World War I

by Edward Paice

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Student Question

Was the suspension of civil rights during WWI an acceptable violation of the Constitution?

Expert Answers

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The answer is that neither of these choices is correct.

While this is a matter of opinion, I do not agree that our rights must never be violated.  There are surely instances that can be imagined in which violations of rights are somewhat justified.  The best example of this might be the Civil War, when President Lincoln did things like suspending the right of habeas corpus.  When our country’s very existence is threatened, some diminution of rights may be justified

However, in World War I, it is very hard indeed to say that our country’s existence was threatened in any way.  There was some opposition to the war, but it was not tremendous.  It is not as if the opposition was going to cause the war to be lost.  Moreover, even if the war had been lost, the US would not have been in grave danger.  If the US had sent troops over to France and the Allies had been defeated, the US could have simply withdrawn its troops and been safe across the Atlantic from Europe.  Germany was not going to invade the United States.

So, it may be reasonable to curtail rights at some times, but WWI was not one of those times.

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