On a Saturday evening in March 1919, attorney Robert H. Jackson, age 27, attended a lecture at Jamestown (New York) City Hall. The lecturer, a lawyer named Winter Russell, was a somewhat prominent American Socialist. The lecture occurred in a period of global turmoil, devastation caused by the just-concluded Great War and, in the United States, ideological clashes, violence, law enforcement excesses and widespread unease.
Jackson, who had just completed a short term as Jamestown’s corporation counsel and was building a private law practice, attended Russell’s lecture by assignment. Jamestown’s mayor had appointed Jackson and other lawyers to serve on a committee that evening to “censor” the lecture. It was anticipated, at least by the mayor and other Jamestown leaders, that Russell’s speech might cause disruption and need to be shut down.