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18 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Sprawling, Wonderful History of ACLU, Warts and All, February 4, 2001
Ricky Hunter (New York City, NY United States) - See all my reviews
Samuel Walker has created a wonderful book on the history of the ACLU, In Defense of American Liberties, that is a must for anyone concerned with the history of freedom of speech and the men and women who fought for them in America. This book shows the development from fringe to mainstream of the ideas shared by a group of people in the 1910's. The book is by no means hagiography as the darker moments of the ACLU are presented with clarity, such as their hounding and forcing out of Communist members simply for their beliefs. It is both very informative and truly entertaining. A wonderful book that demonstrates the importance the ACLU has had in the twentienth century shaping political ideas.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A History of Why Americans Have Civil Liberties, February 12, 2010
Samuel Walker wrote IN DEFENSE OF AMERICAN LIBERTIES which is a good history of the ACLU which was started in 1920. Walker's book is an honest assessment of the ACLU including both the ACLU's successes and failures.Those who cherish their civil liberties will have a better appreciation of the work of the ACLU and those civil libertarians who demanded their rights via The Bill of Rights.

Walker started this book by citing incidents of mob violence during the 19th. century. There were vigilante mobs who attacked those who were "different." Walker cited attacks on Catholics in an 1856 attack in Chaleston, SC led by "pillars of the community." As bad as these mob attacks were, they were sporadic and not sanctioned by the U.S. government as a matter of policy.

According to Walker that changed with the entry of the U.S. into W.W. I. U.S. government officials "deputized" vigilante groups who conducted slacker raids against those who were not drafted or expressed dissent.Such high-handed violence was actually sanctioned by both state and federal government officials. Mr. Walker could have asked why those who conducted the slacker raids were not in the military themselves.

An interesting anecdote concerned Roger Baldwin who helped found the ACLU. He resisted the draft, produced himself in court, and admitted what he did. Judge Julius Meyer stated he appreciated Baldwin's class, manners, and courage. The judge politely scolded Baldwin, but also told Baldwin that what was considered wrong in one historical era could be considered right and honorable later. Baldwin did well the short time he was in prison where he "converted" fellow prisoners and befriended the warden who was Irish and did not like the fact that U.S. forces were assisting the British.

In dealing with political oppression during and immediately after W.W. I, ACLU spokesmen clearly stated that democracy and individual rights were NOT the same thing. In other
words, magoritarian tyranny could suppress individual rights. For example, some of the dissenters who opposed U.S. entry into W.W. I were literally placed in concentration camps without formal charge and without due process often with public approval.

Given this background, Some conscientious Americans actually believed that U.S. citizens should be free people and that the U.S. was actually a free country. The ACLU tried to assist Duquesne, Pennsylvania steel workers' rights to assemble in meeting halls. When Al Smith was governor of New York, he vetoed many stupid state laws. One of Pres. Harding's first official acts was to pardon Eugene Debs from a federal prison in Atlanta, Georgia. Debs was convicted for exercising his First Amendment rights in opposing U.S. entry into W.W. I. As an aside, Debs' critics went to Europe and discovered that Debs was right after all. They were gracious upon their return to apologize to Debs and admit he was right.

During the early 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan did well in the U.S. They exhibited political clout not only in the South but in Northern states as well. They had considerable influence in state legislatures and were able to get legislation passed against Catholics. Readers should know the Klansmen were not only opposed to blacks, but they were opposed to Catholics and Jews. The anti-Catholic attitude was so bad that public school teachers in Akron, Ohio were fired simply because they were Catholic. The ACLU tried with little success to stop this unfairness. However, in 1925, the ACLU helped to overturn an Oregon law which outlawed Catholic schools (THE SOCIETY OF SISTERS... vs PIERCE). In 1925, the ACLU and their lead attorney Clarence Darrow (1857-1938)defended John T. Scopes in Dayton, Tennessee whereby Scopes' conviciton for teaching evolution was overturned.

A crucial U.S. Surpeme case titled GITLOW vs. NEW YORK also occured in 1925. Gitlow was tried and convicted for publishing socialist books and pamphlets in violation of a stupid New York State law. The U.S. Surprme Court justices upheld Gitlow's conviciton, but Chief Justice Sanford agreed with Gitlow that the 14th. Amendment did indeed apply The Bill of Rights to the states. Gitlow lost his appeal, but the civil libertarians won the war. The "incorporation doctrine" meant that oppressive state laws could be challenged in federal courts. During the 1930s, this doctrine helped overturn other oppressive state laws especially in Georgia, Minnesota, and Louisiana.

