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Alien and Sedition Acts - Sedition Act Of 1918

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Concern over disloyalty during wartime provided the backdrop for the second Sedition Act in U.S. history. In April 1917, the United States entered World War I when Congress declared war against Germany and its allies. A month later, the Selective Service Act reinstated the military draft. Both the draft and U.S. entry into the war were met with protest at home. Worried that anti-war protestors might interfere with the prosecution of the war, Congress passed the Sedition Act of 1918.

An amendment to the ESPIONAGE ACT OF 1917, the Sedition Act of 1918 made it a felony (1) to convey false statements interfering with American war efforts; (2) to willfully employ "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language" about the U.S. form of government, the Constitution, the flag, or U.S. military or naval forces; (3) to urge the curtailed production of necessary war materials; or (4) to advocate, teach, defend, or suggest the doing of any such acts. Violations were punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both. The law was aimed at curbing political dissent expressed by socialists, anarchists, pacifists, and certain labor leaders.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Sedition Act of 1918 over free speech objections made by civil libertarians. However, in a famous dissenting opinion that shaped First Amendment law for the rest of the twentieth century, Associate Justice OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES JR. encouraged courts to closely scrutinize prosecutions under the Sedition Act to make sure that only those individuals who created a CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER of immediate criminal activity were convicted (ABRAMS V. UNITED STATES, 250 U.S. 616, 1180, 40 S. Ct. 17, 63 L. Ed. 1173 [1919]).

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