Memo from the Friends of Conscientious Objectors




Memo from the Friends of Conscientious Objectors






Swarthmore College Peace Collection


Swarthmore College Peace Collection


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August 30, 1919

This is a short resume of events leading up to the situation described in the following letter. All of the remaining conscientious objectors in the United States, some 200 in number, were confined in the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks, Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, until the early part of July, when about 60 were transferred to Alcatraz Prison, San Francisco, and the rest to Ft. Douglas, Utah. Here they were treated fairly tolerable; were not molested by officers or privates, and as the sentences of a good many of them had been reduced to one year, they confidently expected their early release. The sudden and unwarranted change in conditions, this resumption of brutal coercion came as an unexpected blow to these men, their relations and friends.

We urge all persons interested in the cause of the conscientious objectors to immediately and strenuously protest by telegram or letter to Pres. Wilson, Hon. Newton D. Baker, Secretary of War, Col. Byram, Commander, U.S. Disciplinary Barracks, Ft. Douglas, Utah; also to their respective Senators and Congressmen. Bring the information contained herein to the attention of prominent and influential individuals and groups.



[Extracts from letter sent from Fort Douglas Utah]

August 20th, 1919

It is very obvious that Washington has reverted to the old policy of coercion. We are now facing a father strange situation. I will explain various incidents which preceded conditions here. The first intimation of the change was several weeks ago, when Captain Price, the Assistant Executive Officer, asked Le__ and Me. if they would be willing to do some pick and shovel work. They refused. On August 7th Coloner [sic] Byram, Commandant, said to Sn. "You have been sentenced to hard labor" -- meaning the entire group -- "Would you men do road work? It is necessary and has to be done. You must do something to support yourselves." Sn. replied, "We do not ask you to support us. Open the gates so that we may go out, and we will support ourselves." Col.: "Do you know that we can try you and sentence you over and over again if you do not work?" Sn.: Go right ahead, Colonel, it's all the same to me."

Aug. 11th. Col. Graham spoke to Le., who is marshal here. In this capacity he acts as intermediary between the military and our group. He inquired about the conduct of Wm. Bt. Le. told him Bt. has always co-operated in every way to have things run along smoothly. So far as the work inside the compound s concerned, Bt. does more than his share. In the afternoon of the same day Col. Graham called Bt. Col.: - "What is your attitude toward the government?" Bt. - "What do you mean?" Col.: - "Regarding work." Bt. - "I'll not work in prison." Col.: (Very much excited, in a gruff tone of voice) "You are not a C.O. You are a slacker and a coward."

Aug. 12th. Colonel Graham called up Cl, Sg., Sr., Gg., My., and Sa. He said, "I'm glad that you men have now changed your mind and are ready to work. My. "Col., there must be some mistake. I, for once, never consented to work." The col. tried to persuade him, and Cl. said Sg. who always worked at Leavenworth, agreed to work here. The Col. told Sa. if he would work he would be released. Finally Sa. expressed his willingness to work and was released the following day. [underlined] The fact is, that Sa. was not actually put to work. Apparently, what is wanted here, is not work but a repudiation of our stand. Those who are willing to renounce the principle, even at the eleventh hour, will be released. Those who do not, stay. [end of underlining].

Aug. 14th. Col. Graham called Br., who is a shoemaker by trade. The col. asked him to go the [sic] the 'Q.M. (Br.'s sentence expires Aug. 20th, without loss of good time). Br. refused. Col: "You'll work, or stay here fifty years. You men are organizing not to work." Br.: "I do not expect clemency from this government. The British Embassy will get me out" (He is a British subject) Col: "What do we care about the British Embassy?" Br.: "As a rule, this government follows the dictates of England." The following was overheard by Bk., Bl., and Ce., who were in the executive office at the time. A conversation between Col. Graham and Sergt. Wiggins. Col: (Holding a paper, which was a request for shoes) "This man wants shoes. They refuse to work. If they won't repair shoes, let them go barefoot. Under no circumstances give shoes." A good many of us have to go barefoot.

Aug. 17th. (Sunday) Gt., whose sentence expired August 18th, without loss of good time, was called before Col. Graham. Col: "Would you be willing to work, providing you would be released tomorrow? Gt. "It is a matter of principle with me. I'll never work, even if I have to forfeit my freedom. Col.: "That is just exactly what you'll do. You'll serve your full term here." Gt. is still here.


“Memo from the Friends of Conscientious Objectors,” Conscientious Objection & the Great War: 1914-1920, accessed January 21, 2019,

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