A. How did the Espionage Act of 1917 restrict civil liberties? To what extent do national security issues during time of war justify government restrictions on citizens fundamental civil liberties?
B. Excellent overview of the Espionage & Sedition Acts of 1917 & 1918: “The Espionage & Sedition Acts of 1917 & 1918: Sectional Interpretations.” Shirley J. Burton. Illinois Historical Journal
C. Good general background on the two acts
of Congress by Robert N. Strassfeld.
The documents in the case
U.S. Espionage Act, 15 June 1917
U.S. Sedition Act of 1918
- Editorial Cartoons: Espionage Act and Limitations of 1st Amendment
Activity: Reflection on Liberty
Ask students to reflect, in writing or orally, on the meanings of the following quotes:*
- “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Benjamin Franklin
- “The average man does not want to be free. He simply wants to be safe.” H.L. Mencken
- “Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women. When it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it.” Justice Learned Hand.
*Taken from a lesson plan prepared by Dan May for the Constitutional Rights Foundation of Chicago for the 2005 Illinois State Bar Association Mock Trials program.
Activity: Drafting an Espionage Act: Making it Work
Explain that while Congress has constitutional authority to write legislation its actions always are subject to the constitutionality of those laws. If the Court reviews the laws’ application and find they infringe on rights guaranteed in the Constitution,
those laws can be overturned.
Place students in groups, and assign each group a role to play.
- Members of Congress – for and against Espionage Act
- Editors/publishers of newspapers – for and against the act
- President and advisers
The students write correspondence/speeches/editorials suggesting arguments for and against the act, drawing from the rationales and arguments deployed during the 1918 debate over the amendment to the 1917 Espionage Act leading to the Sedition Act.
The written arguments can take the form of newspaper editorials; speeches on the floor of the House/Senate; memos to the President. They must meet grammar standards,
be persuasive and factually correct.