Land of the “Free”


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.  09869ab6b1a5c87120c0542e3c2a-was-woodrow-wilson-correct-in-passing-the-espionage-and-sedition-acts-during-world-war-i-should

7 thoughts on “Land of the “Free”

  1. It seems that fear of what is different is at the core of these acts. Feeding on people’s fear to further their cause for the war is disturbing and sad. It bothers me that people’s rights get infringed on, because it is unconstitutional and just plain wrong. It makes me wonder if people let the government’s bad behavior slide, just how bad it could get. It reminds me of George Orwell’s novel 1984. Obviously, 1984 was much more extreme, but it offers insight about how things could become if we don’t stand up for our rights. One direct correlation between Orwell’s 1984 and the Sedition Act is that printing, writing, or speaking negatively towards the government, also known as “Big Brother” in 1984, were all outlawed. The difference is that people were tortured and killed for it in the novel. That scares me. Fear and hate perpetuate this way of thinking and I am fearful that these things could happen in the future if people aren’t willing to keep fighting for these freedoms that we sometimes take for granted.

  2. Around this time the phrase “land of the free” seams a bit ironic dew to lack of the fist amendment and the accusing and jailing anybody who seams suspicious. it was completely unfair for the people who protest against the war. I would understand if they were being jailed for acts of violence or destruction of property during the protest, but if they weren’t hurting anyone and just using there words it should int be a problem. it just shows how lacking the word freedom was back then. Good job on your post gary308926945.

    Landon Martens.

  3. Fear can influence our thoughts and decisions in so many ways. A good example would be like from your article on how the anti-German propaganda in how it was successful at getting people to join in on war efforts, but bad for the German-American citizens who had to deal with the repercussions of Germany’s involvement in the war. Perhaps there is more we can do as a nation to stop the spread of associative prejudice amongst the citizens in order to cease potentially detrimental mistakes in the future!

  4. I like how you mentioned that the flag and military like “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. ” I wish this was taken more serious today! good job on the article.

    Kate Mikulak

  5. While many people at the time sought to oppose the newly forced acts of war, It can be justified in some ways. During the First World War, there was high tensions regarding criminal sabotage and other indiscriminate deeds that could be brought upon by conversing with the wrong crowds. While the arrest of the communist leader during the war may have fueled the anti-war movement and other pacifists alike, it may have just been a measure of preventing what was also happening at the time in terms of the Russian Revolution. In this instance the government took charge int he best way they could to prevent further collapse of the strength of the American people, following the minor acts of atrition already committed by the German Nation against the United States.

    Nick Sheridan

  6. Your post was very informative! I completely agree that civil liberties were was infringed upon, as United States citizens were unable to utilize their freedom of speech, as well as their freedom to protest, freedom of the press, etc. Someone was sentenced to ten years in prison, because he was a vocal leader of the Socialist party, and the Supreme Court upheld his sentence, despite the fact that the acts themselves (The Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918) were unconstitutional! I could not image living during this time! However, some would draw parallels from the lack of civil liberties at this time to the disenfranchisement and lack of judiciary structure/fairness that occurs (frequently, based on race and/or social status) today.

  7. It seems like we tend to repeat those mistakes a lot. There is always one group of people that are not wanted, and we always end up doing something that infringes on the rights of the country as a whole. We even have situations like these occurring in the states right now. Maybe not to the same extremes, but it’s still there. Why do you think that is? First it was non-whites, then German Americans. Do you think it’s just a coping strategy ,for lack of a better word, or do you think it’s a way for us to protect ourselves?

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