Life Under the Espionage Act


The Espionage Act of 1917 was a set of amendments that prohibited certain types of free speech. This included speech such as displeasure and disloyal speech toward the United States Government. The Sedition Act of 1918 furthered this agenda by adding more amendments. This was in response to the first Red Scare happening in Russia, and the government was cracking down on potential communists and traders to the United States.

As you could imagine, civil rights were hit huge by these new acts. Attorneys could prosecute whomever, whenever they wanted because they had full desecration. One of the most famous cases is Mollie Steimer, who was convicted for conspiracy to violate the Espionage Act for intent to interfere with operations of the United States armed forces. She was sentenced to 15 years in prison, and deported back to Russia. Kate Richards O’Hare gave speeches in multiple states, but was arrested and convicted after giving a speech in North Dakota.

The Red Scare was a terrifying time for the United States. The government did all that they could to make sure that communism wouldn’t spread internally, meaning they would try to stop it at all costs, no matter who was affected through the acts and amendments passed. While it wouldn’t be justifiable if past President Obama or current President Trump attempted to pass laws to imprison/deport anyone who could potentially threaten our freedom, communism was a horror tale from hell in 1917. I’m sure then-President Woodrow didn’t have a hard time passing these amendments and laws into effect quickly with little resistance.

Many criticisms came out of these sets of amendments. Many people believed that the Espionage Act was used inappropriately, mainly for intimidation and was unconstitutional. Legal defense costs totaled between one to three million dollars. I personally believe that this is the definite start of distrust between the American people and their government that continues throughout today.

12 thoughts on “Life Under the Espionage Act

  1. It is a downhill spiral once the government abuses its power and it take a while for that trust to be regained. Government overstepping seems to become more and more popular these days but is starting to be more overlooked. There are some things that the government should never be allowed to control, like freedom of speech.

  2. I liked how you included examples of people who violated the acts and detailed on what happened to them. I think the repercussions of violating these acts were a little extreme, as a fifteen year prison sentence and deportation are serious sentencings. Maybe the government acted so harshly against those who violated the acts in order to deter more people from violating them. However, I think that the government went a little too far with these acts and agree that those acts could have sparked government distrust.

  3. I find your point about this being “the definite start of distrust between the American people and their government” interesting, I’ve always known that gap to begin during the Vietnam war and continue today, but I can definitely see where you’re coming from. it would also seem to me that the espionage act could be majorly abused very easily without much of a check at all.

    1. I completely agree. That point the author made here is extremely fascinating. When the author of this blog says “the definite start of distrust between the American people and their government” it makes me want to look back into the United States history to find other points of distrust the American people had with their Government and get to the “root” of the distrust. What caused it? Who were the major players? What happened as a result? This blog has intrigued me to dig a little bit deeper.

  4. I find the whole concept of prohibiting ones freedom of speech very interesting. To think that I would have to think twice about what I say in public seems so foreign. the fact that someone could be taken to court because they spoke freely of their opinion is very shocking to me.

  5. The Red Scare was a scary time for the United States and its citizens so I can see why the government wanted to crack down on possible communists within our borders. I think they may have taken it too far in some instances, most for that matter. I like how you incorporated events that took place during this time such as that of Mollie Steimer and Katie Richards O’Hare. The consequences of these individuals seem extreme and it is crazy to me to think this actually took place in the us, to think freedom of speech was hindered is an almost unfathomable thought.

  6. The government is going in circles when they are advertising and trying to take away certain peoples freedom. As we look at the current times with President Trump trying to get the vote across that he wants the wall built and trying to “protect the country and its citizens” . As we look at the aspects of things were dealing with right now in America.

  7. I agree that the Espionage and Sedition Acts went too far when it came to restricting our freedom of speech & expression. People could be fined or imprisoned for a very long time just for stating their opinion.

  8. I agree that the Espionage Act and Sedition Act went too far. You can’t take away peoples rights, it will only make things worse.
    I like how you used examples to about how certain people were put in jails or prison because they interfered with the Espionage and Sedition Act.

  9. I can see how people would believe that these laws were a little out there as they infringed on our freedoms as Americans but there are time when things may become so desperate that we need measure like these. If you think about it, isn’t being placed under martial law feel like a violation of the rights as our ordinary laws are set aside. Even still martial law can be declared in America as it may at times be needed. I believe we as Americans understand this.

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