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The "Hindu Conspiracy": A Reassessment

Joan M. Jensen

The Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 48, No. 1. (Feb., 1979), pp. 65-83.

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Sun Feb 24 04:05:04 2008
The "Hindu Conspiracy":
A Reassessment
Joan M. Jensen

The author is a member of the history department in New

Mexico State University.

D u n m c WORLDWAR I, United States officials at the diplo-

matic level took little interest in India. American policy toward
India was slow to develop and did so primarily in response to
British concern over the activities of Indian nationalists in the
United States. Central to that policy was the prosecution of East
Indian nationalists for conspiracy to violate the neutrality laws
of the United States. In April 1918,a San Francisco federal jury
found twenty-nine defendants guilty of conspiring to violate
the neutrality law prohibiting military expeditions against
countries with which the United States was at peace. These men
were convicted for activities that formed the basis of what
British and United States officials called the "Hindu con-
spiracy." This paper demonstrates that United States officials
halted the activities of the most militant nationalists by using
the conspiracy statute to expand the definition of those activi-
ties which could be prosecuted under the neutrality laws.
At the trial, the United States attorney presented the first
historical interpretation of the "Hindu conspiracy." According
to this interpretation, the activities of the militant East Indian
nationalists were a reprehensible but relatively ineffectual
response to British rule. East Indians had participated in an
insidious conspiracy which "permeated and encircled the whole
globe" and was directed by the Germans against the United
States as well as the British Empire. Documentation in the
massive court record, together with numerous newspaper

Pac$c Historical Review @ 1979, by the Pacific Coast Branch,

American Historical Association
articles about the trial, East Indian publications, and a number
of popular spy accounts, formed the basis for the histori-
ography of the "Hindu conspiracy" for almost half a century.l
As new archival sources in India became available in the late
1950s and early 1960s, a second interpretation of the "Hindu
conspiracy" began to undermine the older ~ e r s i o nWhile
.~ still
accepting the activities of East Indians as a conspiracy, scholars
began to question whether those activities were reprehensible,
ineffectual, or inherently anti-American. These scholars looked
at the activities in the United States in a positive light and
considered them preliminary steps in India's struggle for
freedom. Arun Coomer Bose, for example, saw the early East
Indian actions as a prelude to national self-determinati~n.~
This new evaluation of the significance of American-based
efforts to achieve Indian independence led eventually to a third
interpretation. The next step focused on government activities
and on those of the East Indians and asked how British and
American officials responded to the Indian movement. In a
1971 article based on British documents, Don Dignan at-
tempted to answer this question from the British side. Using
diplomatic correspondence between British Ambassador Sir
Cecil Spring-Rice and the British Foreign Office, Dignan
demonstrated the great concern of British officials about the
Indian revolutionary movement in the United States. More

'Giles T. Brown, "The Hindu Conspiracy, 1914- 1917," Pacijc HktoricalReview, XVII
(1948), 299-310; Giles T. Brown, "The Hindu Conspiracy" (M.A. thesis, University of
California, Berkeley, 1941); Mark Naidis, "Propaganda of the Gadar Party," Pacijc
Historical R&, XX (1951), 251-260. Popular spy accounts were Earl E. Sperry,
Gennun Plots and I n h i p s in the United States during the Period of Our Neutrality (Washing-
ton, D.C.: Committee on Public Information, Red, White, and Blue Series, No. 10,July
1918); J. P. Jones and P. M. H. Hollister, The G m n Semet Snvice in America (Toronto,
1918); and T. J. Tunney (as told to P. M. H. Hollister), Throttled (Boston, 1919).
'John W. Spellman, "The International Extensions of Political Conspiracy as
Illustrated by the Ghadr Party," Journal oflndian History, XXXVII (1959), 23-45; R. C.
Majumdar, Histoy of the Freedom Movement in Indie (3 vols., Calcutta, 1963); and Kalyan
Kumar Banerjee, "The Indo-German Conspiracy: Beginning of the E n d and "The
Gadar Movement and the Hand of Germany," Modern Review, CXVIII (1965), 112-
119, 381-386; and other articles in ibid., CXVI (1964), 27-30, 335-361, CXVII
(1965), 97-101, CXIX (1966), 26-30, CXXI (1967), 99-107.
'Arun Coomer Bose, "Indian Nationalist Agitators in the U.S.A. and Canada till the
Arrival of Har Dayal in 1911," Joumal of Indian Histmy, XLIII (1965), 227-239; and
Bose, Indian RevolutionariesAbroad, 1905-1922 (Patna, 1971 ) ; and L. P. Mathur, Indian
Revolutionary Movement in the United States of America (Delhi, 1970).
Hindu Conspiracy 67

recently, Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones has used American State

