* war and social upheaval: World War I biographies -- Thomas Watt Gregory

World War I: Biographies--Thomas Watt Gregory (1861-1933)

Figure 1.--This is Cornelia, daughter of Attorney General Thomas Watt Gregory. The phitograph was dated in Auguyst 1918. Gregory along with Postmaster General Albert S. Burleson conducted a campaign of what is surely the greatest violation of civil liberties in American history. Together they oversaw a pervasive campaign against thoise who opposed Amrtican participation in World War I.

Thomas Watt Gregory (1861 - 1933) was an American politician and lawyer. He like President Wilson was a social progressive. He spoke passionately about progrssive issues. Then as now, progressives had a long list of political and social objectives -- free speech and civil liberties was not one of them. Gregory was active in Democratic Party politics and was close to Col. Edward House, Wison's closest advisor. The President chose Gregory as his attorney general. Attorney General (AJ) Gregory severed throughout most of the 8 years of the Wilson administration (1914-19). There was massive opposition to entering World War I. There were various reasons for opposing the War, but the primary opposition vame fron the Pacifist Movemnent. The 1916 election campaign was closely fought. President Wilson was probably relected because he kept the United States out of World War I (1916). After reelection, the President moved to seek a negotiated end to World War I. He presured the British and French who were dependent on American financing. The Germans in contrast were determined to seek a military sollution . Thr result was an American declartion of war (1917). There was, however, no Pearl Harbor. There was still considerable opposition to the War. And Presudent Wilson was not preoared to tilerate further debate and discussion in the public fora. AJ Gregory cooperated with Postmaster General Albert S. Burleson to conduct a campaign to crush any domestic dissent to the war effort. Gregory helped draft Espionage and Sedition Acts which directly attacked constitutional guarantees of speech and press freedom. Gregory helped secure Congressional approval. In addition to the legal authority provided by the Acts, Geegory encouraged patently illegal surveillance avtibity by the American Protective League. He oversaw the procecution of more than 2,000 war critics. The nmost famnous was Sociulist Eugene B. Dbbs. Gregory would brag, 'It is safe to say that never in its history has this country been so thoroughly policed.' [Peterson and Fite, p. 20.] Gregory's actions were supported by a cimpoliant Suporeme Court. His supressioin of duscent has nit attractyed a great deal of historical attention. Rather historians have focussed much more on his sucessor, A. Mitchell Palmer who oversaw the Justice Department of Justice (DOJ) actions during the Red Scare--The Palmer Raids targetting mostky immigrants (1919-20). It is unclear to is why more historical attention has been given to Palmer and relatively little to Gregory. It is notable, however, that the greatest violations of individual coinstitutiinal rights occurred during the Progressive Era-- and this does not includde the Progressive support for eugenics. During a trip to New York to confer with President-elect Franklin Roosevelt, Gregory contracted pneumonia and died (1933)..


Peterson, H. C. and Gilbert C. Fite (1957). Opponents of War, 1917-1918 (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1957). .


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Created: 6:35 AM 6/16/2020
Last updated: 6:36 AM 6/16/2020