Document 4: American Civil Liberties Union, The Conviction of Mrs. Kate Richards O'Hare and Dakota Politics (New York: National Civil Liberties Bureau, 1918). Microfiche (Pamphlets in History, Civil Liberties, CL 8).


       This pamplet, published by the National Civil LIberties Bureau, detailed the political back-story in Bowman, North Dakota. Local Non-Partisan League members had recently come into power at the time O'Hare lectured, and J. E. James of the ousted faction sought to usurp the postmaster position for himself by making accusations against the current postmistress, Mrs. Totten, who had attended O'Hare's lecture and hosted her for lunch. When the accusations against Totten failed, Justice Department officials, who had long been watching the O'Hares, seized the opportunity and charged Kate Richards O'Hare with "having likened the American mothers of drafted sons to 'brood sows,' and having stated that the young men who were drafted were 'only fit for fertilizer.'" The excerpts from Judge Martin J. Wade's lengthy court address during O'Hare's sentencing reflected the heightened wartime patriotism O'Hare and her fellow socialists faced. O'Hare's sentence of five years in prison was meant as a warning to other activists critical of the United States's involvement in the war.

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The Conviction of Mrs.
Kate Richards O'Hare
and North Dakota Politics


MRS. KATE RICHARDS O'HARE, former International Secretary of the Socialist Party for the U. S., well known here and abroad as a writer and lecturer on labor and socialism, was sentenced to five years in prison by Federal District Judge M. J. Wade at Bismarck, North Dakota, on December 8, 1917, for violation of the Espionage Act. The conviction is pending on appeal to the U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and is set for hearing May 27. This case involves issues of national significance,--both political and legal.


Published by the
70 Fifth Avenue, New York City
Washington office: 647 Munsey Bldg.

March, 1918


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The Political Background

       In Bowman County, N. D., a bitter feud has been waged between two factions of the Democratic Party--the so-called "stand-pat" faction and the Non-partisan League faction. The Non-partisan League is the radical progressive farmers' organization which has overwhelmingly beaten the old political parties in recent elections throughout North Dakota. The standpatters have been under the leadership of James E. Phelan,--a wealthy banker and land owner, and the non-partisan leaguers under the leadership of County Judge Edward P. Totten. Mrs. Totten, wife of Judge Totten has been postmistress at Bowman, the office being the choicest political plum in the county, paying $1900 per year. A certain person named J. E. James--a protégé of Mr. Phelan's,--has aspired to oust Mrs. Totten and secure the position.

       Mrs. O'Hare last summer was on a transcontinental lecture trip, and had delivered her lecture 76 times from Birmingham, Alabama, through the south and west before arriving in North Dakota. At each meeting representatives of the Department of Justice were present and the address was taken down in shorthand by them several times. The lecture dealt with the social and industrial effects of the war.

       Mrs. O'Hare spoke at Bowman, N. D., July 17, 1917. The lecture was attended largely by Non-partisan Leaguers. The next day she was invited to Mrs. Totten's house to discuss a college institution at Mrs. O'Hare's Florida Home. This visit was observed by the Phelan clique, and a long telegram was at once sent to Senator McCumber at Washington who delivered on the floor of the Senate a vitriolic denunciation of Mrs. Totten, demanding that the Post-office Department remove her because she was a "traitor," having applauded Mrs. O'Hare's address. Mrs. O'Hare was charged with having likened the American mothers of drafted sons to "brood sows," and having stated that
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the young men who were drafted were "only fit for fertilizer". The Associated Press transmitted the Senator's speech to all parts of the country.

The Indictment

       Phelan and his candidate, James, appeared before the federal grand jury, and it is stated, attempted to secure an indictment against Mrs. Totten, but failed. But on their information the Grand Jury indicted Mrs. O'Hare. The indictment charged her with having wilfully obstructed the enlistment service of the United States by stating in a public speech in Bowman that "any person who enlisted in the army of the U. S. for service in France would be used for fertilizer, and that is all he was good for, and that the women of the U. S. were nothing more nor less than brood-sows to raise children to get into the army and be made into fertilizer."

The Arrest and Trial

       She was arrested July 29th at Devil's Lake, N. D., and arraigned before Federal Judge Amidon at Fargo, July 30th. Her bail was set at $1000.00. She was tried at Bismarck, N. D., on December 5th, before Judge M. J. Wade. Judge Amidon who was to have presided at the term of court had been replaced through a writ of prejudice secured in another case. The change was made so late that Mrs. O'Hare's attorney could not have her case transferred from Judge Wade's court.

       Of the five witnesses for the prosecution one was James, who aspires to Mrs. Totten's job, one was Dr. Whittemore, whose drugstore is said to be mortgaged to Phelan, two were men in close business relation to Phelan, and one woman was the wife of a business associate of Phelan's.

