What Was the Purpose of the Espionage and Sedition Acts?

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The Espionage and Sedition Acts made it illegal to speak out against about the government during America's involvement in World War I. While these acts applied to all Americans, it took a heavy toll on both immigrants and newspapers. This legislature effectively negated freedom of speech that related to American war efforts.

The Espionage Act took effect on June 15, 1917. It prevented individuals from voicing or publishing opinions that had the potential to interfere with America's ability to defeat their enemies. For the most part, the public was not upset by the Espionage Act. In fact, no one was officially convicted under the Espionage Act. The Sedition Act, put into effect on May 16, 1918, amended the Espionage Act in a way that caused public outrage. The Sedition Act stated that the government had the ability to punish people for voicing their opinions about the war, supporting the enemy cause, displaying a German flag and obstructing the sale of war bonds.

The Sedition Act put several publications out of business. Newspapers were forbidden from printing anything that criticized American involvement in the war. Unlike the Espionage Act, the Sedition Act resulted in about 1,000 convictions, and many of these convictions were immigrants. The Supreme Court upheld the Espionage and Sedition Acts, claiming that speaking against the government in such a way would provide a "clear and present" danger to the nation. The Sedition Act was repealed in 1921.