- Sedition Act of 1918
The Sedition Act of 1918 was an amendment to the
Espionage Act of 1917passed at the urging of President Woodrow Wilson, who was concerned that dissent, in time of war, was a significant threat to morale. The passing of this act forbade Americans to use "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language" about the United States government, flag, or armed forces during war. The act also allowed the Postmaster General to deny mail delivery to dissenters of government policy during wartime. Freedom of speech in the United Statesis guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states in part: "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech, or the press". The United States Supreme Courtupheld the Sedition Act at the time it was in effect in Debs v. United States, but subsequent Supreme Court decisions (such as " Brandenburg v. Ohio" in 1969) make it less likely that a similar law would be considered constitutional today.
The Espionage Act made it a crime to help enemies of the United States, but the Sedition Act made it a crime to utter, print, write or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the United States' form of government.
U.S. citizens, including members of the
Industrial Workers of the Worldunion, were also imprisoned during World War I for their anti-war dissent under the provisions of the Sedition Act. Anti-war protesters were arrested by the hundreds as speaking out against the draft and the war became illegal under this law.
In his 1941 book "
Censorship 1917", James Mocknoted that most U.S. newspapers "showed no antipathy toward the act" and "far from opposing the measure, the leading papers seemed actually to lead the movement in behalf of its speedy enactment." In the book "The Great Influenza" by John M. Barry, it is claimed that the reason there is so little information available today about the 1918 influenza pandemic is that the newspapers supported the act. The information might have lowered the morale of the civilians supporting the war effort and the morale of the troops fighting the war. The media claimed, "There is no need to worry. There is no epidemic." (citation needed)
Congress repealed the Sedition Act on December 13, 1920. [cite book|last=Stone|first=Geoffrey R.|year=2004|title=Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism|publisher=
W. W. Norton & Company|location=New York|isbn=0393058808|pages=p230] [Geoffrey R. Stone and Stephen J. Chulhofer "BRIEF OF AMICUS CURIAE FRED KOREMATSU IN SUPPORT OF PETITIONERS" to the Supreme Court of the United States, No. 03-334, 03-343, 03-6696] The repeal of the Sedition Act was the apparent result of its many abuses during World War I, including actions by the Wilson administration and the postmaster general. [Stone, 2004 ibid]
Text of the Sedition Act
:"Whoever, when the United States is at war, shall willfully make or convey false reports or false statements with intent to interfere with the operation or success of the military or naval forces of the United States, or to promote the success of its enemies, or shall willfully make or convey false reports or false statements, or say or do anything except by way of
bona fideand not disloyal advice to an investor or investors, with intent to obstruct the sale by the United States of bonds or other securities of the United States or the making of loans by or to the United States, and whoever when the United States is at war, shall willfully cause or attempt to cause, or incite or attempt to incite, insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty, in the military or naval forces of the United States, or shall willfully obstruct or attempt to obstruct the recruiting or enlistment services of the United States, and whoever, when the United States is at war, shall willfully utter, print, write or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States or the Constitution of the United States, or the military or naval forces of the United States, or the flag of the United States, or the uniform of the Army or Navy of the United States into contempt, scorn, contumely, or disrepute, or shall willfully utter, print, write, or publish any language intended to incite, provoke, or encourage resistance to the United States, or to promote the cause of its enemies, or shall willfully display the flag of any foreign enemy, or shall willfully by utterance, writing, printing, publication, or language spoken, urge, incite, or advocate any curtailment of production in this country of any thing or things, product or products, necessary or essential to the prosecution of the war in which the United States may be engaged, with intent by such curtailment to cripple or hinder the United States in the prosecution of war, and whoever shall willfully advocate, teach, defend, or suggest the doing of any of the acts or things in this section enumerated, and whoever shall by word or act support or favor the cause of any country with which the United States is at war or by word or act oppose the cause of the United States therein, shall be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000 or the imprisonment for not more than twenty years, or both: Provided, That any employee or official of the United States Government who commits any disloyal act or utters any unpatriotic or disloyal language, or who, in an abusive and violent manner criticizes the Army or Navy or the flag of the United States shall be at once dismissed from the service.."
:"When the United States is at war, the Postmaster General may, upon evidence satisfactory to him that any person or concern is using the mails in violation of any of the provisions of this Act, instruct the postmaster at any
post officeat which postmasters shall be by them returned to the senders thereof under such regulations as the Postmaster General may prescribe."
Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798
Australian sedition law
Debs v. United States"
* [http://www.seditionproject.net/index.html The Montana Sedition Project]
* [http://www.nashvillepost.com/news/2007/8/5/nashville_now_and_then_you_watch_your_mouth Example of a prosecution brought soon after the Sedition Act became law]
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