The Espionage Act and The Sedition Act

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During World War I, congress would authorize two controversial pieces of legislation: the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition act of 1918. The Espionage Act was ratified in order to “suppress the spread of alleged disloyalty and to maintain the public image of remarkable national unity behind the war effort” (James and Wells, 71). The act inhibited the freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and some of which seems the antithesis of the First Amendment of the Constitution. Most of the Espionage Act would be in effect only during times of war, but two of the provisions stayed in effect during times of peace. In times of peace (and war), the Espionage Act granted the “issue of search warrants for the seizure of property used as a means of committing a felony” (“Treason”, 223). Additionally, it took measures against sending purported illegal materials through the mail: a task overseen by the Post Master General. There were various fines and jail times depending on the infraction committed under the Espionage Act. The fine for sending undeliverable mail was a $5,000 fee, five years in prison, or possibly both (“Treason”, 223). Those convicted of violating the Espionage Act would face “sentences of up to twenty years and fines of $10,000” (James and Wells, 71). Dissatisfied with the scope of the Espionage Act, Congress was compelled to add an amendment to further penalize “crimes of disloyalty” against the United States (James and Wells, 71). Congress enacted an amendment that would be known as the Sedition Act which broadened the scope of what would be considered disloyal to the United States. After the war, there would at least one bill presented sanctioning more of the Espionage Act to be enacted during times of p... ... middle of paper ... ...Wilson took on the persona of the leader of a “righteous war”, and with much support from the people approached Congress asking for a declaration of war (James and Wells, 26). While not everyone was supportive of the war, the vast majority was extremely pro-war. Congress passed the declaration of war against Germany primarily based on its unrestricted usage of U-boats against American ships. Thus through actions taken by the Germans, the United States would begin its involvement in the Great War. Works Cited James, D. Clayton, and Anne Sharp Wells. America and the Great War, 1914-1920. Wheeling: Harlan Davidson, 1998. Print. Traxel, David. 1898: The Birth of the American Century. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1998. Print. "Treason, Sedition and Civil Rights in the U. S. Law." Congressional Digest 14.10 (1935): 227- 231. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 10 Oct. 2011.

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