       Out of the audience of 135 persons only two, both political adherents of Phelan's, could be found to swear that Mrs. O'Hare used the language ascribed to her. Judge Wade permitted three persons who were not at the meeting to testify for the prosecution. Mrs. O'Hare's twelve witnesses were all present at the meeting. The court refused to permit four of her witnesses to testify at all.

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The Verdict

       After a four day trial the jury brought in a verdict of guilty. In handing down the sentence of FIVE YEARS in the Missouri Penitentiary, Judge Wade quoted, among other documents, to justify his severity, a letter from the St. Louis office of the Department of Justice stating--"We have been unable to obtain anything specific on her that would be a violation . . . . . Nothing would please this office more than to hear that she got LIFE."

What Mrs. O'Hare Had Said

       Her speech which had been written, memorized and delivered scores of times, used this language--evidently the distorted basis of the indictment,--

       "When the governments of Europe and the clergy of Europe, demanded of the women of the warring countries that they give themselves, in marriage or out, in order that the men might "breed before they die"--that was not a crime of maddened passion--it was the crime of cold-blooded, brutal selfishness--and by that crime the women of Europe were reduced to the status of breeding animals on a stock farm".

And further,--

       "Our enemies tell you that we Socialists are hindering enlistment. This is not true! Please understand me now, and do not misquote what I say, 'If any young man feels that it is his duty to enlist, then with all my heart I say: Go! and God Bless you!' His blood may enrich the soil of France, but that may be for the best."

Mrs. O'Hare's Address

       The addresses of both Mrs. O'Hare and the Judge are remarkable for the clearness with which the opposing views were brought out. The issues of the case are perhaps best revealed by the following quotations.

Mrs. O'Hare said before sentence was passed on her:--

       "As your honor knows, I am a professional woman, following the profession of delivering lectures whereby I hope to induce my hearers to study the philosophy of socialism.
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In the regular course of my profession and work I delivered during this year lectures all over the United States, or practically all over. I delivered this lecture in North Carolina when the draft riots were at their height; I delivered it in Globe, Ariz., to 10,000 people, two or three days following the deportations from Bisbee, and on the day when the strike vote was taken when excitement ran high and when passions were having their sway; I delivered it in San Francisco during the Mooney case; and the same thing was true in Portland, Idaho, and in the northwestern lumber regions during the great I. W. W. excitement; and at all of these lectures conditions were as tense as conditions could be.

The Secret Service Men at the Meetings

       "The men who were in the employ of the United States in the department of justice were present at my meetings. These men are trained, highly efficient and highly paid detectors of crime and criminals. In all these months when my lecture was under the scrutiny of this kind of men there was no suggestion at any time that there was anything in the lecture that was objectionable, that was treasonable, that was seditious. It was the custom at my meetings to send complimentary tickets to the district attorney and the marshal and deputy marshals of the district, in order that they might hear the lecture and attend the meeting. This plan was followed practically everywhere that I spoke.

The Speech at Bowman

       ["]And then, in the course of the trip, I landed at Bowman, a little, sordid, wind-blown, sun-blistered, frost-scarred town on the plains of western Dakota. There was nothing unusual in my visit to Bowman, except the fact that it was unusual to make a town of this size. The reason I did was because there was one man whose loyalty and faithfulness and unselfish service to the cause to which I had given my life, wanted me to come, and I felt he had a right to demand my services. I arrived in the town, delivered my lecture just as I had delivered it many, many times before.

       "But when I arrived at Bowman and had delivered my lecture, and spent the next day in resting before the continuation of the trip, I found that there were peculiar con-
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ditions existing in Bowman. They are common to the whole state of North Dakota. It is known to your honor and everyone who has part in this trial, that in the State of North Dakota, in the last year and a half, the greatest and most revolutionary social phenomenon that has occurred since the foundation of this government has taken place.

The Farmers' Revolution in North Dakota

       ["]The story is one that is so well known I need spend little time on it. Here to these wind-blown, frost-scarred plains came men hard of face and feature and muscle, who subdued this desert and made it bloom and produce the bread to feed the world; and these men toiling in the desperate struggle with adverse conditions and with nature, gradually had it forced on their minds that in some way they were not receiving a just return for the labor expended; that after their wheat was raised and garnered, in the processes of marketing, men who toiled not and suffered none of the hardships of production, were robbing them of the product of their labor; and these farmers, smarting under that chaotic condition, came to the town of Bismarck. . . .

       "They felt that the politicians, the men who held the offices in this state, the men they elected to office, were not serving them, but that they were using their offices and power to assist in the robbery and exploitation of the farmers of this state. So they appealed to the legislature, and then there came that marvelous thing that had such a wonderful effect in this state--an insult, a sneer from the lips of the politicians who believed themselves firm and secure in power, and that sneer, that insult, that told the farmers to go home and slop the hogs the while the politicians ran the state, had the effect of cementing the farmers in this state into a great revolutionary organization, and that organization went out and swept the whole state, and carried out of power the men who had been in power, and put in power the men chosen by the farmers of this state.