Department records to argue that the purpose of the San
Francisco trial was to discredit the revolutionaries and was
"the occasion of an attempt to justify retrospectively the admin-
istration's harassment of a nationalist group at a time when
the United States was going to war to further the cause of
T h e following account analyzes still further the reaction of
British and American officials to East Indian political activities.
Canadian and American Justice Department documents show
how British officials translated their concern into pressure on
the American government to arrest political activists. Justice
Department officials responded by using the conceptual frame-
work of conspiracy as an ideological and legal weapon against
the East Indians. The term "Hindu conspiracy" became part of
the government attempt to discredit Indian revolutionaries.
Hindu was a common term of opprobrium in early twentieth-
century America and used to identify all East Indians regard-
less of their religion. Conspiracy, likewise, was a negative term
which confused ideological and legal issues. By designating
East Indian revolutionary activities as a conspiracy and then by
applying the conspiracy statute to them, government officials
were able to arrest legally the men and justify the interruption
of their political activities as an enforcement of the neutrality
T h e conspiracy statute, then Section 37 of the penal code,
prohibited conspiracy to violate a federal law. Only two neu-
trality laws applied to the activities of persons within the United
States. One law, Section 10, prohibited the enlistment of men to
fight in a foreign army at war against a nation with which the
United States was at peace. The second, Section 13, prohibited
the organization of a military expedition against such a nation.
For simplicity, this paper refers to these statutes as the recruit-
ing law and the military expedition law.
T h e Justice Department used only the military expedition

'Don K. Dignan, "The Hindu Conspiracy in Anglo-American Relations During

World War I," Pacy'ic Historical Reviev, XL (1971), 57-77; Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones,
A e a n Espionage (New York, 1977), 112.
law against the East Indian activists. This tactic may at first
appear strange since one of the important points made in the
trial was that German money was given to the Indian Ghadar
Party to help Indians return to India. Evidence showing that
large numbers of men did return was offered as documenta-
tion of conspiracy. There were apparently two reasons why the
recruiting law could not be used effectively by the Justice
Department. First, Indian leaders did not actually recruit and
organize in a strict military sense. They simply urged the men
to return to India and loaned money to those who needed it.
Second, the Justice Department probably did not use this
statute because the British had earlier insisted on a very narrow
definition of recruiting. The choice, therefore, was Section 13,
the law against military expeditions.
By 1917 the United States had a long history of prosecutions
under the 1794 military expedition law. During the nineteenth
century the government had prosecuted Irish Fenian revolu-
tionaries and Cuban insurrectos, and after 1910, Mexican insur-
rectos as well. Such trials were generally not popular in the
United States and the government had great difficulty in
obtaining convictions, particularly against the Cuban insur-
rectos who had gained much public support for Cuban inde-
pendence. During the Mexican revolution, the Attorney Gen-
eral originally interpreted this neutrality law strictly, and
United States attorneys along the Mexican border occasionally
clashed with military officers, who wanted to use the military
expedition law to put down the revolution. Before 1912 groups
freely met to discuss and plan their activities. Only when
revolutionaries engaged in overt action did the government
attempt to prosecute. The courts did not define a small group
of men as a "military force." The Justice Department did not
even argue that the conspiracy statute could be applied in
neutrality cases until 1912, when it filed indictments against two
groups of Mexican revolutionists for conspiring to violate the
military expedition law. Apparently neither case was brought to
trial. In mid-1915, the Justice Department also charged two
prominent revolutionaries, Generals Victoriano Huerta and
Pascual Orozco, with conspiracy to violate this neutrality stat-
Hindu Conspiracy 69

Ute. Orozco escaped and Huerta died before the trial could
Thus, at the time East Indians engaged in most of the
activities later labeled the "Hindu conspiracy," the courts had
not accepted conspiracy as merely a connecting link between
the activities of individual revolutionaries, but still defined
overt action very narrowly in military expedition cases. The
Germans did attempt to ship arms to India and five East
Indians planned to sail with the arms. In addition, East Indians
participated in several attempts to further the cause of the
Indian revolution. None of these activities, however, consti-
tuted a clear-cut violation of neutrality unless the conspiracy
statute was applied. It required only that two people "conspire"
to commit some illegal act and then that one person make an
overt act toward executing that plan. The actions of individuals
which separately did not violate neutrality statutes could jointly
lead to prosecutions of Indian nationalists. While the con-
spiracy statute was of great assistance in obtaining convictions,
it confused the issues involved. As one legal researcher said of
the conspiracy statute after reviewing the government's wide-
spread use of it in the 1960's: "It distracts the courts from the
policy questions or balancing of interest that ought to govern
the decision of specific legal issues and leads them instead to
decide those issues by reference to the conceptual framework
of conspiracy. . . it gives the courts a means of deciding
difficult questions without thinking about them."6
Conspiracy was not a new legal concept in 1917. It had a
"Charles G. Fenwick, The Neutrality Laws ofthe United States (Washington, D.C., 1913),
57; New York Times, Aug. 31, 1895,5:4; Sept. 24, 1895,5: 1; Nov. 19, 1895,5: 1;June 12,
1895, 4:7; June 23, 1896, 5:l; July 31, 1896, 1:5; United St& v. Wibwg, 73 Fed. 159
(1896); Ray Emerson Curtis, "The Law of Hostile Military Expeditions as Applied by
the United States," American Journul of International Law, VIII (1914), 249; Lowell L.
Blaisdell, The Desert Revolution: Baja California, 191 I (Madison, 1962), 170- 171, 189-
191; and Blaisdell, "Harry Chandler and the Mexican Border Intrigue, 1914- 1917,"
Pacific Histmica1 Review, XXXV (1966), 385-393. For correspondence on neutrality law
enforcement along the Mexican border, see Records of the Adjutant General Office,
National Archives, Record Group 94 (hereafter cited as NA, RG), file 1716354; United
States v. Molina et al., Case No. 1564, and United States v. Emilw Vasqwz Comet et al., Case
No. 2080, Federal Records Center, Fort Worth, Texas; and Michael Meyer, Huerta: A
Political Portrait (Lincoln, 1972), 22 1-222, 225.
"Phillip E. Johnson, "The Unnecessary Crime of Conspiracy, California Law Review,
LXI (1973), 1139-1 140.
history in England from the thirteenth century. American
workers had fought a long and ultimately successful battle
during the nineteenth century against the application of con-
spiracy to their organized attempts to raise wages and improve
working conditions. In 1921, the Supreme Court ruled that the
conspiracy statute could not be applied to labor unions. By then
the federal government had given the statute new life by ap-
plying it to internal security cases involving political activists.
Later convictions for conspiracy to violate the Selective Service
and Espionage Acts of 1917, the Smith Act of 1940, and the
Selective Service Act of 1967 are better known than the East
Indian neutrality convictions, but all were part of the tradition
which expanded the conspiracy statute to hinder the activities
of political groups. In the East Indian trial, the Justice Depart-
ment achieved its first important successful application of the
conspiracy statute to the military expedition law. Success in the
trial depended upon the creation of the "Hindu c~nspiracy."~
There were three stages to the creation of the "Hindu
conspiracy." During the first stage, from 1908 to 1914, the
British began surveillance of East Indian nationalists in Canada
and the United States. During the second stage, from 1914 to
mid- 1916, the British exerted diplomatic pressure in an effort
to suppress the movement for independence in India and
continued covert surveillance activities in the United States.
During the third stage, from mid-1916 to 1918, United States
officials began to investigate East Indian activities and, with
British assistance, eventually prosecuted the nationalists.
Concern by the British government about the revolutionary
activities of the East Indians in North America existed long
before the outbreak of World War I in Europe. When immigra-
tion from India to Canada began to increase in 1907, the
British were worried about the effect that Canadian anti-Asian
sentiment, violence, and discrimination might have in India.

