Roger Nash Baldwin

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Roger Nash Baldwin (January 21, 1884 - August 26, 1981) was a co-founder of the ACLU and its first leader.

Early life

He was born and raised in Massachusetts, his parents were Lucy Cushing Nash and Frank Fenno Baldwin. He said that his "social work began in my mind in the Unitarian Church when I was ten or twelve years old, and I started to do things that I thought would help other people."[1]


During the era of World War 1, Baldwin was active with the American Union Against Militarism(AUAM).[2]

In the 1920 and 1930s Baldwin was sympathetic to the social goals and aspirations of the emerging communist nations. In 1934, he wrote that his position was "anti-capitalist and pro-revolutionary," adding:

I believe in non-violent methods of struggle as most effective in the long run for building up successful working class power. Where they cannot be followed or where they are not even permitted by the ruling class, obviously only violent tactics remain. I champion civil liberty as the best of the non-violent means of building the power on which workers rule must be based. If I aid the reactionaries to get free speech now and then, if I go outside the class struggle to fight against censorship, it is only because those liberties help to create a more hospitable atmosphere for working class liberties. The class struggle is the central conflict of the world; all others are incidental.

Proletarian Liberty in Practice

When that power of the working class is once achieved, as it has been only in the Soviet Union, I am for maintaining it by any means whatever. Dictatorship is the obvious means in a world of enemies at home and abroad. I dislike it in principle as dangerous to its own objects. But the Soviet Union has already created liberties far greater than exist elsewhere in the world. They are liberties that most closely affect the lives of the people—power in the trade unions, in peasant organizations, in the cultural life of nationalities, freedom of women in public and private life, and a tremendous development of education for adults and children...[3]

The following year, in the 1935 Harvard Class Book, in a feature entitled "Thirty Years Later," spotlighting Baldwin's class of 1905 on its thirtieth anniversary, he wrote:

I am for socialism, disarmament and ultimately for abolishing the state itself as an instrument of violence and compulsion. I seek the social ownership of property, the abolition of the propertied class and sole control by those who produce wealth. Communism is, of course, the goal.[4]

In 1947 General Douglas MacArthur arranged for Baldwin to serve as a civil liberties consultant in Japan.

Medal of Freedom

On January 16, 1981, President Jimmy Carter awarded Baldwin the Medal of Freedom.[5]


  1. Roger Baldwin, founder of the American Civil Liberties Union: a portrait, 6. 
  2. (vol. I-II) Revolutionary and subversive movements abroad and at home, Lusk Committee
  3. Roger Baldwin, "Freedom in the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R.," Soviet Russia Today 3 (September 1934), p. 11 (Italics in original)
  4. William H. McIlhany, The ACLU on Trial (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House, 1976) ISBN 0870003372, p. 134
  5. Presidential Medal of Freedom Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony.