World War I Questions and Answers
by Edward Paice

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How were civil liberties restricted during World War I? 

Civil liberties were restricted during World War I through the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918, which were used to ban and punish criticism of the government and war. Additionally, some immigrants were arrested, denied a hearing, and deported because they were believed to support the Germans.

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When the United States began mobilizing for war in 1917, certain civil liberties were among the first casualties. There had been a lot of resistance to the idea of joining the conflict. With the need for a draft to quickly build up the military, many supporters of the war were afraid that the naysayers were going to be a real problem. That is why Congress quickly passed laws aimed at silencing dissent. This started with the Espionage Act in 1917 and the Sedition Act the next year. These two acts significantly curtailed First Amendment rights. These laws made it illegal to say or print anything that could be construed as "disloyal, profane, scurrilous or abusive language" against the United States, its government, and fighting forces. Those who violated these laws could be fined or sentenced to up to twenty years in prison.

This led to a heavy censoring of the press. The Espionage Act allowed the U.S. postmaster general to refuse to mail any publication that he considered unpatriotic in...

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