In what ways did the US government restrict civil liberties during and immediately after World War I?
Prior to World War I, Americans had long held an isolationist stance on foreign policy. Confirming the Monroe Doctrine's ideological stance on separating European influence from the Western Hemisphere and American influence from the Eastern Hemisphere, a large portion of the American population opposed involvement in World War I, including the prospect of a military draft.
While American policymakers argued that their responsibility was to "make the world safe for democracy," in many cases they saw World War I as an economic opportunity. Woodrow Wilson, president of the United States, began to work to consolidate public opinion in favor of the war effort.
In 1917, Congress passed the Espionage Act. The Espionage Act of 1917 prohibited newspapers and magazines from sympathizing with anti-American causes. This law also threatened those who were convicted of obstructing the draft with up to twenty years in jail. A year later, the Sedition Act of 1918 made it a federal offense to produce language or material containing "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abrasive" language. Similar to the Ailen and Sedition Act of 1798, the Sedition Act of 1918 worked to limit the influence of possible sympathetic sentiments to the Central Powers.
Political dissidents bore the brunt of the persecution. Often connected to socialist and possible communist ties, labor unions became more scrutinized under these policies. The International Workers of the World (IWW) labor organization was largely dismantled, and the leaders of labor protests were arrested under the provisions of the Sedition Act. This broad scrutinization of language that was prohibited under the Sedition Act was not limited to labor organizations. Film producer Robert Goldstein was sentenced to ten years in prison and a five-thousand-dollar fine after producing The Spirit of '76, a movie depicting the British redcoats as the enemy. This undermined Wilson's and policy maker's calls to support the British in the war effort. During these various claims and court rulings, the United States Supreme Court often defended the Sedition Act's provisions, even if they directly contradict the First Amendment.