2005-01-14 02:32:19 (UTC)

Stay at Home Day

I had one of those nice, quiet days spent at home. I did
the usual household chores, did a little quilting and took a
short nap in the afternoon.

The book about the flu pandemic had some fascinating
historical details. Those who think that the Patriot Act
takes away our rights must never have heard about the
Sedition Act passed during World War I.
To President Wilson this war was a crusade, and he intended
to wage total war. Perhaps knowing himself even more than
the country, he predicted, "Once lead this people into war
and they'll forget there ever was such a thing as tolerance.
To fight you must be brutal and ruthless, and the spirit of
ruthless brutality will enter into the very fiber of our
national life, infecting Congress, the courts, the policeman
on the beat, the man in the street."

The government compelled conformity, controlled speech in
ways, frightening ways, not known in America before or
since. Soon after the declaration of war, Wilson pushed the
Espionage Act through a cooperative Congress, which balked
only at legalizing outright press censorship--despite
Wilson's calling it "an imperative necessity".

The bill gave the Postmaster General the right to refuse to
deliver any periodical he deemed unpatriotic or critical of
the administration. And before television and radio, most
of the political discourse in the country went through the
mails. He soon had the post office stop delivery of
virtually all publications and any foreign language
publication that hinted at less than enthusiastic support of
the war.

Thousands of government posters and advertisements urged
people to report to the Justice Department anyone "who
spreads pessimistic stories, divulges--or
seeks--confidential military information, cries for peace or
belittles our efforts to win the war."

In 1798, Federalist President John Adams and his party,
under pressure of undeclared war with France, passed the
Sedition Act, which made it unlawful to "print, utter or
publish.....any false, scandalous or malicious writing"
against the government. Wilson's administration went
further, yet engendered little opposition. The new Sedition
Act made it punishable by twenty years in jail to "utter,
print, write or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous or
abuse language about the government of the United States."
One could go to jail for cursing the government or
criticizing it, even if what one said was true. Oliver
Wendell Homes wrote the Supreme Court opinion that found the
act constitutional--after the war ended, upholding lengthy
prison terms for the defendants--arguing that the First
Amendment did not protect speech if "the words
used....create a clear and present danger."