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!
Visions of America: A History of the United States, Combined Volume, 3
ShareAmerica. “Civil liberties in wartime.” ShareAmerica, 26 June 2017, share.america.gov/civil-liberties-wartime/.
“Civil Liberties, World War I.” Americans at War, Encyclopedia.com, http://www.encyclopedia.com/defense/energy-government-and-defense-magazines/civil-liberties-world-war-i.