Sentinels of the Republic

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Williams offers a Sentinels of the Republic Advanced Study Prize: "From a fund established in 1944 by the Sentinels of the Republic, this prize designates an unusually gifted senior as the Sentinels of the Republic Scholar, who receives a substantial stipend to cover costs associated with a year-long advanced research project in American politics under the direction of the Political Science faculty." Williams is the only school to offer an award named for the Sentinels of the Republic. Where does this group come from, and why such a prize?

The founding principles of the group are "To maintain the fundamental principles of the American Constitution. To oppose further Federal encroachment upon the reserved rights of the States. To stop the growth of socialism. To prevent the concentration of power in Washington through the multiplication of administrative bureaus under a perverted interpretation of the general welfare clause. To help preserve a free republican form of Government in the United States." (NYT, 8/20/1922) Its primary activities involved the opposition to expansions of the federal government, such as the creation of the Department of Education, and to the New Deal.

However, there is also another side to the group, or so it would appear. George Seldes, the muckracking journalist of the 1940's, called the Sentinels "the anti-Semitic enemy of child labor laws" (Seldes, 183) and "the anti-Semitic wing of the first really important American Fascist movement." (Seldes, 154) During a 1936 US Senate investigation into lobbying, the committee discovered a correspondence between a member and the Sentinels president in which the latter "declared [that] the 'Jewish threat' to the United States was a 'real one' and added that 'I am doing what I can as an officer of the Sentinels." (NYT 4/18/1936). The former replied that "the 'old-line Americans of $1200 a year want a Hitler'." (Ibid) However, "[Sentinels President Alexander] Lincoln later denounced all forms of autocratic government, "whether they be communism, bolshevism, fascism, or Hitlerism" and the commander-in-chief of the Jewish War Veterans wrote to Lincoln that after investigation his organization had concluded that Lincoln did not "entertain any antipathy against the Jewish people or any racial minority" but the harm had been done to the [Liberty] League by the attitudes and association suggested by the Black [Senate] investigation. (Wolfskill 233) Although the incident itself may have been a minor chapter in the history of the organization, it was its largest source of press coverage and seems to be the only source for historians' vitriolic accusations of anti-Semitism.

In 1944, the Sentinels dissolved, their primary political objectives having become relatively obsolete and their membership base having diminished. They donated all of the money remaining in the treasury exclusively to Williams College for the purposes of the endowed prizes. Additionally, they donated significant primary documents (brochures, newsletters, minutes) to the College archives, where they currently reside. Over the years, the nature and requirements of the fellowship have gradually broadened into their current forms, but the Sentinels' name has remained in the title, as stipulated in the original contract.

Sources:

Seldes, George. One Thousand Americans. New York: Boni & Gaer, 1947.

Wolfskill, George. The Revolt of the Conservatives: A History of the American Liberty League, 1934-1940. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962.

Special to the New York Times. "Says Smith Spoke For Liberty League to Remove Taint" New York Times. (April 18, 1936):1.

Special to the New York Times. “Sentinels of the Republic” New York Times. (August 20, 1922): 26.