       "This had occurred in Bowman county, as it had all over the state of North Dakota. The old order had been deposed. The new order had been enforced, and naturally as always follows, the appointive offices that are called the spoils of
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political warfare, were taken from the adherents of the old order and given to the adherents of the new order.

The P. O. Job at Bowman

       ["]I think, so far as I can judge, the fattest, juiciest, most desirable plum in Bowman county was the postoffice. This was taken from the man that had held it and given to the wife of the leader of the new order. This naturally created bitterness, hatred and venom in such marked degree as I have seen in all my experience.

       "When I arrived in Bowman for my lecture it chanced that it was the adherents of the new order that attended, paid for the tickets, appreciated it, approved it, and applauded it, as they stated on the stand. And among the adherents of the new order that attended was the postmistress, and she did the things that the others did. . . .

       "And then the real thing in this case came out, and that was the contest over the postoffice.

       "There was a certain hungry office seeker in Bowman. He was the principal witness for the prosecution. He made the statement on the stand that he was a farmer, but he has never tilled the soil. He has always been a political hanger-on, a camp-follower of the old political order. Separated from any political job, he became lean and hungry, and looked with a hungry eye on the postoffice.

       "The deposed boss of the old order was perfectly willing that the hungry office seeker might have the postoffice if only the present incumbent could be eliminated; and when the postmistress attended the lecture, and the next day invited me to her home as her guest, there grew up in the minds of the deposed boss and the hungry office seeker the hope that I might be made the lever whereby the postmistress could be separated from her job, and the hungry office seeker find an opportunity to live without labor.

The Real Crime

       "I am not going to spend any of your valuable time rehearsing the trial, except to say that to my mind it is absolutely impossible that under any legal rule or thought a
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human being can be tried for a thing that he never did, and that there is no charge that he ever did, but only that he might have an intention of doing.

       "But, your Honor, all through this trial, all through the questions of the district attorney, all through his appeal to the jury, as the ever-recurring motive in this little drama of life, there ran the charge of a crime, a crime of which I was accused. And this crime is not a new one. It is as old as the human race. It is not peculiar to me. It is universal as life itself.

       "This crime that was charged by interference in the trial was the same charge that was brought against the first slave rebellion, against the first serf revolt. It was the charge that was brought against Moses and Spartacus, Watt Tyler and Cromwell, George Washington and Patrick Henry, William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips, and it was the same crime that was charged against Jesus of Nazareth when he stood at the judgment bar of Pontius Pilate.

       "The crime is this: "She stirred up the people." And, your honor, if by inference I can be charged with that crime, and tried for it, then, your honor, at this point I plead guilty of that crime, if that is a crime. For twenty years I have done nothing but stir up the people. . . .

The Real Issue

       "There is no doubt that in this hour of travail, and sorrow, and bloodshed and misery that marks the labor that is ushering in a new order, there is but one thing that should occupy our minds, and that is this: What, at this time, at this hour of our country's peril and travail, will be the greatest good to the greatest number of people? And this, I believe, your honor, is the question that you are to decide. You are to decide whether at this hour it will be better for the people of the United States that I shall be convicted, not of a crime charged in the indictment, but convicted of having an intent in my heart that never found expression, and on conviction of having an intent in which I never gave action, I shall be sentenced to prison. Will this be a matter of the greatest good to the greatest number? . . .

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       "Ah! They are willing to admit I am dangerous to some things in the United States, and I thank God that I am. I am dangerous to the invisible government of the United States; I am dangerous to the special privileges of the United States; I am dangerous to the white slaver and to the saloonkeeper, and I thank God that at this hour I am dangerous to the war profiteers of this country who rob the people on the one hand, and rob and debase the government on the other; and then with their pockets and wallets stuffed with the filthy, bloodstained profits of war, wrap the sacred folds of the Stars and Stripes about them and shout their blatant hypocrisy to the world.

       "You can convince the people that I am dangerous to these men; but no jury and no judge can convince them that I am a dangerous woman to the best interests of the United States. And at this hour will my conviction, will my incarceration behind the bars of a prison have the tendency to cement and hold together the great mass of people in this nation, or will it have the tendency to create hatred and bitterness, and arouse suspicion, and make these people who know me, and who cannot be brought to doubt me, feel that this whole case is nothing but an attempt on the part of the war profiteers to eliminate and get out of the way a woman that is dangerous to them?

