At the time of World War I, the world had never seen a conflict of this size scale. How wars were being fought were changing, as well as the culture towards them back in the United States. In 1917, civil liberties came under siege when the Espionage Act was passed. This act criminalized sabotaging military recruitment, spreading information to hinder the military’s war effort, and advocating the success of enemy countries. Violating this law could result in not only a hefty fine, but jail time as well. The following year, the Sedition Act was also passed. This act further restricted the civil liberties within the United States by outlawing speaking, writing, or printing “any abusive or disloyal language” towards the flag, constitution, government, or the military. These acts both targeted groups such as socialists, anti-war advocates, and pacifists. A notable example of these law in effect is the arrest of Eugene Debs, leader of the socialist party at the time. He was sentenced to 10 years of jail for a speech that he made opposing these acts. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, upholding his sentence.
Also at this time, anti-German propaganda spread largely across the country. While the purpose of this was to encourage young Americans to fight, it also swayed the public opinion towards German Americans in a negative tone. Immigrants that came from Allied nations during this time were embraced in the United States, but this was not the case for German immigrants. In some cases, fellow citizens became violent towards German Americans, harming them or their businesses. This resulted in some German Americans changing their birth names, buying war bonds to appear patriotic, and quitting speaking German in their houses.
These acts were passed mainly due to fear of sabotage from spies within the United States and from sympathizers, as well as to stop any negative war efforts stirring in the country. However, in trying to accomplish that, the government was willing to strip freedom from its citizens. The Espionage and Sedition Acts allowed the government to manipulate public opinion of the war, and punish anyone who used their freedom of expression to speak out against the war. Even with national security at risk, the governments need to be able to trust its people and uphold liberty.