Skip to content
Interpreting the Evidence

Request for Names of Alien Enemies in Syracuse

  • 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:

    Civil Rights
    World War I

  • Primary Source Types:

    Written Document

  • Regions:

    Central New York
    New York State
    United States

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Request for Names of Noncitizen Enemies in Syracuse, December, 1917 in Main Image Viewer
  2. Load Request for Names of Noncitizen Enemies in Syracuse, December, 1917 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
A request for the names of alien enemies in Syracuse, December 1917.

Historical Context
Shortly after the entrance of the United States into World War I, the government passed a series of laws known as The Alien Act (1917), The Sedition Act (1918), and The Espionage Act (1918). As part of the mobilization process, the government relied on propaganda and patriotism to rally funding and support from the American people for the war effort. As a result, dissent was suppressed and foreign-born citizens were targeted as spies or subversives.
Thousands of aliens were rounded up and deported or, as in the case of the letter to the governor of New York, names and addresses were published to identify and ensure the loyalty of aliens around the country. Two thousand total prosecutions occurred and nearly half were convicted.
The laws were purposely broad-based and became the centerpiece of the American civil liberties debate. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes issued the famous “clear and present danger” quote that upheld the laws and gave the government wide-ranging limits to curtail free speech during wartime.

Essential Question
How did national defense issues impact ethnic individuals?

Check for Understanding
Explain why the newspaper wanted to publish the names of these individuals.

Historical Challenges
Compare this time period in American history with the War on Terror, specifically The Patriot Act. Is this “profiling” and discrimination? Or is it necessary during a time of war?

Interdisciplinary Connections
Write a Supreme Court dissenting opinion to Holmes’ in which you challenge the legality of “clear and present danger.”