Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Sedition On Western Wednesday...!

While many of us don't think of the early 1900's as the Old West, some interesting things were going on in Montana that affected us all in the long run.

Passing any law such as the sedition act is a tricky thing. Very, very close to limiting the freedom of speech and other civil rights, and we all know here that leads, right? I find it interesting that this whole thing started in early Montana, don't you?

Feb 22, 1918:
Montana passes law against sedition

Swept along by hysterical fears of treacherous German spies and domestic labor violence, the Montana legislature passes a Sedition Law that severely restricts freedom of speech and assembly. Three months later, Congress adopted a federal Sedition Act modeled on the Montana law.

The roots of the Montana Sedition Law lay with the hyper-patriotic sentiments inspired by World War I and growing fears of labor unrest and violence in the state. A sizeable number of Montanans had resisted American entry in WWI, and the Montana congresswoman Jeanette Rankin (the first women elected to Congress) had voted against U.S. involvement in the Great War. Once the U.S. did become involved, though, many pro-war Montanans viewed any further criticism of the war effort as treasonous-especially if it came from the state's sizeable German-American population.

At the same time, the perceived need for wartime unity sharpened many Montanans' distrust of radical labor groups like the socialist International Workers of the World (IWW). The Montana mining town of Butte had been rocked by labor violence in recent years. In 1914, a group of men who may have been IWW members destroyed the offices of an opposing union with dynamite. An IWW leader named Frank Little had also recently given speeches in Butte condemning American involvement in the war, claiming it was being fought for big business interests.

Determined to silence both antiwar and radical union voices, the Montana legislature approved a Sedition Law that made it illegal to criticize the federal government or the armed forces during time of war. Even disparaging remarks about the American flag could be grounds for prosecution and imprisonment. Through the efforts of Montana's two senators, the act also became the model for the federal Sedition Law of May 1918. Like the Montana law, the federal act made it a crime to speak or write anything critical of the American war effort.

Later widely viewed as the most sweeping violation of civil liberties in modern American history, the federal Sedition Law led to the arrests of 1,500 American citizens. Crimes included denouncing the draft, criticizing the Red Cross, and complaining about wartime taxes. The Montana law led to the conviction and imprisonment of 47 people, some with prison terms of 20 years or more. Most were pardoned when the war ended and cooler heads prevailed, but the state and federal Sedition Laws proved highly effective in destroying the IWW and other radical labor groups that had long attacked the federal government as the tool of big business. Since many of these radicals were vocal opponents of much of the government wartime policy, they bore the brunt of the Sedition Law rebukes, and suffered sorely as a result.

I wonder what would happen in this day and age if another law was passed like the Federal Sedition Act? Oh wait...the PTB already did that, didn't they? Nice of them to change the name and all! I feel so much safer now!

Coffee out on the patio again. Sun is still showing it's face and that's fine with me!


linda m said...

If I think really hard about this law I feel that in some ways it is still here. Just depends on whose side you are on. Or whose party you contribute to. Very cold and snowy here.

BBC said...

My interest in old black powder guns lead me to a lot of history from the 1800's into the 1900's. This was one hell of a wild country up until about 1910 and things could have went in any direction.

BBC said...

Last states to join the union, this is still a pretty young country.

Oklahoma - November 16, 1907
New Mexico - January 6, 1912
Arizona - February 14, 1912
Alaska - January 3, 1959
Hawaii - August 21, 1959

JO said...

The IWW cause quite a stir all over the West. Many riots followed these folks in mining towns everywhere. Made for very interesting reading.

I would love to sit out on the patio this morning.

bigcreek said...

I am certainly not a fan of socialism, but the idea of a war being fought to enrich big business hits pretty close to home. Still going on bigger than ever.

HermitJim said...

Hey Linda...
The Patriot Act sort of took it's place. Many of the things in both are the same!

Thanks for coming by today!

Hey BBC...
It was a bit wild and wooly, that's for sure!

Still is, in some parts!

Thanks for coming over today!

Hey Jo...
Seems like nearly all the Unions back then could really stir up trouble.

Thanks, sweetie, for dropping by today!

Hey Bigcreek...
Now I think it's a bit more under the table or behind closed doors...but still going on!

Thanks for coming by today!

Mamahen said...

The more things change the more they stay the same...havent been able to comment for 2-4 days....well see how this goes!