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Interpreting the Evidence

American Defense Society Pamphlet

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:

    World War I

  • Primary Source Types:

    Written Document

  • Regions:

    New York State
    United States

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load American Defense Society Pamphlet, 1917 in Main Image Viewer
  2. Load American Defense Society Pamphlet, 1917 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
A pamphlet from the American Defense Society encouraging the Administration, Congress, and the American people to contribute to the war effort in 1917.

Historical Context
In 1917, the United States government passed the Espionage Act to prosecute those who tried to evade the draft. In 1918, an amendment to the Espionage Act, know as the Sedition Act, outlawed making false statements that conflicted with the war effort; using “disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language” regarding the United States government, Constitution, flag, or military; discourage the production of war-related materials; or the support, teaching or defense of any of the above-mentioned acts. Anyone who violated the law would face a fine, jail time, or a combination of both these punishments. Civil libertarians objected to these laws because they felt that the freedom of speech was being violated. However, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the laws. 
Under this law, 900 individuals were convicted and another 249 immigrants were deported without a trial. The law was designed to suppress the ideas of anarchists, socialists, pacifists, and others who disagreed with the U.S. on governmental and foreign policy issues. The Sedition Act was also used to restrict the printing of certain articles and magazines during World War I. If government officials determined that the ideology of a particular publication was disloyal or held the potential to be disloyal, every attempt was made to keep those publications out of the hands of everyday American citizens. Needless to say, many Americans believed their First Amendment rights were being violated by this law. 

Essential Question
How do individuals attempt to influence public opinion during times of war?

Check for Understanding
Describe the concerns of the American Defense Society and explain their suggestions for solving these problems.

Historical Challenges
Which countries have used the internment of citizens during wartime? When was internment used in the United States? Why was internment seen as crucial to national security? How have countries handled complaints from interned groups after the wars were over?

Interdisciplinary Connections
English Language Arts: Write a letter to the American Defense Society explaining why you agree or disagree with their suggestions. Be sure to include reasons for your opinion and how you think these policies would help or hurt the citizens of the United States.

Art: Design a poster expressing the views of the American Defense Society. Try to show the different suggestions made in the pamphlet in your poster.