Request for Names of Alien Enemies in Syracuse
Suggested Teaching Instructions
A request for the names of alien enemies in Syracuse, December 1917.
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.
How did national defense issues impact ethnic individuals?
Check for Understanding
Explain why the newspaper wanted to publish the names of these individuals.
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?
Write a Supreme Court dissenting opinion to Holmes’ in which you challenge the legality of “clear and present danger.”