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Interpreting the Evidence

Request for Names of Alien Enemies in Utica

  • 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:

    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 Alien Enemies in Utica, December, 1917 in Main Image Viewer
  2. Load Request for Names of Alien Enemies in Utica, December, 1917 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
A request for the names of alien enemies in Utica, December 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 national defense issues impact individuals?

Check for Understanding
Why did the newspaper want to publish the names of these individuals?

Historical Challenges
How do the current laws regarding illegal and legal immigrants compare to the way these same groups were treated during World War I? What current situations influence immigration law?

Interdisciplinary Connections
Art: Design a poster showing why it is important to make the names of alien enemies known to the public.

English Language Arts: Write a journal entry from the perspective of an immigrant who has been labeled an “alien enemy.” Be sure to include information about how you are being treated and the effect of your status on your daily life.