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John E. Wall legal papers pertaining to the trial of the Boston Five

Collection MS-2008-010: John E. Wall legal papers pertaining to the trial of the Boston Five


  • Creation: 1943-1972
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1967-1968

Scope and Contents

The collection contains attorney John E. Wall's legal papers pertaining to the trial of the Boston Five. Wall was an Assistant United States Attorney who prosecuted Benjamin Spock, William Sloane Coffin, Michael Ferber, Marcus Raskin, and Mitchell Goodman for "conspiracy to counsel, aid, and abet" disobedience of the Selective Service Act during the Vietnam War. The greater portion of the collection consists of daily transcripts of Federal District Court and United States Court of Appeals proceedings. The remainder of the collection consists of materials that John Wall used to prepare his case for trial. It includes notes and correspondence, typescript memoranda and reports, photographs, newspaper clippings, and magazine articles.


Restrictions on Access

Collection is open for research. A small number of folders are closed due to privacy restrictions.

Restrictions on use

These materials are made available for use in research, teaching and private study, pursuant to U.S. Copyright Law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. The original authors may retain copyright to the materials.

Biographical Note: John E. Wall

John E. Wall was born in Lynn, Massachusetts in 1931. He received his B.S. in Government from Boston College in 1954. Following several years of military service, he received his LL.B from Columbia University School of Law in 1960, and was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar in 1961. He then became a Trial Attorney for the Organized Crime Section for the Department of Justice from 1963 to 1965 while furthering his education at Georgetown University where he received his LL.M in the Class of 1965, the same year he was admitted to the Bar of both District of Columbia and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Wall's career included service as a Special Trial Assistant to the US. Attorney for the District of Columbia from 1965 to 1969, as well as Assistant United States Attorney, Federal District of Massachusetts from 1966 to 1969. In 1968, while serving as an Assistant United States Attorney, Wall took part in prosecuting Benjamin Spock, William Sloane Coffin, Jr., and three others for encouraging Vietnam War draft resistors. He left the Justice Department during the Nixon administration, and then spent over 35 years in private practice as a defense attorney. He practiced in the areas of criminal law, white-collar crime, and drug-related criminal litigation. He was a fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers.

In 1993, Wall told the New York Times: "I thought [the Boston Five] had violated the law, but I had mixed emotions about whether it was good judgment to prosecute them. I believed that we were prosecuting and putting in jail and driving out of the country some of the people with the most tender consciences, some of our best and brightest. I was given the chance to re-prosecute some of them, and I refused. Today, I wouldn't prosecute them at all" (New York Times, Oct 01, 1993).

Wall married Jane A. (Lyness) Wall in 2000. He died in Peabody, Massachusetts in 2007.


Marquard, Bryan. "John Wall, at 76; Was Noted Federal Prosecutor, Then Defense Attorney." Obituary in Boston Globe C20. November 23, 2007.

Brozan, Nadine. "Chronicle: Former Adversaries Dine Together 25 Years After the Trial of the Boston Five Animal-Rights Protesters Take Aim at Vogue Magazine." New York Times (1923-) B6, Oct 01, 1993.

Biographical Note: Benjamin Spock

Benjamin McLane Spock was born in 1903 in New Haven, Connecticut. He received his B.A. in English from Yale University in 1925. During his summer vacations, he worked at a home for disabled children in Newington, Connecticut, and this experience led him to pursue a medical career. Spock received his medical degree from Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, graduating first in his class in 1929. He married Jane Davenport Cheney in 1927 and they had two sons. Spock combined his medical training with postgraduate work in psychology and psychiatry. He brought all of his experiences to bear to produce his most famous book: Baby and Child Care. Publication of this book led to a succession of academic posts in the areas of child development and child psychology, and though he retired from academia in 1967 Spock continued to produce revised editions of his book. The most recent edition appeared in 1998, the year he died. He also wrote popular advice columns in Ladies' Home Journal and Redbook.

Spock's views became more socially liberal by the 1960s, as he studied the relationship between child care, health care, education, and other social policy issues. Early in this decade he became concerned about growing political unrest in Vietnam as well, and lobbied Presidents Kennedy and Johnson against armed intervention. Spock and four others were indicted on charges of criminal conspiracy to aid draft evaders, and he was convicted in June, 1968. A year later, his conviction was overturned on appeal.

Enjoying newfound popularity after the famous trial, Spock continued his career of political activism, becoming co-chair of the People's Party and even running for President. Spock and Jane Cheney divorced in early 1976, and later that year he married Mary Morgan Councille. Spock died in 1998 in San Diego, California.


