Emma Goldman, Address to the Jury, 1917

Emma Goldman

Political Activist

When the anarchist Emma Goldman arrived in New York from Russia with her sister, Helena, in 1885, she swooned at the sight of the Statue of Liberty. ‘Our spirits were high, our eyes filled with tears,’ she later remembered. Goldman’s patriotism for her adopted country took the form of a fiery activism. Magnetic and persuasive, she gave many lectures during her long life, rallying crowds around workers’ rights, free speech, free love and birth control (she was a mentor to Margaret Sanger, see here).

In 1917, after President Woodrow Wilson initiated the draft for the First World War, Goldman and her collaborator, Alexander Berkman, helped found the No-Conscription League, an anti-war society. That same year, their offices were raided and they were charged and convicted of conspiring to obstruct the draft under the Espionage Act. Goldman was sentenced to two years in prison, after which she was deported to Russia. She was never again allowed to settle in the United States.

In her address to the jury, Goldman offers an impassioned defence of the ‘conscientious objector’. ‘Is he really a shirker, a slacker, or a coward?’ she asked. ‘Remember that those who fought and bled for your liberties were in their time considered as being against the law, as dangerous disturbers and trouble-makers.’ She called the founding fathers ‘the Anarchists of their time’, and argued that new ideas are often outside the law: ‘Progress knows nothing of fixity. It cannot be pressed into a definite mould.’

Address to the Jury 1917

Gentlemen of the jury, we respect your patriotism…. But may there not be different kinds of patriotism as there are different kinds of liberty? I for one cannot believe that love of one’s country must needs consist in blindness to its social faults, to deafness to its social discords, of inarticulation to its social wrongs. Neither can I believe that the mere accident of birth in a certain country or the mere scrap of a citizen’s paper constitutes the love of country.

I know many people—I am one of them—who were not born here, nor have they applied for citizenship, and who yet love America with deeper passion and greater intensity than many natives whose patriotism manifests itself by pulling, kicking, and insulting those who do not rise when the national anthem is played. Our patriotism is that of the man who loves a woman with open eyes. He is enchanted by her beauty, yet he sees her faults. So we, too, who know America, love her beauty, her richness, her great possibilities … above all do we love the people that have produced her wealth, her artists who have created beauty, her great apostles who dream and work for liberty—but with the same passionate emotion we hate her superficiality, her cant, her corruption, her mad, unscrupulous worship at the altar of the Golden Calf.

We say that if America has entered the war to make the world safe for democracy, she must first make democracy safe in America. How else is the world to take America seriously, when democracy at home is daily being outraged, free speech suppressed, peaceable assemblies broken up by overbearing and brutal gangsters in uniform; when free press is curtailed and every independent opinion gagged…. We further say that a democracy conceived in the military servitude of the masses, in their economic enslavement, and nurtured in their tears and blood, is not democracy at all. It is despotism—the cumulative result of a chain of abuses which, according to that dangerous document, the Declaration of Independence, the people have the right to overthrow.