'Francis B. Sayre, "Criminal Conspiracy,"Harvard Law R&, X X X V (1922). 383-

427; Goldman et al. v. United States, 245 U.S. 474 (1918); Schenck v. United States, 249
U.S. 47 (1919); Dennis v. United States, 341 U.S. 494 (1951); United States v. Spock, 416 F .
2d 165 (1st Cir. 1969); and United States v. Dellinger, 474 F. 2d 340 (7th Cir. 1972). The
Emma Goldman case was decided on Jan. 14, 1918, before the San Francisco case but
after newspaper publicity had linked her and Alexander Berkman to the "Hindu
Hindu Conspiracy 71
One of the blessings British rule had supposedly bestowed on
Indians was to make them subjects of the British monarch, with
the same right to protection as extended to other common-
wealth nations. Such promises broke down when Canada, like
other commonwealth nations, passed laws drastically limiting
Asian immigration. Early in 1908, Canada enacted a law
effectively excluding East Indians. East Indians immediately
organized to oppose the law, linking Canadian discrimination
to British domination in India. By March 1908, the Governor
General was planning strategy to "spike the guns of the Indian
agitators" in Canada.'
During the controversy over Canadian exclusion, the first
issue of the Free Hindustan was published in Canada. It pro-
claimed "~esistanceto Tyranny is Obedience to God" and
exhorted leaders in India to attempt to arouse the feelings of
the masses to stop the exclusion of laborers from Canada. The
editor was Taraknath Das, a twenty-three-year-old Bengali
nationalist student who was employed as a translator by the
United States immigration authorities in Vancouver. The
Canadian government subsequently protested to Washington
about the attacks by Das on "British prestige," and he was
dismissed from his job in April 1908.' The Canadian govern-
ment also hired a Calcutta policeman on leave of absence in
British Columbia to conduct investigations of immigrants. This
policeman, William C. Hopkinson, warned the government
that East Indians were raising money to print bomb manuals
and send them to India. On Hopkinson's advice, Canadian
officials refused to transmit the Free Hindustan through the mail
and seized one consignment of the paper. Das subsequently
opened a school in Millside, British Columbia, to lecture on
unrest in India and the unfair treatment of East Indians in
Vancouver, and he sent translations of the Free Hindwitan to
India. Hopkinson gave the information to the Vancouver
press. T h e unfavorable publicity forced Das to close his school.

BForthe Canadian stage, see Governor General Albert Grey to Lord Elgin, March 25,
1908, Albert Grey Papers, Vol. 14, Public Archives of Canada (hereafter cited as PAC).
OE. J. E. Swayne, "Confidential Memorandum on Matters Affecting the East Indian
Community in British Columbia," Governor General Correspondence (hereafter cited
as GGC), Vol. 200, PAC.
By December 1908, Canadian military intelligence officer
Rowland Brittain was investigating the "alleged Hindu con-
spiracy" in British Columbia.lo
In January 1909, the Canadian government employed Hop-
kinson full time to conduct political investigations of Indian
nationalists in Canada and the United States. He reported
regularly to the Canadian government and to Governor Gen-
eral Albert Grey, hired East Indians to work undercover in the
East Indian communities in the United States and Canada, and
he made at least two visits to Seattle and Berkeley to conduct
extensive investigations into the political activities of East
Indian students. He also worked with immigration officials and
exclusionist politicians in support of legislation in the United
States excluding East Indians. Hopkinson was later subsidized
by the British and Canadian governments and became so
notorious for his tactics within the immigrant community that
an Indian shot him during an immigration trial in 1914." The
death of Hopkinson ended the first phase of the "Hindu
conspiracy" in North America.
T h e second stage in the creation of the "Hindu conspiracy"
began after the British entered World War I. During this
period, from 1914 to mid-1 916, the British not only continued
to conduct covert activities in the United States but also
engaged in anti-Indian propaganda and exerted diplomatic
pressure in an effort to suppress the movement for indepen-
dence in India by East Indians.
T h e cause of the heightened concern of the British govern-
ment in 1914 was the large number of East Indians, who, after
war broke out between Britain and Germany, returned to India
from North America to work for revolution. Of an estimated
10,000 East Indians in North American in 1914, as many as

