The American Civil Liberties Union and the Making of Modern Liberalism, 1930-1960

By Judy Kutulas

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Making of Modern Liberalism, 1930-1960

320 pp., 5.5 x 8.5, 2 tables, appends., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-1486-1
    Published: March 2014

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Founded by radicals in 1920, the American Civil Liberties Union experienced several key changes in its formative years. Judy Kutulas traces the history of the ACLU between 1930 and 1960, as the organization shifted from the fringe to the liberal mainstream of American society.

In alternating chapters, Kutulas explores operations at the national level and among the group's local branches. To gain mainstream credibility, the radicals at ACLU headquarters became more professional, began using court challenges rather than direct action, and carefully chose their battles to focus on national security as much as on the protection of dissent. Meanwhile, the group's affiliates, separated from the institutionalization of the national office, maintained the idealism of defending the rights of all individuals, no matter how unpalatable their beliefs and activities.

The shifts at the national level made the ACLU more government-friendly and less radical, but also, Kutulas argues, more timid and weak. Civil liberties activists in ACLU branches around the country ultimately pushed the organization to return to its radical roots in the 1960s. In an afterword, Kutulas addresses how post-9/11 America poses the familiar challenge of balancing national security and individual rights that came to the forefront in the early decades of the ACLU.

About the Author

Judy Kutulas is professor of history and American studies and director of women's studies at St. Olaf College. She is author of The Long War: The Intellectual People's Front and Anti-Stalinism, 1930-1940.
For more information about Judy Kutulas, visit the Author Page.


"Kutulas's judicious and insightful study extends the reader's understanding of the status of civil liberties and the politics of the World War II and Cold War eras. It offers a cautionary perspective that is particularly timely for post-9/11 America."--Historian

"An important contribution to the history of the development of a critical institution in American politics and American law."--American Communist History

"Must reading for anyone interested in the nation's most prominent civil liberties group. . . . Clearly organized and well written. . . . Highly recommended."--CHOICE

"An excellent story of the ACLU's development while realistically painting the organization's picture as a picture of struggle, endurance, and growth."--Canadian Journal of History

"Critically but sympathetically explores organizational intricacies and individual conflicts. . . . Joins the small body of essential works examining the ACLU and its relationship to the once dominant strand of thought in the United States."--Left History

"We have needed [this] book for a long time. . . . Kutulas brings the story alive with rich detail."--Register of the Kentucky Historical Society