Meeting of No-Conscription League
June 4, 1917 — Hunts Point Palace, New York City
Please be quiet; please be quiet. Friends and fellow workers. Friends, don’t you know that the soldiers came here to disturb the meeting? I ask you all to keep quiet, no matter what the soldiers do. I demand of you to keep absolutely quiet. Let them disturb the meeting. We are not going to disturb the meeting. Friends, workers, soldiers, detectives and police. I am going to speak to you all. I am surprised that the police here don’t stop the soldiers from breaking the lights. Friends, please don’t applaud, time is too precious. If the police don’t stop the soldiers from breaking the law is it because the police are afraid of the soldiers? I hope that they will preserve order. Now, friends, if this meeting would not take place at all, I think you should know that there are twenty thousand people outside waiting to get into this hall, to prove to you more than anything that we can say that the people of New York who think, don’t want war and don’t want conscription and don’t want militarism. At the same time we consider ourselves more consistent than those who believe in war and believe in militarism. We say that those who believe in war, believe in conscription and in militarism and should do their duty and fight. We have no objection against it but we refuse to be compelled to fight when we don’t believe in war and when we don’t believe in militarism and when we don’t believe in conscription. Now, why don’t we believe in war and in militarism? The good papers of this city have told you that because we are pro-German, we do not believe in war and we do not believe in militarism. That is an unbelievable lie. I am just as much opposed to the German Government as I am to the American Government — and why do I not believe in militarism? I will tell you why. When I was eight years of age my father had a government position, and every year compulsory military registration was required. The highest officials of Russia would come to our place, the heads, the representatives of militarism, and would there compel the youth of our land, the peasant boys to become soldiers. And at that time the mothers and the fathers of the whole community turned out in mourning and considered it a day of sorrow and of tears and of pain when their sons were taken away into the Army. It impressed itself with indelible power upon my mind and upon my conscience. Ten years later, when I came to America, I was told that this was the land of the free, that no man is compelled to be a soldier in America. I actually believed that this was the promised land, the land that rests upon freedom, upon opportunity, upon happiness, upon recognition of the importance and the value of the young generation. But since that day twenty seven years almost have passed, and I have come to the conclusion that when the law for conscription was passed in the United States the Funeral March of 500,000 American youths is going to be celebrated tomorrow, on Registration Day. I am opposed to Militarism because I have seen since my early childhood what it means to sacrifice a young man, who has hope and youth and a life of opportunity before him, on the altar of militarism. I, therefore, promised myself, even as a child, that as long as I lived, and as long as my voice carried, I shall cry out against compulsory militarism, against conscription. My friends, we are told that the people want war. If the people of America want war, if the people of New York City want conscription, how does it happen that this city is going to muster up not only the entire police department, but the National Guard and a body of parasites known as the Home Guards, who have nothing else to do? Now, my friends, I ask you why do you have to muster up your police, soldiers, Home Guard and National Guard to celebrate your Registration Day? If the people want war, why so much police, why so many soldiers to compel them to become soldiers? If the people want war, why not give them a chance to say that they do? If you want to sacrifice their sons upon the altar of militarism, why not give the people a chance to decide? Those in power knew that they could not put the people to a test; they were afraid to put the America people to a test, and that is why they imposed war upon them, and barely six weeks later imposed conscription upon them. Therefore, I as an Anarchist who became an American out of choice, protest. You patriots, you born Americans, you became Americans because you had to. You were dropped on this earth. I had no choice whatever, but I came to America out of my free will, and I, as an American out of choice, say that if you force people into militarism, if you force our young men into the Army, please ha ve the decency to say that you will Prussianize America in order to democratize Germany. You must realize that you will be making a laughing stock out of yourselves. Nobody believes you. Don’t you suppose that the fact that you are breaking up meetings and causing disturbances and locking up boys and girls and disturbing and harming people, don’t you suppose those things are known abroad? How much the Russian peasants and the workingmen must enjoy themselves when they hear of this wonderful democracy in the United States.
I understand, friends, that a meeting of Russian soldiers was stopped in this city tonight. I am glad of it. The Russian soldiers will go back to the Council of Workmen and Soldiers and they will tell them that when America says she is fighting for democracy she is telling the world a lie. She is not fighting for democracy. I say that those who sit in a glass house have no right to throw stones about them. Now, friends, I am here frankly and openly telling you that I will continue to work against Conscription. We are told that you have stenographers here to take down what we say, this is not the first time we are having stenographers at our meeting. And I have always said things that everybody can hear, and what is more important I want the police and the soldiers to hear what I have to say. It will do them good. They need education. Now, friends, if I do not tell you tonight not to register, it is not because I am afraid of the soldiers, or because I am afraid of the police. I have only one life to give, and if my life is to be given for an ideal, for the liberation of the people, soldiers, help yourselves. My friends, the only reason that prevents me telling you men of conscriptable age not to register is because I am an Anarchist, and I do not believe in force morally or otherwise to induce you to do anything that is against your conscience, and that is why I tell you to use your own judgment and rely upon your own conscience. It is the best guide in all the world. If that is a crime, if that is treason, I am willing to be shot. It is a wonderful death to die for your ideal, but I impress it upon the minds of patriots present, I impress it upon the minds of the police present, upon the minds of the soldiers present, that for every idealist they kill thousands will rise and they will not cease to rise until the same thing happens in America that has happened in Russia. Don’t you know, friends, that there was a time when Russian soldiers locked up every idealist and sent them to Siberia and to underground prisons and suppressed free speech and assembly and tortured them to death. Yet today the whole civilized world, including the United States Government, is trembling in its boots before The Council of Workmen and Soldiers who are standing for liberty. And, friends, young men, soldiers, I am not afraid. I am not afraid for all you can do is to take my life–you can never take my ideals. Neither the police nor the soldiers, nor the United States Government nor all the powers on earth will take my ideals. My ideals will live long after I am dead.