These cases were followed by more successes in the 1940s. For example the U.S. Surpeme Court upheld the right of union members to PEACEFULLY picket employers. In the late 1930s, the Jehovah Witnesses (JWs) were permitted to do missionary work unless folks did not want to be bothered. The Jehovah Witnesses won a major U.S. Supreme Court case in 1943 titled THE WEST VIRGINIA STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION vs. BARNETTE. This case dealt with JWs refusal to participate in compulatory flag salutes and the Pledge Alligence based on Exodus 20:3-5. To the surprise of many the U.S. Supreme Court Justices rule 7-2 in favor of the JWs. One of the most articulate opionions this reviewer ever read was Justice Jackson's splendid opinion re this case.

During the 1940s, the ACLU was involved in many cases re actions and laws via U.S. entry into W.W. II. The most obvious cases were those of Americans of Japanese Ancestry (the AJAs) who were ordered into detention camps without charge or due process. The ACLU and other civil libertarians may have won these cases had not U.S. military authorities not acted in bad faith by concealing their own reports that the AJAs posed no security threat whatsover. Even J. Edgar Hoover admitted that. A good question is to ask if the government thought the AJAs were such a threat,then why did U.S. military recruit these men into the military where they did valuable intelligence work at great risk. Even General Mac Arthur boasted of their effectiveness and courage. In fact, these men were proportionally the highest decorated units during W.W. II.

The later sections of the book examined the Cold War hysteria whereby U.S. Senate and House members made wild accusations against U.S. citizens to testify without due process or bona fide charges. The ACLU finally won a U.S. Supreme case whereby U.S. citizens could not be subpoened to testify just because of political affiliation. The ACLU finally successfully chaallenged loyalty oaths( 1968). What is interesting is that the ACLU chided a Seattle, WA radio staion for trying to keep "Tail Gunner" Joseph Mc Carthy from access.

Walker further wrote about court cases re freedom of religion. Probably the best known case was titled VITALE vs. NEW YORK (1962) which ended compulsory prayer and Bible reading in public schools. Another series of cases involved civil rights. The ACLU successfully challenged school authorities for dismissing students for peaceful demonstrations. When the NY TIMES was sued for minor erros of reporting, the U.S. Supremem Court justices overturned the verdict. Supreme Court Justice Brennan stated that public debate should be "...robust, uninhibited and wide open"-1964.

The 1960s were an active time for the ACLU re opposition to the Vietnam War. In 1968, the ACLU and Dr. Spock & co. made a shambles out of the federal prosecution that Spock engaged in criminal conspriacy for opposing the draft. The fact that Spock & co. openly opposed the draft in public, shot the hell out of the governments' case. A conspiracy must involve a secret plot to commit a criminal act. Publicly exercising Free Speech and Free Press as provided by the First Amendment is hardly a conspiracy.

Other cases that dealt with personl privacy which the ACLU handled included the case titled GRISWALD vs. CONNECTICUT wherby a Connecticut physician was convicted for providing family planning in violation of a stupid Connecticut law. Walker should have slso incluced a 1967 case titled LOVE vs. VIRGINIA whereby a Virginia couple were arrested and convicted for a mixed race marriage.

The ACLU battles continued into the 1970s when the Nixon Administration tried to use prior restraint and censorship of the PENTAGON PAPERS which Nixon & co. lost on June 30, 1971. The legal battles of the 1980s continued re Freedom of Relgion and Secular Humanism whatever that is. The ACLU helped Hortensia Allende make a public speech re the death of her husband in Chile when he was assassinated by the CIA.

Sameul Walker did not exclude what he considered bad ACLU deicisions. For example, he critisized the ACLU expelling Elizabeth Gurley for allegedly being a communist. He commented on the serious divisions within the ACLU re the Executive Order # 9066 (1942) which forced AJAs into detention camps without charge or due process.

Sameul Walker's book was well done. His book is important now especially when there are potential threats to civil liberties via the Patriot Act. When the former Attorney General John Ashcrot announced on the floor of Congress that U.S. citizens could be sent to prison camps for questioning the Bush Adm. and the wars in Western Asia, Americans should take notice. What is sad is that according to some polls, over the half of the U.S. population do not even know that there is a Bill of Rights. This book should be carefully examined by anyone who values his/her civil liberties.

James E. Egolf
Fabruary 12, 2010
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent General History, June 13, 2013
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The book offers an excellent review of the ACLU by sharing the complexities of themes and development of the organization. this book keeps focused on the main organization though it touches on significant developments in regional CLUs also. The range of the history goes from the very beginnings to 1990. The book deals with the complexities of issues, the complexities of dialog within the ACLU, and the compromises that political realities have forced upon the ACLU. The organization is not monolithic, a most important insight to gain from this book for critics and supporters alike. The book is also well indexed to continue being a good resource.
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In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU
In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU by Samuel Walker (Hardcover - January 18, 1990)
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