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Gitlow v. New York

Criminal Anarchy

Criminal anarchy is advocating, through either speech or writing, the overthrow of organized government by force, violence, or assassination. The term sedition is synonymous with criminal anarchy.

Sporadically in U.S. history, states became concerned about radical activities within their borders. They often felt the need to minimize threats by limiting free speech, free press, and free assembly through passage of criminal anarchy or sedition laws. New York's Criminal Anarchy Act appeared in 1902 after assassination of President William McKinley by a professed anarchist.

By 1919, following the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the end of World War I, and the emergence of labor unrest in the United States, Americans became fearful that revolution might erupt at home. Thirty-three states enacted sedition or criminal syndicalist (organized group) laws. These felony laws expanded criminal anarchy to include any individual or organization seeking political or industrial reform through crime, sabotage, or violence. Any person allowing the assembly of anarchists in a building could also be charged. Socialists, Communists, and members of labor unions were frequently singled out for prosecution. Doctrines of Fascism, Nazism, and Communism led to renewed fears of anarchism during the 1940s and 1950s. Civil rights unrest in the 1960s likewise produced these reactions.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940Gitlow v. New York - Significance, Victory For Free Speech, Criminal Anarchy