The Espionage Act

Eugene V. Debs, convicted in 1918 under the Espionage Act for delivering an antiwar speech. His sentence was 10 years. Surprisingly, Debs RAN FOR PRESIDENT WHILE STILL IN PRISON in 1920 and received 900,000 votes.

According to Foner, the espionage Act of 1917 prohibited not only spying and interfering with the draft, but also “false statements” that might impede military success. It basically made it illegal to say anything against the government—anything which criticized the government, which brought the government into disrepute, as the law said. Foner also mentions the Sedition Act of 1918 that made it a crime to make spoken or printed statements that intended to cast “contempt, scorn, or disrepute” on the “form of government”, or that advocated interference with war effort. Many people were arrested under these acts. I did more research and found that citizens convicted of these crimes were subject to a fine of up to $10,000 or to imprisonment for not more than 20 years or both. I also found that other groups use these acts as the opportunity to fight old battles against old enemies (employers used these acts to get labor leaders and IWW radical laborites arrested not because of what they said about the war, but because they wanted them out of their factories).