"Rowland Brittain to Assistant Director of Intelligence, Dec. 5, 1908, GGC Vol. 200,
"Reports from W. C. Hopkinson are scattered through Vols. 200-205 in GGC,
PAC. See especially W. W. Cory to John Hanbury Williams, Jan. 19, 1909, Hopkinson
to Cory, March 7, 1910, Vol. 200; Hopkinson to Cory, Sept. 26 and Oct. 13 and 23,
191 1, Vol. 201; Hopkinson to Cory, May 3, 1914, and May 12 and Sept. 2, 1918, and
Hopkinson to J. A. Wallinger, April 30, 1914, Vol. 205; Hopkinson to Zurbrick,
June 29, 1914, Zurbrick to Commissioner of Immigration, July 1, 1914, A. Caminetti to
Acting Commissioner of Immigration, May 8, 1914, file 52903, NA, RG 85.
Hindu Conspiracy 73

2,000 may have left for India during the first three months of
war. There were no laws against the Indians leaving the United
States, whatever their intent, as long as they did not organize a
military expedition and as long as they had not been recruited
for a foreign army. The main internal defenses of the British
Empire in India against these men were a widespread network
of surveillance and informers and the Ingress of Indian Ordi-
nance, passed by the Indian government at the beginning of
the war, which allowed subversives to be summarily arrested
and held without trial. Even after large numbers of men had
been arrested, however, revolutionaries continued to smuggle
in the San Francisco Ghadar newspaper, which openly advo-
cated the overthrow of the British government in India."
During 1915 British Ambassador Cecil Spring-Rice asked
that a shipment of arms the Germans had purchased in New
York for shipment to Mexico on the Annie Larsen be investi-
gated. British undercover agents knew the Germans planned to
transfer the arms to the Maverick in Mexico and to ship them to
Batvia for distribution to Indian revolutionaries. There was no
discussion by Spring-Rice or Justice Department officials of
conspiracy regarding this arms shipment. The only question
was about a violation of neutrality laws. There was no evidence
at the time of shipment that neutrality laws had been violated
nor was there ever any evidence to this effect.13
At this time, there was also no attempt by the British to link
the arms shipment to the activities of Indian revolutionaries in
the United States. Early in 1915, the British government began
to forward informal complaints about the Ghadar to the
American State Department, but Spring-Rice refused to lodge
an official complaint about the Indian nationalists for another
year. At first, he told the Foreign Office that he feared

"Governor General to Lewis Harcourt, August 12, 1914, Vol. 205; and Hopkinson
to Cory, Sept. 24, 1914, Vol. 206, GGC, PAC.
13Spring-Riceto Robert Lansing, Dec. 21, 1916; T. W. Gregory to Robert Lansing,
Feb. 26, 1917, file 9-10-3, NA, RG 60. See also Spring-Rice to Bryan May 12, 1915;
Spring-Rice to Lansing June 14, 1915; Johann von Berstorff to Lansing, July 2, 1915;
Gregory to Lansing, Feb. 26, 1917, file 9-10-3, NA, RG 60; and Franz von Papen to
Berlin, May 31, 1915, R149, Reel 398 German Foreign Ministry Archives (hereafter
cited as GFMA).

unfavorable newspaper publicity. Later, he said Americans

would resent British interference. Finally, in February 1916,
the anxiety exhibited by the Wilson administration about the
activities of German officials in the United States, who had been
exposed and publicized primarily by the British, in combina-
tion with the extreme concern in London about unrest in India
brought Spring-Rice to a new position. He agreed to make an
official protest about the nationalists.14
With his protest of February 1916, Spring-Rice sent a trans-
cript of the judgments in the 1915 Lahore conspiracy trial and a
military intelligence memorandum showing that German offi-
cials had been cooperating with East Indians. During the
Lahore conspiracy trial, the British Indian government argued
that California had been the location for planning a revolution
in India. According to the prosecution, five or six thousand
Indians had met in Sacramento in August 1914 to launch the
conspiracy, and their success had encouraged similar action in
India. "The conspiracy had the object of waging war on his
Majesty the King Emperor and overthrowing by force the
government established by law in India, expelling Europeans
and establishing a Swadeshi, or self government," said the
Governor Advocate in summing up his case. As a result of the
trial, 24 Indians were executed for conspiracy and another 27
were sentenced to long imprisonment.15
Later in February, Spring-Rice forwarded to Secretary of
State Robert Lansing a protest from the Viceroy of India about
the Ghadar propaganda and an article by a British newsman
purporting to prove that Indian revolutionaries were attempt-
ing to overthrow British rule. The reporter claimed that the
Ghadar party was advocating wholesale massacre of all Euro-
peans in India and that Indians were being urged to come to
California to learn the manufacture of bombs. He quoted the
Secretary of State at Indian House in London who stated that
infinite harm was done to British rule in India by the shelter
''Jose de Olivares to State Dept., May 6, 1916, file 150.456, NA, RG 59, reviews the
trial; see also New York, June 14, 1915, 4:3; "American-Made Hindu Revolts."
Literaty Digest, LI (July 10, 1915), 56; Dignan, "Hindu Conspiracy,"64-67
"Spring-Rice transmitted his complaint to the State Department on Feb. 15, 1916,
file 9-10-3, NA, RG 60; see also Naeem Gul Rathore, "The Indian Nationalist Agitation
in the United States: A Study of Lala Lajpat Rai and the Indian Home Rule League of
America, 1914- 1920" (Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, 1965), 88.
Hindu Conspiracy 75

