Ben Salmon's present from the US Government arrived in the mail on December 25, 1917. The gift was the 15-page Questionnaire which began with "NOTICE TO REGISTRANT.-You are required by law to return this Questionnaire filled out in accordance with instructions contained herein within seven days from date of this notice. Failure to do so is a misdemeanor punishable by fine or imprisonment for one year and may result in the loss of valuable rights and in immediate induction into military service." Ben got on the Questionnaire mailing list by registering for the draft on June 5, 1917, as required by law. http://www.bensalmon.org/whats-new/the-debut-of-ben-salmons-conscience
The Questionnaire was mailed to all registrants to facilitate their classification into one of five classes. The classes were numbered "in the inverse order of their importance to the economic interests of the Nation, which include the maintenance of necessary industry and agriculture and the support of dependents." Thus, Class 1 consisted of men that were of little importance to the economic interests of the Nation and were the first called to military service. The World War I draft did not empty the Class 1 list so the other classes were not called. The questions determining which class a registrant was assigned to are on the first page of the Questionnaire, shown on the left.
Recall that Ben Salmon submitted his registration with a claim for exemption due to "Conscience" along with a letter to "His Excellency, Woodrow Wilson" stating that he would prefer prison or death before participating in war. Ben continued to speak out against the war in the intervening months and in October 1917 he published and widely distributed a pamphlet entitled "Killing the Wrong Men" in which he made a plea for peace. This pamphlet attracted the attention of the Bureau of Investigation (the predecessor to the FBI) and both the local Denver and national press. After meeting with the US District Attorney for Denver, who must have told Ben that advocating for peace while the US was at war was treason, Ben ceased distribution of the pamphlet. Though he stopped that pamphlet, Ben continued in his attempts to end the war by publishing "Tax the Rich to Pay for the War" in November 1917.
So it could not have been much of a surprise when Ben wrote the following letter to his local draft board on December 26, 1917, the day after he received the Questionnaire, stating he would not fill out the Questionnaire though his refusal would violate the law.
Denver, Colorado, Dec. 26, 1917.
Local Board for Division No. 1,
City of Denver, State of Colorado,
3607 West 32nd Ave.,
The government's Questionnaire was received by me
yesterday -- Christmas day -- the day we celebrated the birth
of Him who bade nations as well as individuals "Love one another."
"You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt
love thy neighbor, and hate thy enemy. But I say to you, Love
your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them
that persecute and calumniate you." St. Matthew, V-43,44.
You may inform the proper officials that I refuse to
answer the Questionnaire.
I am legitimately entitled to exemption: a wife and
mother to support. However, I will not use my dependents to
shield me from an institution against which my soul rebels.
War is incompatible with my conception of Christianity.
I positively refuse to aid organized murder, either directly or
indirectly. I must serve God first, and, in serving Him it were
impossible to be other than loyal to my country -- the world.
Ultimately, individuals and nations must awaken and
rally to Christ's Standard or perish. Meantime, I must stand
firm and trust in God.
Let those that believe in wholesale violation of the
commandment "Thou shalt not kill" make a profession of their
faith by joining the army of war. I am in the army of Peace,
and in this army I intend to live and die.
Very truly yours,
(Signed) Ben J. Salmon.
If Ben Salmon had filled out and returned the Questionnaire, having a dependent mother and wife would likely have placed him in Class 3 or 4 and he never would have been drafted. However, he specifically stated in the letter to the Draft Board that he didn't want to take the easy way out when the war and the draft were his soul. On December 26th he gave notice to the Board and to the government that he was going to fight to the finish in the "army of Peace" against the evils of conscription and war.
The seven-day countdown of the window in which to return the Questionnaire had begun when the Questionnaire was mailed and Ben patiently waited throughout the 1917-1918 holiday period for the Board to respond.
The next blog post will detail the Board's actions at the end of the countdown but I will throw in a bit of a spoiler here: Neither the Board nor the US Government acted on Ben's admonition that Jesus bade nations "Love one another." I'll admit that's not much of a spoiler, since the fact that the Nation is not acting out of love is fairly obvious given the US military installations and forces currently stationed in 150 countries around the world. A century later, Ben Salmon's words and witness are needed to remind nations and individuals of Jesus' commandment to "Love one another."
- Steve Smith