Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sedition Act of 1918

Sedition Act of 1918
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Sedition Act of 1918 was an
amendment to the Espionage Act of 1917 passed 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 States is 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 Court upheld 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 World union, 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 Mock noted 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." And as mentioned in his book, "The Great Influenza" [John M. Barry], he noted that it was because of their willingness to so blindly follow and even lead this movement back then that explains why we today have so little information on specific numbers of deaths in particular locations caused by the 1918 influenza pandemic that swept this nation and the entire world at that time. They wished us not to know for fear that it might lower the morale of the civilians supporting the war effort and the morale of the troops fighting the war, even though hundreds, nay thousands of them were dying of the disease every day at the time. All they would ever say is, "There is no need to worry. There is no epidemic."

Congress repealed the Sedition Act on December 13, 1920.[1] [2] 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.[3]


1 Text of the Sedition Act
1.1 Section 3
1.2 Section 4
2 See also
3 References
4 External links

Text of the Sedition Act

Section 3

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 fide and 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..

Section 4

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 office at which mail is received addressed to such person or concern to return to the postmaster at the office at which they were originally mailed all letters or other matter so addressed, with the words "Mail to this address undeliverable under Espionage Act" plainly written or stamped upon the outside thereof, and all such letters or other matter so returned to such postmasters shall be by them returned to the senders thereof under such regulations as the Postmaster General may prescribe.

See also:

Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798
Australian sedition law
Palmer Raids
Debs v. United States


-- Stone, Geoffrey R. (2004). Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism. New York:
W. W. Norton & Company, p230. ISBN 0393058808.
-- 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
-- Stone, 2004 ibid

External links

Example of a prosecution brought soon after the Sedition Act became law