Joseph Hansen

How Attorney General Biddle Violated
Civil Liberties During World War II

(2 June 1945)

Source: The Militant, Vol. IX No. 22, 2 June 1945, p. 3.
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Attorney General Francis Biddle received high praise in liberal circles upon his departure from Truman’s cabinet. The New York daily PM, for instance, declared on May 24: “His administration of the Justice Dept. earned high commendation for his protection of civil liberties.”

The record shows that Biddle’s attitude toward civil liberties deserves the “high commendation” of Wall Street rather than of the labor movement.

One of the first acts of this “liberal’s” career was the prosecution of the 18 leaders of the Socialist Workers Party and Minneapolis Truckdrivers Local 544- CIO. The “crimes” of these working class leaders consisted of their revolutionary socialist ideas, their firm opposition to the imperialist war, and their militant defense of union democracy and labor’s living standards. Biddle organized the frameup which sent them to jail for terms of twelve to sixteen months under the iniquitous Smith “Gag” Act.

The prosecution and imprisonment of the 18 aroused widespread protest in the labor movement. Over 6 million organized workers rallied to their defense. The Minneapolis Labor Case has the same significance for labor’s rights in the Second World War as the imprisonment of the Socialist leader Eugene V. Debs had in the First World War. And Roosevelt’s Attorney-General Biddle has earned the same infamy as Wilson’s Attorney-General A. Mitchel! Palmer for his prosecution of honest and unbending working class leaders.

Persecuted Miners

Another conspiracy organized under Biddle’s administration was persecution of the miners. When the United Mine Workers attempted to win a wage increase to cover the rising cost of living, Biddle indicted and convicted 30 strikers by means of the Smith-Connally Act in 1943. In subsequent strikes he sent FBI agents into the coal fields, searching for violations of this vicious law. He publicly expressed regret that he could report no violations. The miners, remembering Biddle’s previous conspiracies, had been careful to avoid any provocations.

And Biddle has continued the deportation proceedings against Harry Bridges, Stalinist head of the San Francisco Longshoremen’s local.

Biddle’s handling of criminal monopolists was in sharp contrast to his persecution of figures of the labor movement. In a speech in Chicago, August 23, 1943, Biddle admitted that “Big Business frauds in this war are much bigger than they were in 1917 or 1918.” He revealed that 123 federal indictments had been filed with 1,279 investigations pending.

Biddle, however, did not throw these Wall Street profiteers into prison. Instead, when revelations about the trusts aroused great public indignation, he wrote Roosevelt (March 20, 1942): “Some .of the pending court investigations, suits and prosecutions under the anti-trust statutes by the Department of Justice, if continued, will interfere with the production of war materials ... In those cases we believe that continuing such prosecutions at this time will be contrary to the national interest and security.” Thus Biddle covered up the scandalous war profits and crimes of Wall Street.

Clark’s Record

Biddle’s successor, Tom C. Clark, represents the same class interests as previous Attorney Generals. But he does not claim to be a “liberal.” Even the “New Deal” press is forced to place a “question mark” over him, since he is backed by Senator Tom Connally, Sam Rayburn and other spokesmen of the most reactionary wing of the Democratic party. Clark is linked with the oil monopolists and can be expected to. sidetrack investigations of their bloated war profits. Business Week, journal of Wall Street, remarks approvingly in the May 26 issue that his appointment “may put a damper on the long-run program of vigorous enforcement” of anti-trust laws.

Clark’s role in violating civil liberties is just as bad as Biddle’s. While Biddle hounded the Minneapolis defendants, his Assistant Attorney – Clark – was busy on the West Coast persecuting American citizens of Japanese ancestry. Clark helped to carry out one of the most shameful violations of civil liberties in American history, herding tens of thousands of citizens into concentration camps because of the color of their skin and the accident of their ancestry.


Last updated on: 7 November 2018