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EVOLUTION OF THE CO. PROVISIONS IN THE 1940 CONSCRIPTION BILL By E. Raymond Wilson* Both sound morals and sound policy require that the State should not violate the conscience of the individual. All our history gives confirmation of the view that liberty of conscience has a moral and social value which makes it worthy of preservation at the hands of the State. . . . When one realizes the seriousness of their purpose and the power of their influence, he can have no illusion that the mere application of force to conscientious objectors will bring any solution to the problem. Attorney General Harlan F. Stone1 Representatives of the Mennonites, the Church of the Brethren, and the Society of Friends presented statements to President Roosevelt on February 12, 1937, and January 10, 1940, about their historic convictions on war. The letter left with the President on the 1940 visit, after commenting on the difficulties faced during World War I, included the following appeal: Since we understand that plans are now being formulated for mobilizing our manpower if war should come, and since the need for dealing with conscientious objectors would again emerge to confront Government agencies, we venture to suggest the advantage of advance discussion of the problem with the appropriate officials. We should appreciate the opportunity for such discussion and are prepared to make concrete proposals and types of service which might be provided. In this connection we also venture to suggest the desirability of again setting up a civilian agency for dealing with this problem . There is precedent for this in the action of President Wilson in 1918.2 Paul Comly French and E. Raymond Wilson were asked by *For many years E. Raymond Wilson was executive secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation, Washington, D.C. He has recently told the story of FGNL in his Uphill for Peace. Richmond, Ind. Friends United Press, 1975. 1.Harlan F. Stone, while dean of the Columbia University Law School, with Judge Mack of Chicago, made an official investigation of conscientious objectors for the Wilson administration during the First World War. Stone later became a Supreme Court Justice. This quotation is from an article dealing with this inquiry and is found in Paul Comly French, We Won't Murder, Hastings House, New York, 1940, pp. 138-9. 2.Swarthmore College Peace Collection (hereafter called S.C.P.C.) DG 47, Series F, Box 2, Folder, Historic Peace Churches Delegation to President Roosevelt, January 10, 1940. 4 QUAKER HISTORY the Friends General Conference in session at Cape May, New Jersey , to go to Washington when hearings opened on the BurkeWadsworth Bill (S. 4164, H.R. 10132) to impose military conscription in the United States. It had been introduced in the Senate on June 20, 1940 by Senator Edward R. Burke of Nebraska, and the next day in the House of Representatives by James W. Wadsworth of New York. The six main things which those of us working on the legislation tried to get accepted were: to base Conscientious Objector classification upon personal conviction rather than upon membership in a pacifist sect; to broaden the basis of conscientious objection beyond "religious training and belief" ; to grant complete exemption to the "absolutists"—those who were unwilling to register or give any cooperation with military conscription; to provide for a register for C.O.s; to place them under civilian rather than military control ; and to provide them with opportunities to do "work of national importance" as an alternative to military service. There was little discussion, as it unhappily turned out, on issues of pay, dependency, disability and death, service outside the United States, or the implications of "work of national importance," while the conscription bill was under consideration by Congress before its final approval and its coming into effect September 16, 1940. On July 10, 1940, Harold Evans testified before the House Military Affairs Committee in behalf of the Society of Friends in the Philadelphia area against establishing peace time conscription.3 Paul French presented the statement4 adopted the previous evening at Cape May: The Central Committee of Friends General Conference with headquarters at 1515 Cherry St., Philadelphia, Pa., in annual session at Cape May, N...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-1504
Print ISSN
0033-5053
Pages
pp. 3-15
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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