Eighty-Three Years Before the Patriot Act

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Eighty-Three Years Before the Patriot Act

Yesterday, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer granted posthumous pardons to dozens of people who were convicted under the state's anti-sedition law during the World War I years. According to the New York Times:
Seventy-nine Montanans were convicted under the state law, considered among the harshest in the country, for speaking out in ways deemed critical of the United States. In one instance, a traveling wine and brandy salesman was sentenced to 7 to 20 years in prison for calling wartime food regulations a "big joke."

... Forty-one of those convicted, including one woman, went to prison on sentences from 1 to 20 years and paid fines from $200 to $20,000.

"I'm going to say what Gov. Sam Stewart should have said," Mr. Schweitzer said, referring to the man who signed the sedition legislation into law in 1918. "I'm sorry, forgive me, and God bless America, because we can criticize our government."
... The sedition law, which made it a crime to say or publish anything "disloyal, profane, violent, scurrilous, contemptuous or abusive" about the government, soldiers or the American flag, was unanimously passed by the Legislature in February 1918.

During that time, though Germans were the largest ethnic group in Montana, it was also illegal to speak German, and books written in it were banned. Local groups called third-degree committees were formed to ferret out people not supportive of the war, especially those who did not buy Liberty Bonds.

... Officials encouraged neighbor to inform on neighbor, and one person's accusation was often enough for an arrest.

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