Baldwin was here and I was often with him as he investigated organizations here. It was like meeting a brother I loved, and he awoke in my heart the bitter need of having friends like him whom I instinctively understand and who understand me. When he left I lay awake all night trying to reconsider my life so surrounded by public work and thought but so lonely personally. You might think that I fell in love with him - but I didn't. He showed me - well, I don't know if these were individual emotions or racial or national understanding. He showed me, without knowing it, the gulf between me and the Indians. I wrote him so. He says he thinks that it is our particular relationship. Perhaps he is right. With most Americans I feel a deeper gulf still. But even with Americans whom I regard as enemies of the human race, I instinctively know just where I can hit them the hardest. But with the Indians I don't know where to touch them the most deeply.

(3) Roger Baldwin, speech (18th September, 1974)

Jim Cannon and I had some other contacts and interests in common. Both of us went to jail. I was in jail during the First World War as a conscientious objector. Jim was in jail later, as you all know.

We also had a common experience in an American revolutionary organization of many years ago, the IWW. He was a member of it before he came to New York. I was a member of it for a very brief period in which I tried to earn an honest living with my hands. I was experimenting with manual labor, as a preparation, I thought, for a possible role in the labor movement.

I lasted about four months. I came to the conclusion that I was better suited for something else. Clarence Darrow once said that it's a lot easier to be a friend of the working man than a working man. I found that out.

What we're celebrating here tonight is really the life not only of a comrade of yours, not only of a leader in the American radical movement, not only a man who was faithful to the principles for which I too stand-the principles of freedom and equality and justice in American life - but a man who was faithful also to a belief in the future.

The one thing that characterizes all of us here tonight is that we all have faith and hope for a world in which some of the ideals, some of the goals for which we stand, will at last be realized.

This is not a discouraging age. It is an age in which a great future will open up with the ending of all world wars, with the end of empires, and with the emergence as we have begun to see it today all over the world, of those who have been suppressed and those who have been denied the equality of race, religion, and sex, and those who have been denied their national freedom and their civil rights.

We see just the beginnings of the order for which so many have fought, so many have yearned for ages. And I'm sure that what Jim Cannon stood for, what you here tonight stand for, in this party and in this assembly, represents the beginning of the kind of hope, the kind of faith, to which so many have given their lives.