World War I

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How did WWI affect political life in the United States? Also, what techniques were used to stifle dissent?

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World War I created an atmosphere of intolerance in the United States. Anyone who expressed an opinion contrary to the official line was liable to end up being, at best, ostracized and, at worst, sent to prison. Most of the victims of such repression tended to be on the left of the political spectrum: radical socialists and anarchists who argued that the War had nothing to do with the proletariat and was a struggle between the ruling classes of the combatant countries. They actively campaigned to keep the United States out of the War and, after the country entered the War, encouraged the American working-class not to play any part in the conflict.

For these activities, many radical leftists found themselves in prison on trumped-up charges of sedition. But the consequences of the government's crack down on dissent were wider and much more disturbing. During the Bisbee Deportation of 1917 around 1,300 striking miners and their families in Arizona were illegally rounded up by the local sheriff and transported to neighboring New Mexico where they were told never to return to Bisbee again.

Though not directly related to the War, it was largely because of the atmosphere of intolerance toward political dissent generated by the War that such outrages were able to take place. Indeed, those responsible for the deportation justified their actions in terms of reducing domestic threats to the United States in time of war.

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World War I had a definite impact on political life in the United States. When President Wilson ran for reelection in 1916, he campaigned on the concept that he had kept the United States out of the war. This helped him win reelection.

Once the war had begun, there were attempts to silence any criticism of the government and the government’s war effort. The Espionage Act and the Sedition Act punished anti-war activities, which weren’t clearly defined, and made it illegal to criticize the government and its war effort. There was concern that if people showed their dissent with the American war effort that it would encourage the Germans to keep on fighting.

After the war ended, there was fear that the communists were trying to spread their system to the United States. This led to the Palmer Raids, in which many people were arrested without warrants just because of their political views. Some people were also deported.

Additionally, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Schenck v United States that free speech was not unlimited. The Supreme Court ruled that if words present a danger, it is acceptable to limit free speech.

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The largest impact of the First World War on political discourse in America was its treatment of those who dissented.  The Espionage Act which was passed almost immediately after the United States entered the war allowed the government broader freedoms to stifle dissent, imprison those whose speech was deemed to interfere with the operations of the military, and enabled citizens to become more active agents in identifying where potential treasonous behavior might lie.  Activists like members of the worker's union, the IWW, and Eugene Debs were imprisoned for their beliefs and the articulation of them.  The desire of the government to present a completely coherent front in its attempt to "make the world safe for democracy" had an adverse effect in trying to repress the same democratic tendencies on a domestic front.

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The Supreme Court sided with the government in Schenck vs. United States, ruling the Espionage Act constitutional and limits on free speech by the government constitutional as well.  They wrote that, when there was a "clear and present danger" to the national security of the United States, it was OK for the government to limit civil liberties.  This ruling was used as a precedent for Korematsu vs. US during World War II, and Dennis vs. US during the Cold War.

Since Schenck was also a socialist leader at that time, he along with Debs were essentially targeted by the government.  As the Russian Revolution took place in 1917, the anti-communist sentiment in the American people and government rose as well.

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World War I tended to stifle political life in the United States.  This was especially true of any sort of political life that would tend to hurt the war effort.  There was not an election while the US was at war, so we do not know how that would have played out, but we do know that dissent was stifled.

The main way that this was done was through the Espionage Act of 1917.  This law made it illegal, more or less, to do anything that the government said would hurt the war effort.  That is why Eugene Debs was jailed for speaking out against the draft.

There was also mob violence against people who were against the war.  Finally, the government also prevented various anti-war activists from sending mail.

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