Her Attitude to the Court

       ["]And understand this, your honor, if you, this afternoon, decide that I am to serve a prison term, I want you to know, and I want the district attorney to know, and I want these men who sat on the jury to know that I will go out of this court room to meet whatever you mete out to me with no bitterness in my heart, with no hate in my soul, but with nothing but the greatest feeling of comradeship and friendship and appreciation for what you men have done, because I believe that you have done the thing that you thought was your duty to do.

       ["]So, now, your honor, I am ready to accept judgment, knowing full well that no matter what becomes of me, no matter what becomes of you, or what your action may be, that this great world tragedy is achieving the thing to which I have given my life, and that is it is bringing in the
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great co-operative United States of the world built on cooperation instead of competition; a world where greed, and vice, and avarice have been replaced by brotherhood, and justice and humanity. And your honor, since all my life has been given to that ideal of bringing about that new order, and sharing in that time, if this war is to do that thing, then, your honor, I can feel at this time that I can retire, perhaps, and rest. So, your honor, if you decide at this hour that in the service of your country, in the service of the people of this country, I should be sent to prison, then I go, knowing that the onward march of progress will still keep on, and eventually my aim, my goal, and my ideal will be achieved. And knowing this, your honor, I can face the court. I can face prison, I can face any sentence that you can give, serene and calm and unafraid."

Judge Wade's Address

       Judge Wade's address (before passing sentence) "the longest ever made from the bench in North Dakota," went exhaustively into Mrs. O'Hare's past record, her articles in "Social Revolution" (which had its second-class privileges withdrawn by the P. O. Dept.), her advocacy of the majority report at the St. Louis Convention of the Socialist Party where she acted as chairman of the Resolutions Committee, and her publication of an anti-war play in 1914.

       His general attitude toward the character of Mrs. O'Hare's activities as he interpreted them is expressed as follows:

On Socialism

       "Well, I tell you, if that is the sort of stuff the socialist party stands for, if its gospel is the gospel of hate, and contempt of religion and charity, it has not any place on the American soil either in times of war or times of peace. The worst poison you can instill in the hearts of men is a conscientious feeling that they are being deprived of their just earnings, or their just deserts by some invisible power, and the whole theory of the socialist and that type of people at the present hour is that capitalism is the sole instrument that has brought this war, and, as in the statement of Debs in the paper of which she is part editor, the banker is pictured as exempt from war.

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       ["]I would not go so fully into these things at this time if it were not for the remarkable presentation by the defendant of her cause. When I say that she believes these things I am speaking it earnestly. I do not think she is a hypocrite in regard to her belief as to this capitalistic domination. But the trouble about it is that there is no foundation for it. It is an aberration. . . .

On Reformers

       "This is a grave matter. I say we need reformers in this country. We need men to go out and preach the gospel of the glory and power of these United States, and the right of every man to his share in the glory and power and justice of the United States; and we need reformers to go out and point out to them where they can benefit themselves by having a law enacted here, and there, but we have no room for reformers that cannot go out and preach reform, based upon the constitution of the United States. We have no room for reformers who, in order to exploit their reforms must first drive out of the hearts of men and women every sentiment of pride and exaltation, and make them feel like abject slaves. We have not any room for that sort of reformers. It is time that men and women should be giving careful consideration to these things. . . .

On Patriotism

       "These are times that try men's souls--we must have patience and courage and loyalty and faith and confidence and patriotism. And what is patriotism? The highest form of patriotism is willing submission to lawful constituted authority. And where does lawful authority exist in this country? In the people of this nation. But as men differ as to policies, the majority must control; the minority must yield to the voice of the majority. This is the only way in which a republic may exist and endure. And how do the people express themselves in this country? Through their agents selected to speak for them, the members of congress and the members of the senate and the president of the United States. . . .

On the War

       "The American people are not going to stand idly by and see these boys that are marching away to the front, shot
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in the back by cowards and traitors. This nation is willing to fight the enemy in front--she is willing to fight the assassins of the air, the pirates of the sea, the masters of the most brutal and diabolical savagery which the world ever saw--this nation is willing to fight all this, but she will not consent to be stabbed in the back, and would-be assassins might as well realize that they must sheath their knives or submit to extermination. . . .

On Free Speech

       "This is a nation of free speech; but this is a time of sacrifice, when mothers are sacrificing their sons, when all men and women who are not at heart traitors are sacrificing their time and their hard earned money in defence of the flag. Is it too much to ask that for the time being men shall suppress any desire which they may have to utter words which may tend to weaken the spirit, or destroy the faith or confidence of the people. . . .

A Warning to Others

       "Every person sentenced by a court must not only serve to expiate his own wrong, but he must serve as a warning to others. For these reasons the judgment of the court is that you, Kate Richards O'Hare, shall serve a period of five years in the federal prison at Jefferson City, Mo., and pay the costs of this suit."


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