Opitz, Donald L. "Spock, Benjamin." American National Biography Online. (accessed October 23, 2008).

Biographical Note: William Sloane Coffin, Jr.

William Sloane Coffin, Jr. (1924-2006) was born into a prosperous Manhattan family. He earned a B.A. in government from Yale University. Coffin was an Army officer during World War II, where he served as a liaison to the French and Soviet armies due to his language skills. His expertise in Russian also led to a three-year period as a CIA agent in Germany training operatives for subversive operations within the Soviet Union. Coffin received his B.A. Divinity degree from the Yale Divinity School in 1956. He served as chaplain at Yale from 1958 to 1976, and used his pulpit as a platform for civil rights and anti-war activities. Coffin and four others were indicted on charges of criminal conspiracy to aid draft evaders, and he was convicted in June, 1968. A year later, his conviction was overturned on appeal.

After the end of the Vietnam War, Coffin continued his social activism, working for a nuclear freeze and opposing many United States-led military interventions. He published a memoir and a number of works merging Christian theology with social activism. He married three times: to Eva Rubinstein, Harriet Gibney, and Virginia Randall Wilson, and had three children. He died at his home in Strafford, Vermont in 2006.


"Coffin, William Sloane." H.W. Wilson Company WilsonWeb, (accessed October 23, 2008).

Biographical Note: Michael Ferber

Michael Ferber was born in Buffalo, New York, and attended Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, where he received his B.A. in Greek Literature in 1966. In the fall of 1967 he helped organize and publicize a ceremony at the Arlington Street Church, Boston, where draft-age men were to turn in their draft cards and pledge to refuse induction and go to prison. That was the strategy proposed by a group of California students calling themselves "The Resistance," whose main spokesperson was David Harris. Ferber gave a short sermon at the ceremony on Oct. 16 ("A Time to Say No") and joined some 200 men who turned over their cards to several dozen ministers and priests; he then took the cards to Washington where they were added to hundreds more from around the country and given to the Attorney General. In January, 1968, Ferber and four others were indicted on charges of criminal conspiracy to aid draft evaders, and he was convicted in June, 1968. A year later, his conviction was overturned on appeal.

Ferber received his doctorate in English at Harvard University in 1975 and taught at Yale University from 1975-1982. He worked at the Coalition for a New Foreign and Military Policy in Washington D.C. from 1983-1987, and joined the English Department of the University of New Hampshire in 1987.


"Involvement in the Vietnam War resistance movement and the “Boston Five.”" Michael K. Ferber: SCHOLAR, AUTHOR, ACTIVIST, (accessed October 12, 2022).

Biographical Note: Marcus Raskin

Marcus Raskin was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on April 30, 1934. Raskin was accepted to study piano at the Juilliard School at age 16 but decided to study politics at the University of Chicago. He graduated from the University of Chicago with a B.A. in 1954 and from the University of Chicago Law School with a Juris Doctor in 1957. After law school, Raskin worked on the staff of Representative Robert W. Kastenmeier, Democrat of Wisconsin, in Washington D.C., where he was part of a group that wrote “The Liberal Papers,” a book of essays that examined the future of liberal politics. Raskin joined the staff of McGeorge Bundy, President Kennedy’s national security adviser, in 1961 and then moved to the Bureau of the Budget in 1962.

Raskin and Richard J. Barnet founded the Institute for Policy Studies in 1963, a progressive think tank that became an abundant source of research about nuclear disarmament, the Vietnam War, economic inequality, civil rights, and national security. In 1967, Raskin and Arthur Waskow, a senior fellow at the Institute, wrote a “A Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority,” a manifesto that urged young men to refuse to participate in the war. Following, Raskin and four other antiwar activists were indicted in Boston on federal charges of conspiracy to counsel young men to violate the draft laws. All but Raskin were convicted, and a year later, the convictions of the four others were overturned on appeal.

Largely because of its antiwar activism, the Institute for Policy Studies was kept under illegal surveillance by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the 1960s and 70s. Raskin and Barnet’s names were among many on President Richard M. Nixon’s so-called enemies list. After leaving as director, Raskin remained at the institute as a senior fellow, writing, fund-raising and formulating ideas for social action. Raskin died of heart failure on December 24, 2017 in Washington, D.C.


"Marcus Raskin, Co-Founder of Liberal Think Tank, Dies at 83." The New York Times, (accessed on October 12, 2022).

