World War I

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Was the U.S. justified in limiting the civil liberties of its citizens during World War I?

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Domenick Franecki eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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During World War I, the government attempted to limit opposition to the war by silencing dissent. To this end, two laws were passed: the Espionage Act and the Sedition Act. People could be jailed for speaking against the government or resisting the draft (or encouraging others to do so). There was opposition to American involvement in the war from many different quarters. Part of this opposition came from isolationists, who felt the US should not get involved in European affairs, and others opposed the war because they were pacifists, or for other reasons.

Curbing civil liberties in a time of war goes back to Lincoln and the Civil War. Lincoln imposed martial law in areas that he felt posed a threat to the Union. However, during World War I, the opposition did not pose a threat to the Union, and the government was not justified in curbing civil liberties. The Alien and Sedition Acts were used to jail people who were simply exercising their constitutional right to free speech. For...

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