In what ways did the government use the Espionage Act and the Sedition Act to suppress criticism of the war?  What were the penalties for violating these Acts?

Who were the major targets of the Alien and Espionage Acts?


Espionage Act:

Penalized anyone who obstructed the operation of the armed forces, was insubordinate, or displayed disloyalty within the forces.

This form of legislation was made to discriminate against anti-war groups, convicting more than 1,000 people.  The government designed this act to exile foreign radicals and deal with dissenting U.S. citizens in order to "defend the republic."

Sedition Act:

Stated that when the U.S. is at war, anyone who makes false reports or statements with intent to interfere with the operation or success of the military or navy, or promote the success of its enemies, or be suspected of insubordination, disloyalty, or mutiny, will be fined no more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than 20 years or both.

These acts had banned Socialist materials from the mail and disrupted Socialist and IWW meetings.

These acts were the most restrictive in American history since the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. Citizens could now be prosecuted for writing or uttering any sentiment that could possibly be constituted as bad for the government.


Major Targets:

Radicals, Socialists, Wobblies (Industrial Workers of the World members), and people who opposed the war were persecuted with the Espionage and Sedition Acts. 

The government used this legislation to attack its enemies:  the Wobblies, Socialists, and Communists.

Wobblies were convicted mostly for their speaking out against the capitalist system, which they did to attract attention to their cause.  Wobblies symbolized radicalism, which is why they were so greatly attacked. 

Words such as "advocating" and other vague language used in the law allowed the government to use deportation as a cure for the anti-government views of its enemies.


U.S. Attorney General Alexander Michael Palmer used the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918 to prosecute radicals and political dissidents. Assisted by J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, he ordered what became known as the Palmer Raids in January 1920. Thousands of "radicals" were rounded up and jailed for long periods without hearings.