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Here are seven possible lessons from the Espionage Act:
- The Constitution cannot necessarily prevent governments from making laws that infringe on our freedoms. This was a clearly unconstitutional law and yet it was still passed by Congress and signed by the president.
- The Supreme Court will not necessarily strike down laws that are clearly unconstitutional. The Court upheld this law even though it seems like a clear violation of the 1st Amendment.
- The people have to work to protect their own rights. The Constitution cannot protect our rights unless we work to protect them. In this case, the people really did not do anything to try to repeal a bad law. Instead, they simply accepted it.
- We are prone to trampling the rights of unpopular people. This is one of many instances in our history where the rights of unpopular minorities (in this case, people who opposed WWI) were infringed upon.
- American patriotism tends to make us disapprove of people who question the government in war time. We have a mentality that seems to say that people who question the government at such times must hate our country.
- Americans have, at various times in our history, been prone to be suspicious of immigrants. President Wilson, in calling for this law, singled out immigrants as people who tended to be disloyal to the country.
- Politicians have been willing to use national security as an excuse to go after their opponents. We can argue that the government imprisoned Eugene Debs more because it did not like his politics than because he endangered national security.
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