given the revolutionary Ghadar society and its newspaper in

California. Spring-Rice promised to send the State Department
a memorandum from the British government on revolutionary
activities in the United States.''
Frank Polk, in charge of neutrality matters in the State
Department, forwarded the journalist's article to the Justice
Department and urged "radical action" if the article was correct
because the agitation was "causing a great deal of irritation in
England." Assistant Attorney General Charles Warren, Polk's
counterpart in the Justice Department, replied that his staff
had already given considerable attention to the activities of the
Ghadar movement, but that he had no evidence of a violation
of the law.17
At the end of February 1916, the Colonial Office dispatched
Robert Nathan, one of its top intelligence agents in the Indian
police, to Canada. Nathan was to coordinate and supplement
investigations already underway by detectives hired through
the British consul in San Francisco and by East Indian infor-
mants working undercover among the East Indians. About the
same time, British military intelligence ordered to New York a
second agent, Colonel Norman Thwaites, who was to work on
East Indian investigations with William Wiseman, an agent of
the British Foreign Office. Reports were funneled from
Nathan and Thwaites to London, and selected information was
then forwarded to the embassy in Washington. Bundles of
papers on the revolutionary activities of the East Indians began
to arrive regularly in the State Department, and they were
accompanied by ever more excited memoranda from Spring-
Rice linking the activities in Berlin and San Francisco to the
Annie Larsen guns shipment, which he called an international
conspiracy. The Justice Department soon had two of its own
investigators working on the British complaints, but it still
found no evidence of illegal activities.18
Among the papers forwarded by the State Department to the

"Spring-Rice to Lansing, Feb. 25, 1916, file 9-10-3, NA, RG 60.

"Frank Polk to Charles Warren, Feb. 25, 1916; Warren to Polk, Feb. 26, 1916, file
9-10-3, NA, RG 60.
''A. B. Law to Governor General, Feb. 29, 1916, GGC, Vol. 207, PAC; Norman
Thwaites, Velvet and Vinegar (London, 1932), 145; Spring-Rice to Polk, March 27, 1916;
Polk to Attorney General, April 3, 1916; file 9-10-3, NA, RG 60.
Justice Department was a batch of British atrocity pictures
published by the Ghadar press. These "horrible pictures," as
Assistant Attorney General Warren called them, provoked him
to instruct legal researchers to "devise some method of prose-
cuting criminally the Editor of this paper, which has been
producing a great deal of trouble on the Pacific Coast." Warren
asked John W. Preston, the United States attorney in San
Francisco, to conduct a special investigation into the activities of
Ram Chandra, editor of the Ghadar, on the grounds that the
newspaper appeared to be inciting arson, murder, and assassi-
nation. After dutifully sifting the pictures and articles, War-
ren's assistant reported back that while the pictures were brutal
and offensive to esthetic taste, they did not violate the law
prohibiting the use of the mails for matter tending to incite
murder, arson, or assassination. Everything in the material
mailed by the Ghadar editor was legitimate criticism of govern-
mental activities of the British empire in
Warren's attempt to interfere with the publication program
of the Ghadar in mid- 1916, nevertheless, marked the beginning
of the third stage of the conspiracy during which American
officials began to share the British concept of the "Hindu
conspiracy." Attorney General Thomas Watt Gregory was
under increasing pressure from other members of the admini-
stration to halt German activities in the United States even
though Congress had refused to expand the internal security
laws. In two minor cases involving Germans, the Justice Depart-
ment had finally resorted to use of the conspiracy statute to
obtain indictments against them. As soon as these convictions
had been obtained for conspiracy, the Justice Department tried
to link the Annie Larsen shipments to the Ghadar party, in order
to show, as the British had argued, the existence of a German-
East Indian revolutionary plot. Warren's assistant made up
long lists of persons connected with what he called the "Hindu
insurrection." Any men involved with the shipment of arms,
with the San Francisco Ghadar party, or with the Indian Inde-
pendence Committee in Berlin were on the list. Late in June
"Warren to John W. Preston, May 13, 1916; Preston to Attorney General May 25,
1916; Warren to M. A. Thomas, June 3, 1916; Thomas to Attorney General, June 9,
1916; Gregory to State Department, June 3, 1916, all in file 9-10-3, NA, RG 60.
Hindu Conspiracy 77

