The Espionage and Sedition Acts, a Step too Far.
The Espionage act was put in place in 1917 with the intent to dissolve the tense climate created by World War I in the United States. During WWI president Woodrow Wilson and his cabinet decided to enact an act to deal with United States citizens who would attempt to harm the United States (legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com). The law sought to protect against warfare by propaganda as well. The Espionage act contained standard clauses criminalizing obtaining information with the intent to injure the United States, and deemed a criminal anyone who should try to cause insubordination of military personnel, lie with the intent to harm the United States, or the United States military or navy, or promotes the enemies of the United States during war time (legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com). None of the clauses contained within the Espionage act are preposterous, and they all are necessary, some far less necessary than others, however the Sedition act, an amendment to the Espionage act enacted in 1918, took the act to a whole new level. The Sedition act made it illegal to do things such as insult the United States’ flag, or the uniform of the military or naval forces. The United States government overstepped its boundaries and necessities in creating the Sedition act, and by extension it overstepped its boundaries and necessities in creating the Espionage act.The Sedition act took away some of the inalienable rights that the United States Constitution protects, namely the free speech and free press parts. The Sedition act made it illegal to say, print, write, or publish anything that is disloyal, profane, or abusive towards the form of government of the United States, the Constitution of the United States, the military or naval forces of the United States, the flag of the United States, the uniform of the Army or Navy of the United States, or to say anything that has the intent to get rid of or change the United States government, flag, military or navy, or military or navy uniform (legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com). In the Declaration of Independence the fore fathers of this nation stated that the Government is supposed to be to the benefit of the people, and that if it is not it is the people’s responsibility to speak up and bring about change so the government suits them, and yet the government created a law saying that to try and change the government is illegal. The act also essentially said that the United States flag is more important than the United States citizens or their freedom. The flag is supposed to be a symbol of what the nation is all about, freedom. When the flag stops being a symbol of freedom and becomes an entity in and of itself there is a problem, especially when the entity it has become is more important than the freedom it was designed to represent.
The one thing the United States seems to hold dearest is the Constitution. The governmental system has been built around the Constitution; the Supreme Court uses the Constitution as a guide by which they decide if everything is acceptable. Despite this truth the United States Government decided it to be a good idea to create a law that interferes with the most important part of the constitution, free speech. If someone thinks the uniforms the troops, who are sent out to protect the United States citizens, wear look a little less than awe-inspiring they should speak up, and yet doing just that could get them thrown in jail, and perceived as a traitor. The parts of the Espionage act that limit the freedom of speech are in no way beneficial to the freedom or security of the United States, and therefore were not necessary additions. Protection against United States citizens who administer states secrets to the United States’ enemies is acceptable and necessary; protection against mild mannered union electricians who were so bold as to write a letter to the editor about the military uniforms is neither acceptable nor necessary.
The loose interpretation that lawman made about the boundaries of the law is another problem. The House of Representatives refused to seat Victor Berger, a socialist congressman from Wisconsin, because of his antiwar views (US.history.wisc.edu), he was doing nothing illegal, yet the law was loosely interpreted to make him do something illegal in an attempt to have only people who support the war vote on issues pertaining to the war. “Big Bill” Haywood, as well as other leaders of the Industrial Workers of the World, were accused of sabotaging the war effort when they urged workers to strike for better working conditions and pay (law.umkc.edu). The Espionage act was so loosely interpreted that doing anything could be turned against an individual as anti-war actions.
The Espionage and Sedition act not only violated the First Amendment, as well as many other personal freedoms, but it falsely incarcerated many innocent people. There were definitely parts included in the act that were necessary for the betterment of the United States, but the parts that broke the First Amendment and denied personal freedoms were not necessary and outweighed the acceptable parts.
"Biography of William Big Bill Haywood." UMKC School of Law. Web. 13 Oct. 2010. <http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/haywood/hay_bhay.htm>.
"Espionage and Sedition Acts Legal Definition of Espionage and Sedition Acts. Espionage and Sedition Acts Synonyms by the Free Online Law Dictionary." Legal Dictionary. Web. 12 Oct. 2010. <http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Espionage and Sedition Acts>.
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"Victor Berger." American History 102: Oldest American History Site on the Internet -- Established in 1996 --. Web. 13 Oct. 2010. <http://us.history.wisc.edu/hist102/bios/html/berger3.html>.