Civil Liberties During World War One

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Mackenzie Deane
Period 4

Civil Liberties during World War One

According to the Bill of Rights, “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 press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Nowhere in the First Amendment does it state that in times of war, the government can change the laws that have been made to protect the people of the United States. Although some thought President Wilson’s actions were just, he did not abide by the rules of the First Amendment, and because of that, he went too far in limiting people’s civil liberties during World War One.

President Wilson started the Committee of Public Information (CPI) which misled people into thinking differently about the war. The CPI gave one side of the war, and its main goal was to get the American population to agree with President Wilson’s propaganda. The posters shown as evidence portray the Germans only as beastly, gruesome creatures. This misrepresentation led to misperceptions of the German people. By itself, the CPI was not a horrible organization, but coupled with the Espionage Act and Sedition Act, it became worse.

The Espionage Act was passed in 1917. It made it illegal to say anything negative about the military or to discourage people to join the draft. It also did not let people print certain things against the war. This directly violated the First Amendment rights of freedom of press and speech. The main problem with this act that related to the CPI was that the CPI could boast about the great army and the committee depicted war as a happy time, that would provide many fun adventures, but people could not give the opposite side of the story, stating that it was dangerous, and many people would come back scarred for life. Not only could people not give this information, but if they dared to do so,...
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