Mrs. Ruland's U.S. History Class Project

Espionage & Sedition Acts and Their Effect on American Culture

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Espionage and Sedition Acts and Their Effect on American Culture

The Espionage Act was passed on June 15, 1917 by Congress, and signed by President Woodrow Wilson. It prevented opposition to and interfering with the United States Army, or even slightly favoring United States enemies. If anybody was convicted of these actions, they could be charged a very large fine or go to jail for 20+ years, and violating the act was not difficult. Someone could be convicted for simply saying they did not like war, or that they wanted peace. Saying these things were punishable by law- even if you were a teen. This Act was modified when Congress passed the Sedition Act on May 16, 1918. This Act extended the Espionage Act by prohibiting interference or aggression towards the United States government, the flag or the Constitution. This made it even harder to stay out of trouble for everybody. The Espionage and Sedition acts were extreme actions that had very big impact on the American people.

Espionage and Sedition Acts:

Out of Control

After they were first passed, the Espionage and Sedition acts were enforced with government actions that could be deemed constitutionally unacceptable. American citizens were harshly prosecuted for speaking freely about our country, one thing that is guaranteed to us by the Constitution. One very large Espionage and Sedition case was Schenck vs. the U.S. in 1919. Charles Schenck published a pamphlet urging people to fight the World War One military draft. He was brought to a Philadelphia federal court before being taken to Supreme Court on the charges of despotic actions and treason. Schenck argued that he was just exercising his rights given by the 1st amendment. In the end, Schenck's appeal was rejected and his actions called “a clear and present danger” by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. Similar cases like this popped up more and more throughout the country. Anybody could be given up to 30 years in jail for violating these acts, including kids!




WWI The US Sedition Act

This website is a useful source because it actually shows a part of the Sedition Act document.  The paragraph shown  explains what the Sedition Act did.  It also gives such small behaviors like refusing duty that under the Act would lead to immediate arrest. 

Sedition Act of 1918

This site, though small, provides an actual section of the Sedition Act document, and then explains it in such a way that it is easier to comprehend. It also explains what people could be prosecuted for doing or saying.

Primary Documents: US Espionage Act, June 1917

This site provides a reproduction of the Espionage Act of 1917. It gives the reader a chance to see what the actual document looked like, and it gives details that otherwise would not be given in a simple explanation. It allows one to get insight into what the idea behind the document might have been.

The American Experience: The Espionage & Sedition Acts

American Experiences is an article that is an account from someone who actually lived these events. Emma Goldman explains the Espionage and Sedition Acts the way she lived them. This site allows one to see how someone who experienced the effects of these documents was affected.

Espionage Act

This website provides a very simple explanation of every aspect of the Espionage Act. It talks about what the act was, what it did, who was affected, and how. It covers the act completely and even goes into detail on the thought behind the action.

Espionage History ( 1917-1918)

This website consists of a summary about WWI and how it led to the passing of the Espionage and Sedition Act.  It showed several points on what the people had to do to be arrested.  It also goes into how the government thought about progressive, and any other type of propaganda.

To What Extent is it Acceptable to limit a Citizen's Civil Liberties during Wartime?

This website gives a short explanation of the Espionage and Sedition Act and how it relates to Democracy.  Right below it there is a simple outline about the acts and, what they did and led to.

Third World Traveler: The Espionage Act-June 15, 1917

This website has all of the 9 sections of the Espionage Act, written by Congress. Because it gives you all 9, you are able to read through it all and get a good sense of why the act was in effect and what it did.

Wilson and the Repression of Free Speech

This website talks about why President Woodrow Wilson pushed the Espionage Act through the Congress and in red print shows what the President had to say about it. It also gives a thorough explanation of what the Espionage Act punished as a crime.

Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 +

This website gives the history of the Sedition Acts starting from 1789. But as you scroll downwards, you will find that it also talks about the Espionage and Sedition Acts of 1917-1918. It also states that compared to previous Presidents who had used the Sedition Act, President Wilson's was the most repressive.


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Last updated March 28, 2007

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