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American Defense Society Pamphlet, 1917

American Defense Society Pamphlet
New York State Archives, NYSA_A4234-78_B1_F1_ADSpamphlet
Document Description
A pamphlet from the American Defense Society encouraging the Administration, Congress, and the American people to contribute to the war effort in 1917.
What steps does the American Defense Society ask the government to take to protect American interests?
Which specific group of Americans do these suggestions target? Why do you think they are targeting this group?
How do you think the targeted group felt about these suggestions?
How do you think the views of the American Defense Society influenced public opinion during the war?
Historical Challenges
Which countries have used internment of citizens during wartime? When was internment used in the United States? Why was internment seen as crucial to national security? How have countries handled complaints from interned groups after the wars were over?
Interdisciplinary Connections
English Language Arts: Write a letter to the American Defense Society explaining why you agree or disagree with their suggestions. Be sure to include reasons for your opinion and how you think these policies would help or hurt the citizens of the United States.
Art: Design a poster expressing the views of the American Defense Society. Try to show the different suggestions made in the pamphlet in your poster.
Justice Learning. First Amendment: Freedom of Speech and Association. Retrieved from:
Stone, Geoffrey R. Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism. Norton: New York, 2004.

About this Activity


Lesson Topic:


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 individuals attempt to influence public opinion during times of war?
Check for Understanding
Describe the concerns of the American Defense Society and explain their suggestions for solving these problems.