1916, the Justice Department considered prosecuting the men

involved in the Annie Larsen arms shipment. Indictments were
to be sought for conspiracy to defraud the United States by
filing false manifests and for organizing a military expedition
against a friendly nation. The difficulty with this plan, as
Assistant Attorney General S. J. Graham confessed to the State
Department, was that he had no direct evidence stating the
purpose of the expedition and thus could not connect it with
the plots to foment revolution in British India. It seemed
"reasonably clear" to him that the true destination of the arms
was India, but he still needed proof.20
During the fall of 1916, a British court at Lahore sentenced
seventeen more men for conspiracy and announced that it was
satisfied the United States was the chief center of the movement
to overthrow the British Empire. Spring-Rice subsequently
complained to the State Department that the British govern-
ment considered the "continuance of German intrigues against
British possessions in the East a grave menace and negligence
of the United States incompatible with the duties of a neutral
power." His accusation that the United States was tolerating
"Indian and German intrigues" brought an angry retort from
Attorney General Gregory that the British had not furnished
any evidence which would warrant indictment. Any witnesses
who might provide evidence, Gregory wrote to Lansing, were
either "in the hands of British authorities as prisoners, or else
have been executed," and, he continued, "neither a British
prisoner nor a corpse is available as a witness in the courts of
this country." There were no United States laws against "in-
trigues," said Gregory, unless they violated a neutrality law or
constituted a conspiracy to violate federal law.*l
In January 1917, Spring-Rice made one more effort to link
American intrigues to the Indian conspiracy. He reviewed for
Lansing the activities of the East Indians in the United States
and the statements of the Lahore conspirators. There could be
no doubt about the aims of the men who left the United States,

zoMemorandum for Warren, May 25, 1916; S. J. Graham to Secretary of State,

June 28, 1916, file 9-10-3, NA, RG 60.
"Memorandum for Warren, Aug. 14, 1916; Polk to Attorney General, Oct. 10, 1916;
Warren to Secretary of State, Oct. 27, 1916, all in file 9-10-3, NA, RG 60.
he argued. Their purpose was "deadly war against the King,
and the overthrow of the government by law established in
India." He cited as evidence the papers and pamphlets pub-
lished by the Ghadar plus statements that 83 of the 686 men
who had returned to India from the United States in 1915 had
passed through sedition centers in the United States and that
10 of the 26 convicted in supplementary trials had been
influenced by seditious preachings in the United States. He
also reviewed the Annie Larsen case and included confessions of
arrested Indians and a statement by J. B. Hunt, a purser on the
Maverick, that five revolutionaries had sailed with him. He
entitled the whole batch of documents the "German-Indian
Conspiracy in America." Late in January, Spring-Rice sent
more documents to the State Department and additional
testimony linking Chandra to the East Indians who had sailed
on the Mave~ick.~~
As soon as the State Department forwarded these documents
to the Justice Department, Warren rushed them to the U.S.
attorney in San Francisco, telling him that the activities of the
Ghadar Indians were giving the British "grave concern" and
that they were "anxious that the revolutionary movement in
this country looking to the liberation of India should cease."
He instructed Preston: "I desire that as many as possible be
brought to book." January 1917 also brought a big break-
through for the Justice Department when it obtained its first
conviction for conspiracy to violate the neutrality law in a case
involving Franz Bopp, the German consul general at San
Francisco. With the conviction of Bopp, the way seemed clear
for Warren to push for indictments of the East Indian~.'~
While Warren was anxious to push for prosecution, Gregory
was still concerned about the accusations of Spring-Rice. He
wrote to Lansing in February explaining that there was nothing
illegal about the Annie Larsen shipment unless it was part of a
military expedition. Starr-Hunt's testimony concerning Indian
passengers on the Maverick was hearsay and of no value in
proving violation of law; moreover, the British had not offered

"Gregory to Lansing, Dec. 20, 1916; Spring-Rice to Lansing, Dec. 21, 1916, file
9-10-3, NA, RG 60; New York Times,Jan. 9, 1917, 1:5.
"Memorandum for Warren, Jan. 15, 1917, file 9-10-3, NA, RG 60; United States v.
B e , 230 Fed. 723 (1916).
Hindu Conspiracy 79

to bring him to the United States to testify. The Justice

Department, insisted Gregory, had been "particularly scrupu-
lous" in maintaining its obligation to enforce the neutrality
laws. With Gregory's arguments in hand, Lansing composed a
memorandum defending the United States from the ambassa-
dor's "intemperate" language and insisting that neither the
Annie Larsen nor the Maverick had violated the neutrality laws
of the United States. On February 28, 1917, President Wilson
approved the Lansing m e r n ~ r a n d u m . ~ ~
Britain and the United States obviously did not yet share the
same goals or strategy in the East Indian neutrality case.
During the first week of April, however, British undercover
agents engineered the arrest of East Indian nationalists in New
York, one of whom immediately confessed he had received
money from the German military attach6 to purchase arms and
ammunition. Warren, who knew nothing of the role of the
British agents in the arrests, was infuriated because he felt that
the San Francisco prosecution would be endangered. The
British agents, on the other hand, felt popular opinion would
now keep the case alive, and they offered to exchange informa-
tion directly with Warren on East Indian suspects. By the time
the United States joined Britain as an ally against Germany, the
two governments were already collaborating on the case below
the diplomatic
O n the morning of April 6, before President Wilson had
signed the House resolution declaring war, Warren ordered
Preston to arrest Ram Chandra and other East Indians in-
volved in the "German-Hindu conspiracy." Preston imme-
diately arrested Chandra and sixteen other East Indians in San
Francisco. Thus the first suspects arrested by the federal

"Assistant Attorney General to Preston, Feb. 1 , 1917; Preston to Attorney General,

