Ohio History Journal

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The Herbert Bigelow Case:

A Test of Free Speech in Wartime





On October 28, 1917, Cincinnati minister, the Reverend Herbert Bigelow was kid-

napped in Newport, Kentucky, shortly before he was to address a Socialist antiwar

meeting there. He was forced into a waiting automobile and driven across the county

line into Kenton County where he was severely beaten. After being turned loose by

the vigilantes, Bigelow made his way to a nearby house and was taken back across

the Ohio River to Cincinnati's Christ Hospital. At the hospital a local reporter ob-

served the marks of the whipping that had been administered to the minister and

photographs were taken.1

This incident was one of many violent acts of repression that were inflicted upon

those who opposed or questioned American participation in World War I. Socialists,

members of the Industrial Workers of the World, pacifists, and individuals of German

origin suffered physical injury and were denied their Constitutional rights. Little

toleration was shown for pacifists who criticized the war, even if their pacifism was

accompanied by moderate political views. A recent study of American pacifism

notes that "pacifists were, in fact, the target of prosecution because of their opposition

to conscription and their association with political radicals. They promised not to

obstruct the war effort, but their skeptical neutralism was itself a crime. Pacifists

found that their meetings were broken up; their friends were harassed, run out of

town and imprisoned; their literature was withheld from the mails; their headquarters

raided; and the president they trusted kept his own peace."2

There was, however, a special significance to the attack upon Bigelow. Herbert

Seely Bigelow was a leading progressive; his credentials as a reformer were impressive.

Along with prominent single-taxer Daniel Kiefer, Bigelow was a leader of the liberal

Democrats who had fought the Boss Cox machine in Cincinnati and also participated

actively in progressive affairs on the state level. He was a political ally of such reform

leaders as Toledo's mayor Brand Whitlock and the Cleveland progressives Tom

Johnson and Newton D. Baker. In 1911 Bigelow had been among the speakers at a


1. See excerpt from Herbert Bigelow's account at end of article. See also Cincinnati Enquirer,

October 30, 1917, for a similar account.

2. Charles Chatfield, "World War I and the Liberal Pacifist in the United States," American

Historical Review, LXXV (1970), 1934. See also William Preston, Jr., Aliens and Dissenters:

Federal Suppression of Radicals, 1903-1933 (New York, 1963); Horace C. Peterson and Gilbert

C. Fite, Opponents of War, 1917-1918 (Madison, 1957).


Mr. Shapiro is Associate Professor of History, University of Cincinnati.