The years leading up to and during World War 1 are full of civil turmoil. Progressives pushing for restrictions on working hours, child labor, and women’s suffrage has led to a lot of social reforms just before the Great War. When the United States entered the war, it was very paranoid about the effect that dissenters and other public opinions against the war would have on the morale of the American people. So, as a “war measure”, Congress passed the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918, both of which severely limited free speech for American citizens. Congress and the Supreme Court justified this by saying that “Words used ‘to create a clear and present danger that… will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent’ were not protected under the First Amendment”.

The Espionage Act of 1917 made it a crime to obstruct military recruitment, to encourage mutiny, or to aid the enemy by spreading lies. This effectively made it illegal to speak out against the war or the military in any way, and to do so could land an individual in prison. The Sedition Act of 1918 made it illegal for anyone to say, write, or publish any abusive or disloyal language concerning the flag, military, Congress, or the government. This act, is akin to a communist government silencing dissenters or opposition. To make it illegal to speak out against the government, they basically ensured that no one in the public sector could check them for anything they did during the war. The effect his had on the public is tremendous. Certain groups of people took matters into their own hands, attacking and verbally abusing German-Americans. These acts helped the government keep their own agenda during the war, and ensured that anyone who didn’t like what they were doing was silenced.

 

Sources:

Visions of America, Volume 2, by Keene J., Cornell S., & O’Donnell E.