The idea for the People's Council grew out of the First American Conference for Democracy and Terms of Peace, held in New York on May 30-31, 1917. The conference elected a committee instructed to "organize a permanent delegated People's Council from all sympathetic groups to give immediate and permanent effect to the resolutions of the first American Conference for Democracy and Terms of Peace."
The purpose of the Council, as expressed in its first resolutions, was: 1) "to secure an early, democratic and general peace in harmony with the principles outlined by New Russia namely: no forcible annexations, no punitive indemnities, [and] free development for all nationalities; 2) to urge international organization for the maintenance of world peace; 3) to induce our government to state concretely the terms upon which it is willing to make peace; 4) to work for the repeal of the conscription laws; 5) to safeguard labor standards; 6) to preserve and extend democracy and liberty within the United States." The Emergency Peace Federation merged with the People's Council in June 1917.
During the three months following the May 1917 conference, an Organizing Committee was in charge of the affairs of the Council. Members of the Organizing Committee included Emily Greene Balch, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana, Eugene Debs, Mary Ware Dennett, Crystal Eastman, Max Eastman, John Haynes Holmes, David Starr Jordan, Florence Kelley (?), Fola La Follette, Louis P. Lochner, Scott Nearing, Lella Faye Secor, and Rebecca Shelley, among others. Those serving on other committees included William Hull, Roger Baldwin, Tracy Mygatt and Frances Witherspoon. Staffpersons were later appointed to carry on the work of the Council: Louis P. Lochner as Executive Secretary, Lella Faye Secor as Organizing Secretary, Rebecca Shelley as Financial Secretary, and Elisabeth Freeman as Legislative Secretary.
The Council opened a legislative bureau in Washington (D.C.). It also established communications with the Workingmen's and Soldiers' Councils of Russia and England. And it founded a publication, the People's Council Bulletin..
A contemporary source wrote the following about the organization: "The People's Council movement spread with amazing rapidity. It became necessary to send out eight full-time organizers and scores of speakers to fill the many calls from communities that wished to organize a local council. A network of 126 local councils soon stretched over the entire country. Hundreds of trade unions, Socialist locals, single tax groups, and other radical bodies affiliated. A Workmen's Council was formed as a distinct labor wing of the People's Council. Conferences on Democracy and Terms of Peace were successively held in Chicago (Illinois), Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), Los Angeles (California), San Francisco (California), Salt Lake City (Utah), and Seattle (Washington). At each of these were present representatives not only from the immediate vicinity but from other states as well.
The Organizing Committee planned a Constituent Assembly to be held in Minneapolis (Minnesota) onSeptember 1-6, 1917. Hundreds of people from all over the country registered for the conference. The same source as quoted above wrote: "In flagrant violation of the constitution of his state and of the United States, the governor of Minnesota prevented the People's Council meeting. The cordial invitation by the Governor of North Dakota had, for geographical and other reasons, to be turned down. An attempt was made to open headquarters at Hudson, Wisconsin, directly across the Minnesota state line, but a lawless mob, incited by the Governor of Wisconsin, and the city council, drove the representatives of the Council out of the city. The Council finally assembled at Chicago onSeptember 1, only to be broken up by order of the Governor of Illinois. Thereupon the delegates met in small groups in private houses, and on the following day reassembled upon the invitation of the mayor of Chicago, who gave police protection in defiance of the governor. The assembly once more convened, completed its organization, provided for permanent committees to carry on the work, molded its future policy, and adjourned before the troops, sent by the governor to break up a lawful and peaceable assembly, arrived in Chicago. Two weeks later the various standing committees and two delegates from each state represented at Chicago, met in New York to finish up such details as could not be attended to in Chicago. Thus despite all attempts on the part of the press to represent the People's Council as destroyed, the movement today is better organized and more deeply entrenched than ever."
The Council continued its work through 1919, with an office in New York City. It is unknown what brought about its closing, which probably occurred in the final months of 1919. However, it is likely that the Council had so nearly affiliated itself with the Socialist Party that a separate organization was finally deemed unnecessary. [Source: The American Peace Movement and Social Reform 1898-1918 by C. Roland Marchand]