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Schenek v. United States was a trial in 1919 that reaffirmed the conviction of a man for circulating antidraft leaflets among members of the armed forces. This trial upheld the Espionage and Sedition Acts, which by many deemed unconstitutional. The Espionage Act of 1917 was a United States federal law, which made it a crime for a person 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. The Sedition 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. These two laws denied the freedom of speech that our sacred Bill of Rights was supposed to uphold. The antidraft flyers that Schenek passed out claimed to be freedom of speech so the government could not stop the circulation of Schenek’s pamphlets. However, by passing out antidraft laws, Schenek had “the intent to interfere with the operation of success of the armed forces of the United States.” By doing this, he broke the law. He was sentenced to six months in prison for breaking an unconstitutional law. The government was trying to reduce the freedom of speech during a time of war so that the nation would be united as one. The opposition of some feared Woodrow Wilson and his cabinet so they took action by reducing some freedoms and imprisoning many people unconstitutionally.
The scare of not being united under a time of war was the cause of the Espionage and Sedition acts. These acts immediately caused the unfair conviction of Schenek and put him in prison. Although he was utilizing his freedom of speech, the unfair laws passed through the government by Woodrow Wilson, Congress, and the Supreme Court forbade him his civil liberties.
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"Civil Liberties of the Early Twentieth Century." 123HelpMe.com. 25 May 2019
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The trial of Sacco and Vanzettii was one of the most celebrated criminal case of the postwar period. This case involved two Italian-born anarchists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, who were arrested for a robbery and murder and later executed. They were accused of the killings of a shoe factory paymaster, a security guard, and the robbery of almost sixteen-thousand dollars from the factory’s payroll in South Braintree, Massachusetts. Many believe that they were sentenced for their political ideas and their ethnic origins rather than for any crime, they had committed, and the case became a great radical and liberal cause célèbre of the 1920’s. In fact, the judge who tried Sacco and Vanzetti was quoted to refer to the defendants as “those anarchist bastards.”
Both Sacco and Vanzetti had a strong defense and a well-put together case to prove they were innocent. Vanzetti even produced sixteen witnesses, Italians from Plymouth who claimed they had bought eels for the Christmas holiday from him, as a fish peddler, he had no time card. Jurors were swayed by several witnesses who identified Vanzetti at the scene of the burglary and by shotgun shells found on him when he was arrested five months after robbery. Jurors did not know that several prosecution witnesses had been interviewed by detectives shortly after the crime and later changed their initial descriptions of both the getaway car and the alleged criminals. Vanzetti was found guilty and the Judge sentenced him to two 12-15 years' imprisonment, the maximum sentence for the crime.
A large cause for the outcome of this trial was a surging postwar nativism that made way for prejudice and racism. Because the foreigners of America had different political ideas and came from countries that were seen as radical, the foreigners in America were judged and stereotyped. Socialism and Anarchism were popular in regions of Europe where many of America’s immigrants came from. With immigrants taking all of the American’s jobs, people were angry and scared at them. All of these reasons led people to be racist against Sacco and Vanzetti and ultimately leading to an unfair trial.
The judicial branch of the government of the United States of America is given the responsibility of declaring the constitutionality or unconstitutionality of court cases, laws, and many other things. In this instance, the judicial branch failed, not on just one trial, but on two, and also on the appeals case. The Constitution of this country states that the defendant in “innocent until proven guilty.” However, this was not the case in the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti. Sacco and Vanzetti were guilty from before the trial even started, and that was very unconstitutional and unjust.
In conclusion, the civil liberties of Americans during the first quarter of the twentieth century were tested. They were tested often and the public reacted. The civil liberties that our founding fathers fought for and gave us the right to have were being violated and the people of America challenged the government. With court cases, protests, and muckraking, forms of oppression were uncovered and publicized to the people of the United States of America. The two events discussed about earlier in this essay demonstrate some of the civil liberties that were abused during this time.