100 Years Ago Today: US President Wilson Signed Sedition Act (Anti-Free Speech)

Hi, friends. Today, we reflect on a law from 100 years ago that threatened free speech in the US. [Free Speech: USA vs. Other Countries shows that the US is the nation with the most freedom of speech.]

In 1917, during World War I (1914-1918), Former US President Woodrow Wilson signed the Espionage Act. The law punished insubordination in the military, interference with military operations, and supporting US enemies during wartime. A Supreme Court case in 1919 ruled that those charged under the Espionage Act did not have their freedom of speech violated. Whistle blowers like Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning have been charged under this act.

The EA has been amended a few times, and court cases contesting the EA have occurred ever since its passage. The “most controversial” amendments came in 1918. Those controversial amendments were part of the Sedition Act of 1918. 

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The Sedition Act outlawed expressing opinions that either cast the US government in a negative light or interfered with bond sales (during war time). Those convicted under the act received 5-20 years in prison. For inexplicable reasons, the news media largely supported the act.

The Sedition Act was upheld in another Supreme Court case in 1919, but Former Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. gave a dissenting opinion in which he coined the phrase “the marketplace of ideas” (capitalist/classical liberal analogy–open competition between businesses vs. open competition between ideas).

The Sedition Act was repealed in 1920 during a sweeping reform of War Time Laws. [Thank God.] Cherish your rights…because they have been taken in the past and can be taken in the future.

Thanks for reading!

5 comments

  1. The currently predominant paradigm of political correctness causes many folks to practice self censorship. Thus, free speech is often muted in practice.

    Wilson was a bad president who only won election in 1912 with about 40 per cent of the popular vote because it was a 3 way race (with then President Taft and former president Theodore Roosevelt in the election). He helped to give us the Federal Reserve, the personal income tax, and America’s participation in World War One. They say he was a racist, too.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. The media is only a few steps removed from government influence. The rich network owners are very open to helping their political friends or damaging their enemies. Enjoy free speech while it still exists. Having an opinion is increasingly dangerous as you touched on with Snowden. Nice post!

    Like

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