Feb. 13, 1917; Warren to Preston, Feb. 21, 1917; Gregory to Lansing, Feb. 26, 1917;
Lansing to Wilson, Feb. 27, 1917; Lansing to Gregory, Feb. 28, 1917; all in file 9-10-3,
NA, RG 60; Dignan, "Hindu Conspiracy," 72; memorandum of reply to Spring-Rice
from Lansing, Feb. 23, 1917, file 763.7211, NA, RG 59.
"Warren to Polk, March 8, 13, and 16, 1917; Polk to Warren, March 14 and 15,
1917; Warren to Thomas D. McCarthy, March 13, 1917; U.S. Attorney, New York, to
Attorney General March 14, 1917; all in file 9-10-3, NA, RG 60; Wiseman report of
March 16, 1917, quoted in Dignan, "Hindu Conspiracy," 73-74; Henry Stockton
telegram for Robert Nathan, March 23, 1917, for Nathan, March 1 1 , 1917, April 3,
1917, GGC, Vol. 208, PAC; Warren to U.S. Marshal, New York, March 26, 1917, file
9-10-3, NA, RG 60.
government after the United States went to war with Germany
were East Indians. Not until that afternoon did Warren order
the arrest of seventy Germans whom he considered the most
prominent and dangerous agents in the United state^.'^
Even after these arrests, Preston was not optimistic about
obtaining indictments. The Annie Larsen case looked good,
Preston wrote to Warren, but not the case against the Ghadar-
ites. He must not continue to think of the Ghadar and the Annie
Larsen as two separate cases, Warren replied to Preston. They
were not two cases but one. The only difficulty, Warren
admitted, was in proving the connection between Ram Chan-
dra and the German agents in the United States and Ram
Chandra and the five men on the Maverick. "There has for
some time been no doubt in my mind on these two points,"
Warren concluded. "The only difficulty has been in the proof."
The British rushed Preston more documents and brought
Starr-Hunt down from Canada where he had been secreted to
testify before the San Francisco grand jury. On May 1, 1917,
the grand jury brought indictments against Chandra and seven
other East I n d i a n ~ . ' ~
In May, the British agent Nathan met with Preston in San
~rancisco,a nd they decaed that because of a lack of evidence
the cases started in Chicago and New York should be com-
bined with the one in San Francisco. Preston supported this
consolidation plan at a strategy conference later that month in
Washington with Warren and the United States attorneys from
New York and Chicago. The New York case was undeniably
weak: two individuals had been sent out separately-hardly a
military expedition. Matters in Chicago seemed only slightly
better. They could only show that at least four men had gone
out "more or less in a body to commit hostilities against
The officials decided to drop the charges against the East
z6Warren, "War Notes," Box 5, Warren Papers, Library of Congress; Preston to
Warren, April 6, 1917, file 9-10-3, NA, RG 60.
"Warren to Preston, April 1 1 , 1917, file 9-10-3, NA, RG 60; A. Marr telegram for
Nathan, May 10 and 15, 1917; Nathan telegram for Wiseman, May 21, 1917, GGC, Vol.
208, PAC.
"Warren to Charles F. Clyne, April 1 1 , 1917; Preston to Warren, April 11, 1917;
memorandum of conference, June 16, 1917, all in file 9-10-3, NA, RG 60. The New
York indictments were upheld in United States v. Chakrabdy, et al. 244 Fed. 287 (1917).
Hindu Cowpiracy 81

Indians in New York but to indict Chandra and the other San
Francisco men in a Chicago court in order "to give fuller color
to the conspiracy in the introduction of evidence." Once indict-
ments had been obtained in Chicago, the San Francisco men
would not be tried there. Chicago would be a test case for
applying the conspiracy theory to the East ~ndi'ans.If the case
was successful, the Justice Department would make San Fran-
cisco the showcase of a "Hindu conspiracy" trial in which con-
victions would be sought for all the Germans and East Indians
mentioned in the British documents. On July 7, 1917, the San
Francisco grand jury returned secret indictments for con-
spiracy against 105 men, and on July 12, indicted 19 more. The
conspiracy, according to the indictments, had begun on Au-
gust 1, 1914, at a meeting of East Indian and German conspira-
tors to prepare a military expedition.
In Chicago, one East Indian and three Germans were con-
victed of violating the neutrality law against military expedi-
tions and of conspiracy to violate this law. Warren commented
later that the courts had made a "broad ruling" and the words
"military expedition or enterprise" were given their "broadest
definition" in this "Hindu plot" case." Preston was optimistic
by the time the trial began on November 12, 1917. "The
evidence is in very good shape," he wrote to Attorney General
Gregory. "The British agents have worked very hard in putting
the evidence in accessible form, and I have every reason . . . to
believe that the case will result favorably as to all important
defendants." The trial, which dragged on for over five months,
revolved around the British version of a world-wide "Hindu
conspiracy" dictated by the Germans, who allegedly sought to
stir u p a revolution in India as part of a master war plan against
The advantages the government has in a conspiracy trial
were exploited fully in San Francisco. The charge of conspir-
acy branded the East Indians with the image of secrecy and evil
plotting, which heightened apprehensions already present in
'qJacobsen v. United States, 272 Fed. 399 (1920); an unidentified newspaper clipping
describing the charge from the judge is in box 7, Warren Papers; New York Times,
Oct. 19, 1917, 1 3 3 ; Preston to Attorney General, Oct. 6, 1917, and J . S. H . to Preston,
Oct. 17, 1917, file 9-10-3, NA, RG 60.
"Preston to Gregory, Nov. 17, 1917, file 9-10-3, NA, RG 60.
San Francisco during that first winter of war. Hearsay evidence
rules were relaxed to allow the words of alleged conspirators to
be used against each other. The defendants were confronted
with the recitation of a hodgepodge of alleged acts and the
statements of others, which the government hoped might
pursuade the jury of the existence of the conspiracy. All the
government had to prove was that two defendants conspired to
bring about some illegal act and that one person then made an
overt act to further that conspiracy. The government did not
have to prove actual criminal acts. Assistant U.S. Attorney
Annette Adams summed up the government's case against the
"Hindu conspirators" by labeling them tools of German agents
and appealing to the jury to "hold the line for democracy." The
jury found all the defendants, with the exception of an
American millionaire shipbuilder from Long Beach, guilty of
conspiring to launch a military expedition in violation of the
criminal code.31
The political cost of the trial was high for the East Indians.
Undercover agents, informers, and government witnesses de-
moralized and divided the revolutionaries and made it difficult
for them to know whom to trust. The trial so heightened
tensions within the East Indian community that one of the
accused went mad in his cell. A second man shot and killed
Ram Chandra during the trial itself and was, in turn, shot by a
marshal. Publicity emphasizing East Indian nationalist col-
laboration with German officials made the Indian revolutionary
movement appear to be a conflict essentially different from
that waged by the American colonies against Great Britain 160
years earlier.32
Convictions meant more to Britain than to the United States,
as Preston admitted to Attorney General Gregory. Success in
the case was due, he explained, to the "able and exhaustive"
investigations by the British which supplemented his own. The

