Terms in this set (5)
During World War I, the U.S. government took steps to suppress dissent among its citizens. The most obvious manifestation of this was the passage of the Espionage and Sedition Acts. The Palmer Raids were another example of how the government attempted to suppress dissent and radical thought. Did the government have the right to do this? Did it violate the Bill of Rights? Was it necessary in order to win the war?
Two months after the United States entered the Great War, President Wilson signed the Espionage Act into law. This law made it a crime to:
-convey information with intent to interfere with the operation or success of the armed forces of the United States or to promote the success of its enemies
-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 when the United States is at war; to cause or attempt to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, refusal of duty, in the military or naval forces of the United States; or to willfully obstruct the recruiting or enlistment service of the United States
While espionage is usually defined as a clandestine activity for obtaining secret information and passing it to the enemy, the Espionage Act extended the meaning of the term. The law made it a crime to openly carry expressions of political opinions, without revealing any secret, by people who had no connection to the enemy, as long as those opinions were interpreted as helping the enemy.
A year later, as the Allies continued to try and break the stalemate along the Western Front and win the war, Congress passed an amendment to the Espionage Act—the Sedition Act. This law made it a crime to use "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language" about the U.S. government, flag, or armed forces during the war. The act also allowed the postal service to deny mail delivery to dissenters of government policy during wartime.
Did the Espionage and Sedition Acts violate the Bill of Rights? The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states, "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or the press."
-Does the government have the right or power to suppress dissent in wartime? Peacetime? Why or why not?
-Do you think the United States would have risked losing World War I had it not passed the Espionage and Sedition Acts and taken other steps to suppress dissent? Why or why not?
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