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Rights and Stolen Rights


An interesting pair of stories about rights appeared in the Fargo Forum at this time in 1944. The first was about a newly passed bill that offered American soldiers benefits beyond their monthly pay—the GI Bill of Rights.

The U.S. Senate passed the new bill on June 13th, with the Associated Press reporting, “American Doughboys fighting in France and on other battlefields around the world were virtually assured Monday of a financial life when they return home.”

The GI Bill promised veterans unemployment compensation of $20 a week if they couldn’t find work upon returning from war. It also provided for a job placement bureau to help them find work and also promised “any necessary hospitalization through the veterans’ administration. The bill also guaranteed $500 toward a year’s worth of schooling, laboratory fees, books and other expenses, plus $50 a month for living expenses, and $25 for dependents. Another portion of the bill provided for loans to veterans who wanted to start businesses or buy farms or homes.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court was considering a case in which a man was losing his rights. Carl Wilhelm Baumgartner, a naturalized German immigrant from Kansas City, Missouri, had his citizenship revoked for speaking his mind about the war in Europe.

Baumgartner became a naturalized citizen back in 1932. Unfortunately, as Hitler rose to power, people of German background often found themselves increasingly unpopular in the Heartland. As World War II heated up, many German-Americans—and Japanese-Americans—suddenly found themselves in big trouble. In Baumgartner’s case, he was branded an enemy alien and sent to a North Dakota prison camp.

The Justice Department charged Baumgartner’s pledge of allegiance to America was false, because he criticized some of America’s actions during the buildup to war. Seen as disloyal, he was stripped of his citizenship by the Western Missouri Federal District Court in 1942—ten years after gaining his citizenship. The Eighth Federal Circuit Court upheld the order, and Baumgartner was imprisoned in the internment camp at Ft. Lincoln, near Bismarck.

At this time in 1944, the U.S. Supreme Court saw it differently, citing the First Amendment. “The evidence in the record before us is not sufficiently compelling to require that we penalize a naturalized citizen for the expression of silly or even sinister-sounding views. . .,” they said.

Mr. Baumgartner’s citizenship was reinstated; he was released from Ft. Lincoln and allowed to go home.

Source: The Fargo Forum. June 13 and 14, 1944.

Baumgartner Case Already Decided By U.S. Supreme Court (editorial). North Country Gazette. NY: 23 May 2006.

by Merry Helm