Civil Liberties of the Early Twentieth Century

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All throughout history civil liberties have been established, fought for, and abused. During the first quarter of the twentieth century, the civil liberties in the United States of America were tested. There were many events where the freedoms that our founding fathers had fought for Passive Voice (consider revising). Prejudice, fear, and racism all played a role during these events, during many of which they decided the outcome. Two events that demonstrate when the civil liberties in America were tested were during the trial of Sacco and Vanzettii and Schenek v. United States.

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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