Happy Birthday to the Sedition Act!

Today, May 16, 2013, marks the 95th birthday of the passing of The Sedition Act.

Applause would be proper, and, of course, THEY are watching you…so start clapping.

This democracy-shredding legislation was a series of amendments to the 1917 Espionage Act, President Obama’s favorite tool for breaking whistleblowers open and chilling our free press.   Obama has used the Espionage Act twice as many times as all…other…Presidents…combined.

Interesting to note that the anniversary of the Sedition Act’s passage comes one day after our government is revealed to have wiped its feet with the freedom of the press in its breathless efforts to prosecute whistleblowers.  Rich stuff.

Dissent must not be tolerated.

Especially since we are at “war”.

Note to self:  we are always at war.

The Sedition Act made it a crime to speak out against the country or against the war.  Hundreds and hundreds of people were jailed for speaking out against the war and against forceful conscription (the draft).  Many workers of the era felt the war was a rich person’s fight and just wanted to live their lives.  This sentiment was literally criminalized in the Land of the Free by a federal prison term up to 20 years.

Eugene Debbs, socialist and presidential candidate in the photo above, was given a 10 year federal prison sentence under the Sedition Act for speaking out against the war in Canton, Ohio.  The Sedition Act took a wrecking ball to socialist dissent in America.  It was one of the bayonets in the class wars of that era used to break labor.

In honor of Debbs and the 95th birthday of the Sedition Act, I thought I would republish his speech here.

Howard Zinn, in A People’s History of the Unites States, pg. 365, relates the tale of Charles Schenck.  Schenck distributed 15,000 leaflets saying the conscription (draft) was a violation of the 13th Amendment’s prohibition against slavery.  “Do not submit to intimidation” he exhorted.  His case went to the Supreme Court of the United States, which, in their wisdom, unanimously convicted him, finding no problem with the First Amendment implications.  Since the intent of Debbs was in fact to obstruct the draft, the opinion reads, he was found guilty.  Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote the Court’s opinion.

Oddly enough, I could not find images of Schenck’s leaflets.

It is critical to remember these vile historical events.  The Sedition Act is now viewed as a near-comical restraint on First Amendment protections, but at the time, all establishment figures embraced it and used it to punish dissent.

The President embraced it.

The Supreme Court embraced it.

Congress embraced it.

The Department of Justice embraced it and even sponsored the “American Protective League”, or “the League” to search out and report disloyalty among citizens.  In 1917, the membership of the League was around 100,000 and they had a presence in 600 cities and towns.  There were reports of mail tampering and actual burglary as the League went on to identify three millions cases of disloyalty.  id at 369.

The New York Times, that eternal bastion of what Chomsky calls “Establishment Left” (left beyond which one may not pass and still remain in the acceptable marketplace of ideas) embraced it and even said in 1917:  “It is the duty of every good citizen to communicate to proper authorities ay evidence of sedition that comes to his notice”  id at 369.

The military certainly embraced the Sedition Act and had concentration camps or re-education camps, like Camp Funston in Kansas.  There, they tortured religious and secular pacifists.  The camp was under the control of Leonard Wood (the guy who chased but failed to catch Geronimo and also the guy responsible for the Philippine Moro massacre – 600 men, women, and children killed with artillery over a day and a half.)  A People’s History of American Empire, Howard Zinn, pgs. 92-95.

Watch your government with a critical eye.  They have certainly earned it.

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