Biographical note: Mitchell Goodman

Mitchell Goodman was born in Brooklyn, New York in December, 1923. He spent two years as an artillery officer in World War II and attended Harvard University. After graduating from Harvard in 1946, he began his studies for a doctorate in labor economics. In 1947, Goodman met English poet, Denise Leverton, and the couple were married that December. Goodman became a writer, turning out dozens of travel articles for The New York Times and national magazines in the 1950s and 60s. Eventually, he became an itinerant writing teacher at a series of colleges, including City College, Hofstra, Berkeley, Stanford, and the University of Maine. From 1965-1967, Goodman became a powerful force in the antiwar movement and made headlines when he organized a veterans' protest march down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, and again when the veterans burned their discharge papers in Union Square.

Goodman and four others were indicted on charges of criminal conspiracy to aid draft evaders, and he was convicted in June, 1968. A year later, his conviction was overturned on appeal. The trial of the Boston Five in 1968 made Goodman and his co-defendants well-known names in the antiwar movement and spurred mass protest rallies across the country.

In 1973, Goodman occupied the Chair of Ideas at Mankato State University in Minnesota, and by 1980 married Sandra Gregor and resettled in Maine. He died in Temple, Maine of pancreatic cancer in 1997 at the age of 73.


"Mitchell Goodman, Antiwar Protest Leader, Dies at 73." The New York Times, (accessed on October 12, 2022).

Historical Note: "Boston Five" Case

In 1968, while serving as Assistant United States Attorney, Federal District of Massachusetts, John E. Wall was a member of the team of attorneys who prosecuted the "Boston Five" in case of United States of America v. William Sloane Coffin, Jr., Michael Ferber, Mitchell Goodman, Marcus Raskin, and Benjamin Spock on charges of criminal conspiracy in aiding Vietnam War draft resistors.

Spock and Coffin had separately been involved in draft resistance activities for several years. In 1965, Coffin publicly declared his support for "the Resistance," an anti-draft movement. On October 2, 1967, he chaired a press conference announcing "A Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority," an anti-draft manifesto. On October 16, 1967, he was one of the organizers who arranged a Boston rally at which young men turned in their draft cards, and he was among a group of people who delivered the cards to the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. four days later. In 1967, Spock and Martin Luther King, Jr. led a march called the "Spring Mobilization to End the Vietnam War" in New York City. Spock was first arrested in December 1967 at an anti-draft protest at the army induction center in New York City.

A month later, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted the five defendants, who came to be known as the "Boston Five" despite the fact that Spock was unknown to the others. All but Raskin were convicted of "conspiracy to counsel, aid, and abet" disobedience of the Selective Service Act in June, 1968. A year later, the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the decision and acquitted them.


5.5 Linear Feet (12 containers)

Language of Materials



The collection consists of attorney John E. Wall's notes and background materials used for the prosecution in the case of United States of America v. William Sloane Coffin, Jr., Michael Ferber, Mitchell Goodman, Marcus Raskin, and Benjamin Spock. This group was informally known as the "Boston Five", and encouraged draft resistance during the Vietnam War. It includes notes, typescript documents, photographs, newspaper clippings, magazine articles, and transcripts of legal proceedings.


Collection is arranged into two series: I. Transcripts of proceedings, II. John Wall's legal papers.

Series I is further divided into two subseries: A. U.S. District Court, and B. U.S. Court of Appeals.

Series II is further divided into six subseries: A. Wall's notes, B. Persons connected with the case, C. Events connected with the case, D. Photographs, E. Lab reports, and F. Secondary sources.


Collection was received as a gift from Jane A. Wall in 2008.

Related Materials

William Sloane Coffin, Jr. papers, MS 1665, Sterling Memorial Library, Yale University.

Separated Materials

Published works associated with this collection have been transferred within the Burns Library and can be found in the Boston College Library catalog.

Processing Information

The materials in Series II. were originally housed in large manila envelopes labeled by Wall or an assistant. Each manila envelope was given a corresponding folder in the series, and the folder was given the same label as the envelope. Some of the manila envelopes arrived at the archives empty, but were nevertheless given a folder of their own to show Wall's original arrangement of his papers.

He also used metal paper clips to flag some of his materials, which were replaced with plastic clips to preserve their location on the pages.

John E. Wall Legal Papers Pertaining to the Trial of the Boston Five
1943-1972 (bulk 1967-1968)
Karen S. Beck, Fall 2008; Rachael Young, 2018; Molly Ogrodnik, 2022
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2022-10-14: Added agents and biographical notes and confirmed restrictions. Revised and updated description throughout.

Repository Details

Part of the John J. Burns Library Repository

John J. Burns Library
Boston College
140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill MA 02467 United States