In what ways did the US government restrict civil liberties during and immediately after World War I?

The US government restricted civil liberties during and after World War I primarily through two pieces of legislation: the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918.

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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,...

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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.

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In addition to the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918, which potentially affected every American, the civil liberties of many immigrants in the United States were violated. The period immediately preceding the First World War saw the largest wave of immigrants in American history. When the United States joined the war, almost one third of Americans were immigrants or the children of immigrants. War often results in xenophobia, and this one was no different.

Very quickly after the United States declared war on Germany in 1917, immigrants from Germany over the age of fourteen were classified as alien enemies. The Wilson administration went about regulating what these immigrants could do and what they could own. They were forbidden from owning weapons or wireless communication devices. Those found with such items had them confiscated without recompense. Even the areas they could reside in were limited, and many were forcibly evicted from their homes and relocated. The entire District of Columbia was off-limits to German immigrants. They were also prohibited from entering many stockyards, warehouses, airfields, and railway yards. Those who worked in these places lost their jobs. German immigrants who violated these restrictions could find themselves arrested or deported, often without receiving a trial.

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The main ways that the US government restricted civil liberties during World War I was through legislation that restricted the right of freedom of speech that is expressed in the First Amendment to the Constitution. The most important pieces of legislation that accomplished this were the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918.

A few months after the United States formally entered the war against Germany, on June 15, 1917, Congress passed the Espionage Act. This made it a crime to undermine or interfere with the war effort or aid the enemies of the country. The legislation targeted neutralists, pacifists, communists, or anyone else who opposed the war by making it possible to investigate and prosecute anyone who protested the military draft or the war itself. Possible punishments for violations included fines of up to $10,000 and prison terms of up to twenty years.

The Sedition Act, passed on May 16, 1918, added to the Espionage Act by making it a crime to speak against the government of the United States, the US flag, the Constitution, or the war effort. One of the prominent people arrested and charged under these acts was the labor leader Eugene V. Debs. After giving a speech in 1918 in which he criticized the Espionage Act and urged young men not to register for the draft, he was arrested on September 12 and sentenced to ten years in prison. His case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which unanimously upheld his conviction. Debs stayed in prison for three years and was released after Congress repealed the Sedition Act.

Although the Sedition Act was repealed after the conclusion of the war, the Espionage Act is still in effect to the present. Famous people who have been prosecuted under the Espionage Act since World War I include Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in 1950, Daniel Ellsberg in 1973, and Chelsea Manning in 2013.

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During and after World War I, the government restricted the civil liberties of the American people. During the war, two laws were passed that restricted civil liberties. The Sedition Act was passed. This law made it illegal to publicly criticize the President or the war activities. The Espionage Act was also passed. This law punished anti-war activities. During times of war, it is not uncommon for the government to restrict the freedoms of the people. The government doesn’t want our enemies to think the American people don’t support the war effort.

After World War I, civil liberties were also suppressed. There was a big fear of a communist takeover after World War I ended. The goal of the communists was to spread their system worldwide. People were convinced the communists were coming here because there were a lot of strikes after World War I. Many people viewed some of the striking workers as anarchists and as radicals tied to the communist ideology. During this time period, known as the Red Scare, the FBI began to investigate radical groups. A. Mitchell Palmer authorized raids of individuals and groups that were suspected of having connections to radicals. These Palmer raids, as they were called, often were done without a search warrant. In some cases, immigrants and foreigners were exiled from the country even though the raids were done without proper search warrants being issued.

During and after World War I, people’s rights were violated, and their civil liberties were curtailed.

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