J'For conspiracy trials, see David B. Filvaroff, "Conspiracy and The First Amend-
ment," UniversiQ of Pen7uylvania Law Review, CXXI (1972), 189; and Johnson, "Un-
necessary Crime of Conspiracy," 1137.
3%an Francisco Chronicle, April 18, 19 18, 1 :1 ; San Francisco Examiw, Nov. 23, 1917,
1:l; Preston to Attorney General, Nov. 23, 1917, file 9-10-3, NA, RG 60; undated
history, "The Hindu Conspiracy, the Ghadr Society, and Indian Revolutionary
Propaganda," Military Intelligence Division, file 10560-152, NA, RG 165.
Hindu Conspiracy 83

British had assigned their best agents to the case. They

furnished complete and accurate reports, provided at least
three key witnesses and several confessions, and coached
Preston and Adams in presenting the case. Preston told news-
men that he thought the verdict showed "that this country is
now realizing that we must teach the non-assimilable, parasitic
organizations in our midst that while this is a land of liberty, it
is not a country of mere license."33
What the trial had done was to make the United States less a
land of liberty. It openly arrayed the United States government
against the movement for political liberation in India and put a
seal of disapproval on participation by Americans in that move-
ment. Government disapproval did not stop all Americans from
continued participation in the Indian liberation movement, but
it did signify that the government would deal with the issue of
Indian independence from a position essentially the same as
that of Great Britain.34That position included acceptance of
the "Hindu conspiracy" as documented by the British govern-
ment. This is not to say that there was a British "conspiracy" or
that the British manufactured their evidence, only that his-
torians need to look more carefully at the activities bf officials
who responded to the East Indians' movement. In the words of
German Chancellor Tehobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, this
was to be a "war to the knife."35Colonialism and imperialism
plus self-determination and anti-imperialism were crucial con-
cerns from the outset of the war in August 1914, and they
became increasingly important as the war in Europe moved to
a stalemate.
"Preston to Gregory, Aug. 6, 1918, NA, RG 118; Sun Francisco Chronuk, April 24,
1918, 1:5-8.
''Alan Raucher, "American Anti-Imperialists and the Pro-India Movement, 1900-
1932," Pacific Historical Review, XLIII (1974). 83-1 10.
a 5 ~ h e o b a l vdon Bethmann-Hollweg telegram, September 4, 1914, T149, Reel 397,

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The "Hindu Conspiracy": A Reassessment
Joan M. Jensen
The Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 48, No. 1. (Feb., 1979), pp. 65-83.
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Propaganda of the Gadar Party
Mark Naidis
The Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 20, No. 3. (Aug., 1951), pp. 251-260.
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"Diminished Responsibility" in Theory and Practice
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The Modern Law Review, Vol. 27, No. 1. (Jan., 1964), pp. 9-34.
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The Hindu Conspiracy in Anglo-American Relations during World War I
Don K. Dignan
The Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 40, No. 1. (Feb., 1971), pp. 57-76.
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The Law of Hostile Military Expeditions as Applied by the United States
Roy Emerson Curtis
The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 8, No. 2. (Apr., 1914), pp. 224-255.
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Harry Chandler and Mexican Border Intrigue, 1914-1917
Lowell L. Blaisdell
The Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 35, No. 4. (Nov., 1966), pp. 385-393.
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The Unnecessary Crime of Conspiracy
Phillip E. Johnson
California Law Review, Vol. 61, No. 5. (Sep., 1973), pp. 1137-1188.
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Criminal Conspiracy
Francis B. Sayre
Harvard Law Review, Vol. 35, No. 4. (Feb., 1922), pp. 393-427.
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Conspiracy and the First Amendment
David B. Filvaroff
University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Vol. 121, No. 2. (Dec., 1972), pp. 189-253.
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American Anti-Imperialists and the Pro-India Movement, 1900-1932
Alan Raucher
The Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 43, No. 1. (Feb., 1974), pp. 83-110.
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