On May 31, 1917, U.S. District Attorney Fred Robertson issued warrants for the arrest of six Kansans charged with obstructing the operation of the draft law.  In Topeka, federal agents took tailor Ike Gilberg, physician Eva Harding, garage owner Fred Felten, and carpenter Ernest Newman into custody. University of Kansas Professor George Kleihege was arrested in Lawrence and store clerk Earl Browder in Olathe. Also caught in the federal net under warrants issued in Missouri were Federation for Democratic Control members Moore, Warneson and Harvey Kleinschmidt for their anti-conscription agitation in that state. Because of his association with the FDC, authorities transported Browder to Missouri to face legal proceedings. Several weeks later, new charges were brought against the Moores, Kleinschmidt and Browder for their role in the Topeka meeting.

U.S. Attorney Fred Robertson

The defendants stood accused of violating the 1917 Selective Service Draft Act and sections of the U.S. Penal Code by inducing others, who were under a duty to register for the draft, to disobey the law. Each faced a prison sentence of up to two years and/or a maximum fine of $10,000. Felten, the head of the Topeka Socialist Local, was charged with serving at the Secretary of the meeting and Newman with chairing it. Robertson charged Gilberg with authoring and arranging for the printing of the handbills advertising the meeting boldly calling for a protest against conscription and militarism and “Any Despotic Act imposed on us by National Legislation.” Dr. Harding allegedly distributed the handbills and advocated for the creation of an organization dedicated to opposing the war effort. Kleihege faced accusations that he had acquiesced to the views of the other conspirators by seconding their motions. Kleinschmidt came under suspicion for arriving early to help organize the meeting and for distributing seditious literature. Moore and Browder stood accused of stating their refusal to register for the draft and with Warneson of announcing their intent to challenge the conscription law and advise others to do the same.

Robertson confidently announced he had a “perfect case” against all charged. If they did not “come to their senses outside of prison,” Robertson warned, “they may get the chance to think it over on the inside.”   The federal prosecutor quickly singled out Harding and Gilberg as the ringleaders of the conspiracy.

Thomas Rosenblum has worked with Historic Hudson Valley, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Oklahoma Historical Society. For the past twenty-five years he has been with the National Park Service as a Curator and Historian and is currently on the staff of Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site.