Jane Addams et al. to Woodrow Wilson, April 16, 1917

Washington, D.C.
April 16, 1917.
The President of the United States,
The White House, Washington, D.C.

Dear Mr. President: --

We are deeply concerned lest America, having declared a state of war, should sacrifice certain safeguards fundamental to the life of her democracy.

Several bills are now before Congress, or may come before it, seeking to punish those who designedly use military information for the benefit of foreign governments.

With this purpose we, of course, are entirely sympathetic, but the administration of such laws, purposely made comprehensive, so as to include a wide range of possible offenders, may easily lend itself to the suppression of free speech, free assemblage, popular discussion and criticism.

We believe that you would deem it essential, perhaps more at this time than at any other, that the truth should not be withheld, or concealed from the American people whose interests after all are the most vital consideration.

Even by this time, we have seen evidence of the breaking down of immemorial rights and privileges. Halls have been refused for public discussion; meetings have been broken up; speakers have been arrested and censorship exercised, not to prevent the transmission of information to enemy countries, but to prevent the free discussion by American citizens of our own problems and policies. As we go on, the inevitable psychology of war will manifest itself with increasing danger, not only to individuals but to our cherished institutions. It is possible that the moral damage to our democracy in this war may become more serious than the physical or national losses incurred.

What we ask of you, Mr. President, whose utterances at this time must command the earnest attention of the country, is to make an impressive statement that will reach, not only the officials of the federal government scattered throughout the union, but the officials of the several states and of the cities, towns and villages of the country, reminding them of the peculiar obligation devolving upon all Americans in this war to uphold in every way our constitutional rights and liberties. This will give assurance that in attempting to administer war-time laws, the spirit of democracy will not be broken. Such a statement sent throughout the country would reinforce your declaration that this is a war for democracy and liberty. It is only because this matter seems of paramount public importance that we venture to bring it to you at this time for your attention.

Very sincerely yours,

Lillian D. Wald [signed]

Herbert Croly Matthew Hale Judge Ben [Lindsey]
Chas. J. Rhoades Chas. C. Burlingham O. G. Villard
Jane Addams Lillian D. Wald Amos R. E. Pinchot
Paul U. Kellogg Owen R. Lovejoy Mrs. Glendower Evans
Emily [Greene] Balch L. Hollingsworth Wood Dr. John L. Elliott
Max Eastman Norman M. Thomas [Alice] Lewisohn
Agnes B. Leach Rabbi Stephen S. Wise Prof. Henry R. Mussey
Mrs. Willard D. Straight