The American Protective League Badges

 The American Protective League Badges
RL 2010.018.1-2 These badges belonged to William M. Morgan, the Assistant Chief of the APL, Galveston Branch

The American Protective League (APL) was an organization formed at the height of WWI when anti-German sentiment was spreading quickly in the United States. This organization was created before the United States entered the war. The Department of Justice’s Bureau of Investigation (precursor to the Federal Bureau of Investigation) did not have enough manpower to ensure the security of the capital and the entire country. As such, Albert M. Briggs, a Chicago businessman, suggested designing a volunteer force to help monitor and investigate potential German agents. The group could help “enforce patriotism and stifle dissent.”

With the approval of President Wilson, the American Protective League was created on March 30, 1917. It was privately funded and established in Chicago; however, the headquarters were later moved to Washington, D.C. By the fall of 1917, there were over 250,000 members in over 600 cities, including Galveston.

The mission of the APL was to help identify suspected German sympathizers. The APL began recruiting volunteers for the group working under the auspices of the United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Investigation. This organization was semi-official and was directed by Attorney General Thomas Gregory to include this information on its letterhead.

 The American Protective League Badges
MS 83-0057, Box 19, Folder 5 Letterhead showing the presence of the required information "Organized with the Approval and Operating under the Direction of the United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Investigation"

While the APL was created in part as a response to the Espionage Act of 1917 that stated its purpose was to “stamp out perceived threats to the security of a nation at war,” it is important to note that these APL members were not authorized to carry weapons or to make arrests. However, members of the group felt they were under the Act’s protection and investigated anyone they thought was a threat, including draft evaders and Americans who disagreed with the current politics of the nation. Additionally, those associated with various labor, pacifist, and anarchist movements were often threatened and investigated. It wasn’t long before APL members were accused of being vigilantes, overstepping their bounds.

Members of the APL had the ability to purchase badges resembling the Secret Service, which led people to believe that the APL worked in conjunction with the Secret Service which was not the case. The Rosenberg Library Museum has two of these badges, used by William M. Morgan who served as the Assistant Chief of the American Protective League, Galveston Branch. The larger, silver badge says “American Protective League Secret Service 4868,” which demonstrates the confusing use of the words “Secret Service.” The smaller, gold badge includes Morgan’s title “Assistant Chief.” Both badges are topped with an eagle.

 The American Protective League Badges
MS 83-0057, Box 19, Folder 5 This letter sent to the Galveston Branch of the APL to close offices.

The APL officially disbanded in 1919 following the WWI Armistice, but local groups survived under different names. Information gathered by the APL and related local groups was still used years after the war.

Overall, opinions about the APL were, and remain, mixed: some Americans disagreed with the APL’s investigation tactics, while others felt that America was kept safe during the war because of the APL’s work. Regardless of opinion, APL’s short existence garnered rapid interest and had a lasting influence on American national security.

The Treasure of the Month is located on the 2nd floor of Rosenberg Library in the Grand Hallway. It can be viewed during regular library hours, 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM Monday, Friday, and Saturday and 9:00 AM - 8:00 PM Tuesday through Thursday. For museum questions, call 409.763.8854 Ext. 125 or email For press inquiries, contact the Communications Coordinator.

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