November 18, 2004
Espionage Act of 1917 and Sedition Act (Amendment) of 1918
On April 2nd 1917, President Woodrow Wilson of the United States of America, " went before Congress and called for a declaration of war. Both the House and the Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of going to war with Germany."# This was an act that led to much resistance among the American people. Not four months earlier the American people re-elected President Wilson, partly because of his success in keeping the United States out of this European war. However, a series of events, such as the Germans continuing submarine warfare and the attacks on five American ships, led President Wilson to sever diplomatic relations with Germany and send the United States into what would be labeled as World War I. As a result of the war the Labbe 2
government enacted the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918 which led to the suppression of anti-war documents and sentiments, as well as the prosecution of over two-thousand individuals.#
Despite earlier resistance to the war by the American people, once war was declared patriotism swept over the nation. However, patriotism rose to it's peak and quickly turned to an intolerance for any kind of dissidence of the war.
With a general intolerance for opponents of the war the government began to repress groups advocating against the war, as did private organizations. One such organization created to suppress anti-war ideals was the Committee on Public Information (CPI). CPI was put in place to provide trustworthy information to the public, as well as stifle any misleading wartime rumors. However, the CPI ended up creating propaganda for the government to distort the views of the American people and worked to destroy and discredit Labbe 3
all those who opposed the government's ideology.
"The effect of such incessant propaganda was to promote hysterical hatred of all things German."# Any individual who had the audacity to speak against the war was assaulted either verbal or physically, and on many occasions murdered.
With the ideals of the government on the war growing in the nation, Congress passed the Espionage Act of 1917. After a joint session of Congress, where President Wilson reported on relations with Germany, the first of three bills that would create the Espionage Act of 1917, was introduced. The Congressional Digest reported that, "this action prompted intensive debate which extended over two sessions and involved three bills and two separate conference reports."# The Espionage Act of 1917, " prescribed a $10,000 fine and 20 years imprisonment for interfering with the recruiting of troops or the disclosure of information dealing with
national defense."# This Act of Congress in 1917, created vague boundaries as to how the American people could react against the war.
Subsequently, in 1918, after approximately two thousand people were prosecuted#, according to Mickey Z., under the Espionage Act of 1917, the Wilson Administration passed the Sedition Act of 1918, also known as the Sedition Amendment to the Espionage Act. The Sedition Act of 1918 increased the governments power to suppress the American people in their effort to criticize the war. Under this new amendment Congress expanded their power to not only punish those interfering with national defense and recruiting troops, but also included those individuals, who according to U.S. History.com, " publicly criticized the government- including negative comments about the flag, military or Constitution."#
These two Acts of Congress were in direct contradiction to the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, which states:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the...