Now, friends, I come to something else far remote from what I have to say tonight, and which is unfortunately always my luck. The newspapers were good enough to say that all of our meetings are paid for by the German Kaiser. Of course, they know better. They know that if the German Kaiser paid for this meeting, we could have the largest hall in town and invite the police. They know perfectly well that we are not paid by the German Kaiser. No, friends, you workingmen and working women, who are here tonight, you have to pay for tonight’s meeting, not the German Kaiser. I am going to appeal to you, — because this meeting has to be paid for by your money, and in the second place, to demonstrate to the gentlemen of the press, present here tonight, to the soldiers and to the police, and to the detectives, that the money which you are going to give is hard earned American pennies, the amount of money your masters are good enough to give you in return for the amount of wealth which you are producing every day. And so, friends, I appeal to you tonight to give liberally, to give as much as you can, when the collectors go through to pay the expense of the meeting. We are very fortunate that we don’t have to pay for our protection. We get that perfectly free. We are very grateful that the soldiers are present tonight. It is the only time in our life and their lives that they have heard the truth, and I am glad they are here, and so friends, when the collectors pass, please give as generously and as liberally as you can, and give only if you are opposed to war, and if you are opposed to militarism and conscription. I shall then have a word or two to say after the collection is over.
Meanwhile I call the attention of you soldiers to the fact that if you wish to demonstrate that you believe in American Institutions you will behave yourselves like gentlemen, not like ruffians. Now, after the collection, I shall have a few closing remarks to make, and I am going to stand here until you are through with the collection. Friends, don’t please make a mistake. Don’t shout hurrah for Emma Goldman or Alexander Berkman, because they are mere incidents in the history of the world. It is better to shout hurrah for the principles of liberty. That is better than one Alexander Berkman or one Emma Goldman, or one hundred thousand Alexander Berkmans and Emma Goldmans. They will go, but the principle of freedom, the principle of self-possession, the principle of self-emancipation, the principle of social revolution will live.
Friends, the collectors can go on quietly and continue their work. Don’t forget friends, that the opposition to conscription only begins, it does not end tonight. Do not forget, also, that the work for Peace, for International Peace only begins. I know, friends, who are here tonight, that you will be glad to learn from the note just sent up that fully twenty thousand people are outside of the hall. Dear Friends, I congratulate the press of New York. The newspapers of New York have rendered our Anti Conscription work more service than a thousand Emma Goldmans could render. Of course, the press did not desire to have twenty thousand people at such a meeting. What the press wanted was merely to paralyze you into silence, to make you believe that you are going to be imprisoned for this and be shot on the spot. It is too bad that America cannot hang you and quarter you and shoo t you all at once, for the press would be in favor of that. These blood curdling articles that appear are only for the purpose of paralyzing you. They don’t know, the poor chaps, that if anyone has an ideal you can’t terrorize him no matter what you do. So I am personally grateful to you — to the press. I am grateful to the police for having sent out so numerous an army, grateful to the young soldiers who really mean no harm. They are innocent boys. They have never yet faced danger. They think it is going to be a picnic; they think they are going to enjoy themselves, poor young gentlemen. I wish you could go to war and have a picnic. I wish you could enjoy yourselves, and I wish you could carry on your war as if it were a frolic, or as if it were a baseball or football game, but you are mistaken, as war means an entirely different thing. We know that war means the annihilation of every fundamental principle of liberty. We know that centralized militarism means nothing else but the carnal brutality of man, blood-shed and conquest in its most abominable aspect. We tonight of the Anti-Conscription League raise our voices to the very sky to tell you that you may fight your battles, if you believe in the trenches, but you are representing a losing cause. You represent the past and we represent the future. The Conscription Law has been the means of awakening the people of America. Before the Conscription Law was passed the American people used to think, why, we have freedom, we can do whatever we please, we ca n go to war if we want to and stay away if we don’t want to. My friends, we are grateful to the Government for having passed the Conscription Bill for it will teach the American people that American Liberty has been buried and is dead and is a corpse, and that only our voice is going to raise it up and revive it again, until the American people and all the people living in America will unite in one great mass and will throw out capitalism and Government by militarism.
It was our intention to have a number of other speakers here tonight. They are all here. I don’t want you to think for a moment that anyone backed out, but we are not going to give the satisfaction to the patriots to break up this meeting. Therefore, friends, I want you to close this meeting with the singing of the International and to go out quietly. Your friends on the outside are waiting, and you will all raise one mighty voice that is going to drown militarism and government and capitalism.
Transcript by public shorthand reporter Charles Pickler, employed by the Stenographic Service Company of New York City, contracted by the No-Conscription League. Copy of original transcript housed at the Tamiment Library, New York University.
The transcript was seized by government authorities from the headquarters of the No-Conscription League on June 15, 1917, the day that Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman were arrested. Berkman’s and Goldman’s speeches at this event were introduced as Government’s Exhibit 33 in the June-July 1917 anti-conscription trial of Berkman and Goldman. For transcript of court examination of Charles Pickler see “Goldman & Berkman v. United States: Transcript of Record, 1917 Sept. 25,” pp. 163-67, 219-23 (Emma Goldman Papers microfilm, reel 59).