Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Was the Espionage Act Reasonable?

The Espionage Act was reasonable, at least according to the way in which humans have historically reacted to war. At the same time, however, I believe the Espionage Act was unconstitutional and should not have been created, especially in a nation that supposedly welcomes free speech and other personal civil liberties.

The Espionage and Sedition acts "set out harsh penalties for any actions that hindered the war effort or that could be viewed as even remotely unpatriotic" (Davidson 678). The Acts were created to augment the 100 percent Americanism that erupted in the late 1910's. During this time, it was considered un-American and unpatriotic to be either an alien, radical, pacifist, or dissenter.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court supported the Espionage and Sedition Acts: "in Schenck v. United States, the Court unanimously affirmed the use of the Espionage Act to convict a Socialist party officer who had mailed pamphlets urging resistance to the draft" (Davidson 679). Schenck actually presented a valuable point. He believed that the draft was unconstitutional according to the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which states: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime...shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." Is not the draft, which requires specific individuals to join the military regardless of whether they want to or not, "involuntary servitude"? Yet the Supreme Court, Congress, and the President all supported such legislation that was clearly and without a doubt unconstitutional. In addition, the Schenck ruling created an arbitrary "clear and present danger" test which would prove to curtail the freedom of speech in the future.

Davidson, James, Brian Delay, Christine Heyrman, Mark Lytle, and Michael Stoff, Nation of Nations: A Narrative History of the American Republic Volume II: Since 1865. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008.

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