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Interpreting the Evidence

Card Listing Publications Suspected of Sedition

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Era:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:

    Communication
    World War I

  • Primary Source Types:

    Written Document

  • Regions:

    New York State
    United States

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Card Listing Publications Suspected of Sedition, World War I, c. 1917 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
A card listing publications suspected of producing seditious or disloyal articles, c. 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 issues of national defense impact different ethnic groups during times of war?

Check for Understanding
Why is the targeted group suspected of seditious activity?

Historical Challenges
Research the publications listed on this card. What types of articles did they publish? Why did these publications appear to be disloyal or seditious? How did their appearance on this list affect these publications?

Interdisciplinary Connections
English Language Arts: Using the information contained in the Espionage and Sedition Act, write an article about America’s involvement in World War I that may be considered seditious or disloyal.