Civil Rights and Wrongs

Can you imagine being arrested for having an opinion? Thrown in jail for speaking your mind? Having your most basic freedom limited? These scenarios were a reality during WW1. There were two Acts that limited the Civil Rights of Americans during WW1. Firstly was the Espionage Act of 1917. Secondly, was the Sedition Act of 1918. Both of these Acts had harsh punishments and resulted in many being jailed.

The Espionage Act was proposed on June 15,1917. The Act stated “Whoever, with intent or reason to believe that it is to be used to the injury of the United Stated or to the advantage of a foreign nation, communicated, delivers, or transmits, or attempts to…” This meant the Act made it illegal for American citizens to aid the enemy that we are at war with. Punishments for violating the Espionage Act of 1917 were 10,000 dollar fine and up to 20 years in prison.

One violator of the Espionage Act of 1917 was Charles Schenck. Charles was arrested for sending around 1,500 anti-draft flyers to men joining the army. When in court Charles used the 1st amendment as his defense. The supreme court ruled against him stating that the government could limit the 1st amendment but only when there is ” clear and present danger” which included wartime. Charles Schenck was sentenced to jail time.

The Sedition Act was passed on May 16, 1918. The Sedition Act of 1918 supported the Espionage Act. It punished people who insulted the flag, constitution, or military of the United States or people who made incorrect statements interfering with the execution of war. The punishment for violating this Act was the same as the Espionage Act, a 10,000 dollar fine and up to 20 years in prison.

How did this time in history effect the African American community? This was a time of segregation. Despite all the negative light African Americans saw this time as an opportunity for racial equality. The Selective Service Act was enacted on May 18, 1917. The act required men between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-one, including African American men, to register with the United States government at their local recruitment stations. Some civil rights leaders established a firm philosophical position against serving a country that systematically denied African Americans their citizenship and basic human rights.

This time in history is very important in my opinion. African Americans started getting more rights. The United States became an industrial leader at the end of WW1. Women were gaining more rights such as the right to vote and expanding into male dominated work places.  Overall in such a time of chaos and war the United States seemed to come out on top!


Works cited:

Visions of America: A History of the United States, Combined Volume, 3

ShareAmerica. “Civil liberties in wartime.” ShareAmerica, 26 June 2017,

“Civil Liberties, World War I.” Americans at War,,



17 thoughts on “Civil Rights and Wrongs

  1. I think that although the United States had the right idea in mind when they created these two acts, that the acts were misinterpreted and ended up taking away many of the American’s basic rights. I think that the acts, especially the Espionage Act, were made to gain all the support the nation could for the war. I believe that the country was trying to keep the image of the war positive across the country so they could find support for the war effort. Also, I think that the war played an important role in gaining people rights in America, as both Women and African Americans showed what they are capable of while the nation was fighting in the war.

    1. I definitely agree with you. The United States did have the right idea. They just wanted to protect the government, etc. Then again I feel like the Espionage Act did take away from our freedom of speech. It is a topic of controversy.

    2. I do agree with you too,I also feel that they had the right idea in mind when they created those acts and they were put in place for a positive image of the war, but it was far from what happened. But jail time or a fine for using your right to freedom of speech still is far from fair.

  2. I believe the Espionage Act has much more importance and relevance than the additional Sedition Act amendments. With the Espionage Act, we are able to prosecute individuals who steal our government secrets and attempt to directly aid the enemy. With the Sedition Act however, we can prosecute citizens for just speaking out in disapproval. For this reason, we can all be thankful the Sedition Act was repealed in late 1920.

    1. Yes I think so too! I sure am glad that this act was repealed! I have tons of opinions about our current state that would probably result in my arrest. It blows my mind that the government can limit our rights!

      1. I agree I think we would all be in some sort of trouble for our statements. We’ve come a long way but there are still a ton of things that any individual can conversate or elaborate about that could have them in alot of trouble. Different amendments give us different qualities but we still need to be careful on how we express them.

  3. I can’t believe that you could go to jail just for having an opinion. I think the acts meant good but they were misunderstood. People did not have a positive image of war because it tour families apart.

    1. I agree that these acts were put into place with good intentions in mind. It is unfortunate that many people were fined or jailed because of it. Because this was a time of war, I think tensions were high and many people were confused and afraid.

  4. I believe the United States poor treatment of African Americans created many of their problems. Some of their wars were with countries comprised of mostly African Americans who the United States claimed that they would protect. This was hard to believe for these countries though because the United States didn’t even give their domestically born African Americans equal rights. No wonder the African Americans didn’t want to fight for America, they knew that this promise of protection and equality was a lie.

  5. It is unthinkable today that you could be arrested, tried, and imprisoned for criticizing the U.S. government or president, or for simply speaking out against American foreign policy.
    I was surprised to read that during WW1, disagreeing with the government’s official line could land you in jail for 20 years! Maybe the government intentions were good when they put to two acts into place but for a positive image for the war.

    1. It’s crazy to think that anyone would be put in jail for simply speaking out against the war. It seems as though it would be tough times throwing people in your own country in jail for speaking out against the war.

  6. I loved your blog this week, I liked all the detail you put into it. Your blog gave me a idea on what the people had to deal with at this time. I think it would have been really hard to live in this era. To try to say what was on your mind about the war could put you in jail,I couldn’t imagine how it could have felt. This war was very terrifying and horrible, with many deaths. The government thought it would be a good idea for the acts to make sure there wasn’t any betrayal or interference with the war. I thought it was very unfair that the government didn’t give the people many opinions about their lives.

    1. The problem with opinions in the time they would often be negative. It is proven that people’s negativity towards the war has negative consequences on the war effort. I am not saying that I am for losing freedoms, but it is understanding that in such a turbulent time we had such policy.

  7. A problem with society in my opinion has always been that people often are criticized too often for speaking their minds and for standing up for what they believe in. For example, when people were jailed for simply saying that they were against the war that just baffles me. If you don’t want the war, that is your own opinion to have. People shouldn’t be punished for having an opinion at all.

  8. I am also glad that the act got repealed because there would be many more people in jail over things we say and do. If we had to live with those acts in place still it would be a different world. I also think that having the acts were a violation of our rights. If people wanted to speak out against the war why not let them do so. It was crazy to have people speak their minds and then get punished for it.

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