IN DEFENSE OF AMERICAN LIBERTIES: A History of the ACLU by Walker Samuel


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A comprehensive and excellent history of the American Civil Liberties Union from its founding in 1920. Although currently a member of the national ACLU board and partisan to the historic causes of the organization, Walker (Criminal Justice/Univ. of Nebraska Popular Justice, 1980) largely succeeds in contributing a balanced and objective account. Beginning with the free-speech fight during the mass patriotic hysteria of WW I, the ACLU has fought countless battles to define and give full scope to the abstract freedoms that Americans enjoy in the Bill of Rights. From 1920 to the 1950's, led by its magnetic founder, Rogert Baldwin, the ACLU defended individual freedoms against the state in such controversies as the 1920's Scopes ""Monkey"" Trial, the 1930's rights-of-labor struggles, the 1940's Japanese internment, and the 1950's Communist witch-hunts. Although nonpartisan, the ACLU became identified with the embattled left during this period. However, in 1940, Baldwin and anti-Communist liberals sensed that the organization's strength and effectiveness could be maintained only by passing a nontotalitarian resolution and forbidding membership to known Communists. Board member Helen Gurley Flynn was given what Walker terms ""a heresy trial"" and forced to resign the ACLU. In the author's opinion, this ""purge"" was the low point of the organization's history (although Flynn was posthumously reinstated in 1976). From 1954 to 1974, the ACLU registered widespread gains with consistent backing from the Warren Court, and with the civil-rights movement and the emergence and recognition of new civil liberties like abortion and other expanded privacy rights. Nonetheless, the old ACLU saying, ""No battle, after all, stays won,"" applied during the 1980's, when the Reagan Administration launched a full attack that put the ACLU on the defensive, struggling to hold its gains. An absorbing account, right down to the last dramatic chapters. And it is somehow fitting that this book celebrating the ACLU's 70th anniversary again finds the organization in controversial battle--now, over abortion.

Pub Date: Jan. 19th, 1989
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press